The War on Terror is Ending in Afghanistan. But the Terror Will Not End.
My dad has had the same nightly ritual for as long as I can remember. After arriving home from work, he drops his bags, sits down, and expels a deep breath of air from somewhere deep in his chest. He then turns on the TV, and my family and I join him on the couch.
We watch at least 30 minutes of television together every night. This has been a recurring practice in my household since my childhood, and I’m not exactly sure why it makes my parents so happy. Perhaps it’s a comforting reassurance that they have indeed obtained the Australian dream.
After sitting through some western reality TV, my father’s patience wears thin. He knows it’s a charade. He asks me to turn on Al Jazeera to watch the 9:30pm news, and to record the Inside story at 10pm.
Every night he awaits news on Afghanistan. He listens to Al Jazeera report that Western troops have withdrawn their occupation of the country. He interchanges between news stations. He turns off the TV and switches on our Afghan Satellite box to find out what’s happening directly.
By this point, I have escaped to my room to watch Tik Toks. My father believes it very important to know what’s going on in Afghanistan, the place where he grew up. He tells me this often, and I feel that by scrolling through videos of dogs and French people, I am letting him down. But the alternative, honestly, is too depressing for me to bear.
Growing up, I saw Afghanistan through two lenses: what the media presents, and my parent’s memory of their home country. My mother tells me stories of colourful streets, of the beautiful dresses she used to wear, and of bustling nightlife.
Through the lens of the media, however, I’ve only ever known it as a place of war. As the home of terror. It hasn’t been a home for many Afghans for a long time, and now it is inevitable that it won’t ever be again.
The withdrawal of western troops from Afghanistan means that control has shifted to the Taliban, who are taking over provinces at an alarming rate. The recent Taliban offensive has led to a record number of civilian casualties and targeted killings, whilst many thousands more are expected. Others have been displaced, retreating to the countryside where resources are scarce, hiding and hoping the Taliban won’t find them.
If these people were, somehow, to escape terror and make it to Australia, they’d be sent to offshore detention. Imprisoned again.
I worry about women my age or younger who will be denied access to education and will be forced to marry young, things that my sister and I don’t ever have to think about.
I have heard the media say that Afghanistan is about to reach a dangerous turning point, but the truth is, Afghans reached this humanitarian crisis long ago. So what can I do, as an Afghan but now also privileged westerner, do to help?
I don’t know.
Do we keep watching the news? Do we keep listening to the number of people being killed every day? Do we donate to charities?
I am writing this from a complete state of hopelessness. I don’t have the answers.
When my parents escaped from Afghanistan, they knew that they would not return. They knew that their home’s rich culture had been devastated, and that it was time to leave.
Once citizens of a unique and vibrant society, the Afghanistan that they remember is slowly fading from global memory. The baseline has shifted. As Afghanistan falls, my parents are spectators to its collapse. They will be there tonight, on the couch, watching.
Photos provided by the author