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Sunday, October 2, 2011

The blighted afghan dream?

What is the biggest concern for the ordinary Afghans today? Civil war, terrorism, gender based violence or what else? These are certainly problems but as such their core concerns are, while being related to all these, somewhat different. Their foremost concern is filling their stomach which is increasingly hard to accomplish with the economy being torn by the intensifying conflict.

While the rest of the world shivers at the thought of ever having to live in a country as dangerous as Afghanistan, the core concerns of the Afghans are not quite different from those of the increasingly pauperized people in even the developed world. Definitely, they have the added concern of security in face of a lose-lose war and all kinds of domestic and gender-based violence are taking their tolls incomparable to the most other parts of the world. But that forms only a smaller subplot in the context of monstrous poverty and destitution.

This is what was clear through the works of three filmmakers who have tried their best to depict the life of ordinary people in different parts if Afghanistan in recent past through the documentaries screened in the Film Southasia 2011 in Kathmandu. The most touching one of the three was ‘I was worth 50 sheep’ directed by Nima Sarvestani that follows the fate of a Pashto girl who was sold to a man forty years her senior. After seven years of confinement and abuse she escaped to find temporary refuge in a women’s sanctuary. Now she is again at risk, as her husband will kill her on sight.

The camera picks up Sabere at the point where she has once again made contact with her family, and faces the decision of whether to stay in the safety of the sanctuary or to rejoin her family. For the family it is a dangerous game of cat and mouse as they move from location to location, always trying to stay one step ahead of her husband. Only divorce can set Sabere free, but under Islamic law she will only get a divorce if she can bring her husband to court. But her husband is a member of the Taliban, far beyond the reach of the law.

With desperation mounting, Sabere’s stepfather proposes an audacious plan. They eventually mount a ‘sting’ operation with help of police that successfully captures her husband. Still the case drags in the over-burdened court as her husband still refuses to divorce. In the mean time, her younger sister Ferzaneh, still a child, is forced to go to her husband’s house because the groom refuses to wait for six years as pledged in the initial contract in which her father was to get 50 sheep in exchange. After a year from then nobody knew the whereabouts of the unlucky girl Farzenah who was away in the Taliban-controlled area.

Whatever the real life things taking place in Afghanistan, it is pleasant to discover that even the most oppressed girl in a Pashtun family, waiting to be bartered by his father to an old man for few sheep or some money, has the most rational analysis of her predicament: it is illiteracy and poverty that is causing so much of suffering and misery.

And in terms of fighting poverty and illiteracy, it is appalling to notice how little the latest invasion of Afghanistan has achieved. The mountaineer-turned-humanitarian Greg Mortenson aptly describes the fate of Afghan education after the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, in his book Three Cups of Tea. While the devastated infrastructure of Afghanistan after downfall of Taliban had severely limited the ability of the newly ‘free’ Afghans to educate their children and particularly the girls, the US and NATO were too preoccupied in the war in Iraq so that literally nothing constructive was going on in those fields.

Eventually the golden moment of salvaging the Afghan population from misery through better health and education institutions and creating jobs was lost forever. What grew with weakening authority in Kabul was the warlordism in the provinces that eventually gave continuity to war at less amplitude. Despite billions of dollars being spent in Afghanistan, the amount that actually contributed to the betterment of ordinary Afghans was dismal. And that was one of the most important factors behind the resilience and resurgence of the Taliban rebels.

Unlike what the people outside would think; it is not the Pashtun tradition alone that has made the lives of women in Afghanistan miserable. It is the poverty that thrives because of the enduring combination of low fertility of most of the rugged land and unemployment that has trapped the Afghan people through one period of conflict and the other. And its brutal ramifications include illiteracy, poor health and most importantly, the people’s attempt at seeking solace in the traditional tribal customs and rituals. The failure of the foreign forces to do anything significant other than dislodging the Taliban from Kabul prompted

If you have a son, then rear him as well as you can as how will eventually help you earn the living. If you have a daughter and you have little to feed the family, there is an option of selling her off to someone with money and sheep and manage to feed yourself for some time. If you have both son and daughter, sell the girl so that a bride can be bought or simply barter the daughter for daughter-in-law. With time and persisting economic misery, these practices have become so prominent that the men-folk see no fault with the system and take the arrangement for granted. But surprisingly, when it comes to the suffering girls, they not only think that it is so out of poverty and illiteracy but do carry the hopes of better and beautiful futures.
This brings us to the another question: is it the evidence that the western values of education, liberty and equality are universally accepted and applicable regardless of social and cultural boundaries? Can we agree with the arguments of historians like Niall Fergusson (In his much acclaimed book Colossus: The Rise and Fall of American Empire) that importing the western social and economic institutions to the undeveloped part of the world is the only solution of the plethora of problems?

To me, the answer to these two questions is a big NO.

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जीवन, खुशी अहंकार

जीवनमा अफ्ठ्यारा घुम्तीहरुमा हिंडिरहँदा मैले कुनै क्षणमा पलायनलाई एउटा विकल्पको रुपमा कल्पना गरेको थिएँ, त्यसलाई यथार्थमा बदल्ने आँट गरिनँ, त्यो बेग्लै कुरा हो त्यसबेला लाग्थ्योः मेरा समग्र दुखहरुको कारण मेरो वरपरको वातावरण हो, यसबाट साहसपूर्वक बाहिरिएँ भने नयाँ दुख आउलान् तर तत्क्षणका दुरुह दुखहरु गायब भएर जानेछन् कति गलत थिएँ !

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