Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story
By Atta Arghandiwal
A simple but very precise book for anyone who wants to know what happened in Afghanistan and what made it as one of the most dangerous regions on the earth today. After it attained independence from Great Britain in 1919, the country was ruled by liberal but weak Monarchs. Afghan people were proud of their culture and their sense of decency. Both men and women folks worked together without much discrimination to build the new Afghanistan. The girls could be seen wearing skirts and jeans, and going to school and colleges. Burqa system was not imposed harshly on the womenfolk as a law. People looked forward to a promising future with strong and stable government.
After the rule of King Zahir Shah for forty years without any significant upheavals, the country caught itself in the quagmire of the cold war in 1950s. Both Soviet and USA and their allies were trying to gain access into the land by outdoing each other in development work of Afghanistan. Soviet Russia and Chinese communist ideology was gaining access in people’s mind. Ideology of religious fundamentalist from Middle Eastern groups also began to influence the direction the country was headed to. In 1978, the local communist leaders supported by Soviet government launched military coup and toppled the people’s government. This was followed by the Russian invasion and the Afghanistan, the peaceful land turned into a land of oppression and violent fighting. Different faction of people fought bravely on their own with the support of U.S. and its allies. “By 1984 the United States was authorizing military supplies to Mujahideen of nearly $250 million per month,” writes the author. Russian invaders dealt harshly with the people, more than five million Afghan fled the land and took refuge in the neighboring countries.
One of the Author’s brothers, Zia was among the resistance fighters, and fought with the Russian invader bravely. Atta, the author fled to Germany along with other Afghans. From Germany he sought asylum in the United States, where he built a career in banking and ultimately had his family join him later.
Afghanistan remained under Soviet occupation for nearly a decade [1980 – 1989], during which the people and the land suffered irreparable damage. It has not been easy for Soviet Russia either, it’s said that more than 4 billion dollar a year was spent to maintain the puppet Kabul government, and thirty times this amount was spent on the cost of running the war for those years. Now that Russians were gone, the people were looking forward to a peace and stable life under their own government. But during the course of resistance against Russia, various Afghan factions with direct help from the United States and the Western allies, and from the Arab world have established their own territories of control. With the fall of Dr. Najibullah’s government in 1992, these factions came up to form an interim government. “But despite UN attempt to broker peace and bring the warring groups into a coalition government, Afghanistan remained at war.”
Amidst this uncertainty and instability, when a convoy of an influential Pakistani businessman was stopped by bandits in Kandahar, Pakistani government urged the students from fundamentalist school at the border to intervene. The student group not only released the convoy, but went on to capture Kandahar city. They soon began to take the role of disciplining the land, and many at first welcomed the change to have peace and economic stability denied by the warring warlords. Pakistan and ISI funded and supported this group, which came to be known as Taliban. Talib means ‘religious students’ and their core leaders were from Pakistan and other Arab nations. By 1996, Kabul was under the full control of Taliban. “They introduced religious police, a rigid military campaign against their opponents, and the use of non-Afghan forces.” It is estimated that 45 per cent of the Taliban forces were non-Afghan. The brutality with which they controlled the region and the use of non-Afghan forces from Middle East Arab countries led by Osama Bin Laden, gradually infuriated and earned the doubts and misgiving of the local populace. The United States initially thought Taliban as source of stability in the region and ally in sharing anti-Iran stance, and misjudged Taliban’s total hostility toward foreign values.
Then came the 9/11 incident in 2001 attack on World Trade Center building and Twin Tower by the Taliban terrorists. This was followed by the U.S. retaliation, and active involvement in the region. The author felt very bad that the Afghanistan has been turned into terrorist den by the non-Afghan militants from Middle East countries. He, his family and many Afghan people have been so affectionately received and provided for by this land and the fact that his own people attacked the United States made him feel very bad and sick. He made his best to explain to the people here that the attack was not done by the Afghan people, but by the non-Afghan militants who had made Afghanistan their activity base.
In 2011, the author visits Afghanistan, and was devastated to see that once peaceful land with pride and decency has been turned into violent, and corrupt with no trace of decency. The government is formed by the vested warlords who are least bothered about the people’s welfare; they are only interested in making themselves richer and richer. Factional fighting among the warlords has been exploited by the religious fundamentalist, which has caused the presence of foreign troops and dependency on them. All the funds from the United States and its allies are sabotaged by the few elites and the vast majority is languishing in poverty. Old Afghanistan of proud people with honesty and decency is lost.
As a closing thought, the Author finds himself asking, “What if the Soviet Union had never invaded? What if Afghanistan had never been deserted after Russian withdrawal? Do you think 9/11 would have happened?”
This is difficult to say, but reading the book I can’t help thinking about Tibet and Tibetans. We must preserve and maintain our decency, moral integrity and unity so that when the time comes for the Chinese to leave Tibet, we are ready to take over the administration without internal feud or factional fighting. Till date, because of the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his vision, we have been able to maintain and promote our positive values, cultural integrity and unity among all the Tibetans. The book is a clear mirror to warn us that we all must cherish and maintain this unity and cultural values so that Tibet don’t become Afghanistan of today in future.