Letter from Afghanistan [4] – Young Ismaili Activist Shares Her Hopes and Concerns About the Future in Afghanistan

[This is our special correspondent’s fourth letter from Kabul to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first three letters HERE – August 26, HERE – August 29 and HERE – September 5, 2021. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed. ]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Afghanistan map annotated
Map of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The major international border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Turkham (Tor Kham) border, mentioned by our correspondent in his post, below, is circled in red. Known as the Grand Trunk Road, the road connects Nangarhar province of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Please click on map for enlargement. Credit: Map adapted and annotated by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

Recently, I met a well-known young Ismaili civil society activist based in Kabul, and conducted a short interview with her that focused on her life experiences, opportunities, achievements and her views on the political future and social life under the new regime. She concluded the interview by asking Jamati institutions for an action plan about the future direction of the Jamat. In my third report I had noted that, by their own admission, the Jamati institutions do not have surveys and locations of the Jamat in Afghanistan. Members of the Jamat were advised to take care of their own safety and security. This situation in Afghanistan is unfortunate and unacceptable in the present time. I am sad to note that this lack of Jamati statistics and demographic information, which prevents an effective action plan to help the Jamat, is apparently not unique to Afghanistan.

Please note that the editor of Simerg, Malik Merchant, has verified the authenticity of the person I interviewed and has decided to keep both my name as well the name of the interviewee anonymous for our well-being, safety and protection. I shall simply refer to her as Roshan which is not her real first name.

Women walking on a street in Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood.
Kabul’s residents walk along a street in the city’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

After the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021, Roshan became terrified and locked herself at home, thinking that her normal life had come to an end, and that the Taliban would return to the mid 1990s, when they rigidly governed the country with harsh rules and restrictions particularly for women. People were initially terrified and fearful of the new regime, as women were prevented from serving in public institutions. Roshan and many girls like her felt that they would never be able to continue their studies and work. However schooling for girls is increasingly available, albeit separately for men and women, and this has affected the higher education in the country.

Given the international community’s oversight over the behavior of Taliban towards upholding of human and women rights, and their urgent need for international recognition and legitimacy, Roshan believes that, for now, the new Taliban regime might not reimpose the same rules that were in place in the 1990’s.  However, she is not sure whether Taliban will keep their word after the world has granted it the recognition it is seeking. She feels that they might then reimpose the harsher rules of the past. For Roshan, it is most critical for the Taliban to win the hearts and trust of the youth and professionals of the country by keeping their promises as well as allowing some freedom of expression. 

Roshan says the vast majority of the women and women like her benefited from the opportunities like going to school, studying in Universities and Colleges, and having an independent career that the international community and previously US-backed government facilitated. Now, she is wondering whether they will be able to explore the same opportunities that they previously enjoyed under the old regime. She holds out any hope that women like her, who received a quality education and were able to serve their country well for many years, will ever be able to engage and play an active role in either political or social affairs of the country as they previously did. She thinks that under the Taliban, women involvement in the political and social affairs will be restricted and vastly curtailed.

Roshan views the recent meeting between Mawlana Hazar Imam’s special envoy for Afghanistan and the Taliban leadership as positive step towards trust building, but she is neither convinced nor confident that the Taliban would deliver on any commitment that they may have made to the Jamat in Afghanistan as well as other minority groups. Roshan sincerely hopes her pessimism is misplaced, and that things will work out well for the Jamat in the critical period of stabilization ahead. She is pleased to note that AKDN activities continue uninterrupted in the country.

Finally, Roshan would wish the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to design an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. There is rampant unemployment and poverty in the Afghan Jamat, and she asks the Ismailis around the globe to support Afghan Jamats through whatever means they can at this time of their need.

A view of Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.
A view of Kabul’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

On a personal note, I would like to say that all ethnicities and religious minorities are being treated well in Kabul. This is indeed good news. There may be some problems in the suburbs or rural areas but the overall attitude of the Taliban regime towards the minorities is good. I am also pleased to say that we can attend Jamatkhanas for our daily prayers and worship, and that in Kabul the Jamatkhanas are open to both men and women. Additionally, there are no restrictions on religious or social activities in other provinces where there is a larger presence of the Jamat or the Jamat is in a majority.

Before the Taliban takeover, a wide range of Ismaili girls would attend their university classes especially in private universities. But, unfortunately, after the Taliban takeover, girls in general are reluctant to attend the university out of concern for their own safety and well-being. The dire economic situation has further eroded the capacity of families to send their daughters to universities. The educational centers and universities have resumed their activities, but only a small number of female students attend their daily classes.

As far as I know, a number of Jamati members have left the country through the Turkham border crossing with Pakistan (see map above). Others may leave when the passport offices officially start distributing the documents necessary to travel abroad.

One great challenge we have is that a large number of Jamats are unemployed and are using up their savings to survive this uncertain period in their lives. Winters are harsh, and until recently no practical steps had been taken by Jamati institutions to come up with a plan and mitigate the crisis that poor and impoverished Ismaili families are having to deal with. Lately, Jamati institutions have begun distributing flour, oil and beans to a small number of impoverished Ismaili families in Kabul. However a large number of Jamati members have not yet received this much needed relief. Of course, the situation in the country generally is pretty alarming.

As already noted the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan must come up with an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. I once again sincerely appeal to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), the AKDN agencies and Ismaili Council leadership to be forward thinking, closely monitor the situation and adopt an effective strategy for addressing all the issues that will continue to emerge in the foreseeable future.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: December 4, 2021.

____________________

Simerg urges the international Jamat to lend their support to Focus Humanitarian in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new Taliban leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

________________

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

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