by Shiraz Paracha
The newly reconstructed Kabul international airport is modern and impressive. Certainly it is better than the Islamabad and Peshawar airports; however, the sight of hundreds of helicopters and other foreign aircraft at the airport saddens every peace and freedom loving person. I, too, felt the gloom upon my arrival in occupied Afghanistan in the first week of January.
The fortified US embassy occupies a huge area in the city. The embassy is protected by a formidable concrete wall and in large parts of the city movement is restricted by security barriers and check points, intensifying the impression that it is a war zone.
Poverty is a crime in the 21st century Kabul controlled by the world “civilized democracies”. In the Afghan capital “might is right” everywhere. Police in Kabul have no control over the activities and movement of the country’s foreign masters. The police cannot even manage the Kabul traffic. The city streets are flooded with thousands of cars driven in the “Afghan way”. But the police seem good at terrorizing the disempowered and dispossessed people of Kabul .
The Afghans I spoke to during my brief stay in Kabul , are not happy with their American and European occupiers. In fact, some of them see the Taliban and the Americans as two sides of the same coin. However, Afghans disenchantment with the USA and NATO does not mean good news for Pakistan . Many Afghans mistrust Pakistan even more. To Afghans, Pakistan is responsible for their current state.
Afghanistan is under NATO occupation but among the foreigners, Indian workers, traders and citizens are visible on the streets of Kabul . Pakistanis perceive Indians as timid and passive, but the Indians in Kabul are active, cheerful and helping. The Pakistani dress code (shalwar-Kamees) is a sign of embarrassment for young Kabuli girls. A 17-year-old female student told me that her classmates mocked her when she went to college in Shalwar Kamees. The latest trends in the Indian fashion industry are followed by the young girls of Kabul . Afghans listen to Indian music and watch Indian movies. Indian television dramas are also popular in Kabul . Every night most of the Kabul’s 20 private television channels screen Indian soap operas dubbed into the Pashto and Dari languages. Air companies operating flights between India and Kabul are the busiest. It is difficult to get a seat on a Kabul-Delhi flight. Trade between India and Afghanistan is growing and
so is tourism. India is a favorite destination for Afghan traders and tourists. Cooperation in the health and education sector is also expanding between India and Afghanistan . The Afghan government is awarding scholarships to Afghan students to study at Indian and Central Asian universities. Afghan students prefer India because it is cheap and the medium of instruction is English in India .
Kabul is a blustering city with flourishing businesses. There are a number of new banks in the private sector, including a women’s bank. Private air companies have been established in Kabul . The media industry has grown, with dozens of newspapers published daily and around 20 private television channels. FM radio is popular. Nevertheless complaints about corruption are common. Millions of dollars have poured in since the Western occupation of the country but there are no tangible signs of development in the city. The condition of roads is poor, the sanitation system is in shambles, and although Afghanistan imports electricity from Tajikistan power shutdowns are still common. Some blame Afghan officials for misusing the funds, but sources close to President Karazi say that foreign aid is controlled by foreigners and 90% of the money is taken back by the occupying forces.
The difficulties for importing to Afghanistan via Pakistan are a window of opportunity for the neighboring Central Asian countries. Central Asia and Russia are providing alternative supply routes to Afghanistan , giving new life to the country’s trade and economy. Historical trade routes from Turkmenistan , Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been used to import petroleum products, LPG, wheat, flour, and hundreds of other items of daily use. Construction materials are also imported from Central Asia . Goods worth billions of dollars are delivered to the Afghan border by the Soviet-built extensive railway network. Growing trade with Central Asia has brought peace to northern Afghanistan .
Afghans are at odds with the NATO occupiers. Pakistan and Iran have lost credibility in the eyes of many Afghans due to both countries meddling in Afghan affairs. Against this backdrop India , the Central Asian states and Russia appear to be the real beneficiaries how ironic!