[This is our Kabul based special correspondent’s sixth report to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. His previous letters can be read by clicking on the following links 1. August 26 2021, 2. August 29 2021, 3. September 5 2021, 4. December 4 2021 and 5. December 5 2021 — Ed.]
LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN
FEBRUARY 13, 2022
Ismailis in Remote Villages Face Hardships Due to Meagre Food Reserves and Difficult Health Conditions: Local Jamati Institutions Have Failed to Meet Their Needs Over the Years
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BY SIMERG’S SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN KABUL
In my effort to continue to provide the world wide Ismaili Jamat with updates and insights about the latest developments in Afghanistan, I took the initiative to visit small villages in the remotest corners of the country. This report is based on interviews I conducted with five Ismailis in Sia Sang village, a remote village located in mountainous areas of Hesa-e-Awal Behsood, a district in the central province of Wardak (see map, below). I visited this gregarious small village which is mainly inhabited by Hazara ethnic minority. According to my information, once over 80 Ismaili families lived in Sia Sang. Now, only a small fraction of Ismailis, six households, live altogether. The vast majority that remain in the village are Twelver Shiites (Ithnasharies). The people of Afghanistan face an uncertain future, unemployment, poverty, hunger and drought since the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021.
The Ismaili villagers I met are surrounded by high mountains and hills and have been adversely affected by the recent upheavals as well. They are struggling with the current financial and economic crisis looming across the country. Afghanistan’s economy was facing severe challenges, and the international support was starting to wane even before the collapse of former western-backed government. The US congressional research noted that this past year 90 percent of Afghanistan’s population lived on less than US$ 2.00 a day, and warned that the loss of American support would weaken one of the world’s smallest economy.
Concerns about food insecurity are mounting and a looming drought is expected to make matters worse. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared and even doubled after the regime change in the country.
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MEALS HALVED, AND FARMERS LACK ACCESS TO MARKETS
According to the local Ismailis I met, they have to consume half of the food that they used to previously. For decades, these Ismaili farmers survived on stored wheat from their summer harvest and income from selling of farm animals and potato in the market. This year’s farming yielded good crops. However, with little access to the national market, they were unable to sell their agricultural products at a fair selling price. Unlike urban population, the farmers residing in rural areas of the country do not have a certain source of income other than agricultural production. There is no orderly and regular transportation system. Thus they are unable to take their family members in critical condition to a hospital. They have difficulty in purchasing food and other basic goods from the market.
Due to lack of access to a permanent and established market to procure food, and necessary goods and items, the local villagers in this part of the country have to take a trip to the neighboring province of Bamyan or the capital Kabul. Transportation fee, 3000 AFN (US$ 30.00), is high and the impoverished community settled here cannot afford paying such a high amount.
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INADEQUATE HEALTH CARE AND TRANSPORTATION
Lack of access to basic health care services has made the living condition challenging. The closest local health care centers are three to four hours away by foot from this village, making it impossible to take their patients on time. The services provided by the health care centers do not enjoy high quality. So, they have to take the critically ill patients to Kabul or neighbouring Bamyan (see map above).
One Jamati member, Ahamad, told me, “I am alone and live only with my wife, I have no other family member to take care of me and my house. God forbid that if one of us gets sick, we must travel to Bamyan for treatment. So, who will take care of my house and belongings?”
The main highway passing through this village connects the central provinces with the capital Kabul. This highway is blocked to the traffic every year in winter due to heavy snowfall and storms that makes travel very difficult or virtually non-existent for several days.
Access to basic education is limited for children in this community. The nearest high school is one hour away from this locality. The former western backed government were in favor of girls’ education and encouraged the local population to send their girls to school. Thus, even with the Taliban ruling the country, education is not barred for girls in this community. The social perception towards education in this community specifically for girls is viewed in a positive light.
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PASSIONATE YOUTHS SEEK RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
This local Ismaili community deems religious education to be of the highest importance and absolutely necessary for their children. They have asked the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) and other responsible authorities in the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to open a Baitul Ilm center (BUI). There are more than 13 Ismaili teens who need to acquire religious education and the villagers had many times requested the local ITREB board based in Bamyan to open a BUI center for this community. The local Jamat was very keen and showed passion for starting such a center, but no one addressed this issue and showed interest in this regard, said Ali, one of the local Ismailis I interviewed.
NO DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS OVER THE YEARS
It is extremely sad to report that no development project has been undertaken by either the government or by other NGOs including the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) agencies within the course of the past twenty years in this village. “Only a power station project had been initiated by Ismaili local council based in Bamyan province,” said Muhammad, another Jamati member I interviewed.
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CONFLICTS WITH NEIGHBOURING NOMADS
Forty years of war and devastation have inflicted a major toll on infrastructure, economy and livelihood of its population. Civilians are the main victims and pay heavy price for instability and violence. Like other parts of the nation, this small Ismaili community is also concerned about insecurity and conflict in the future. Pashtun nomads used to come and graze their herds and camels on pastures in Hazarajat — the central parts of Afghanistan — during the summer. Many bloody conflicts had taken place between Hazara villagers and Pashtun nomads prior to collapse of US backed republic. “We are very worried about the future conflict and return of Pashtun nomads during the summer,” said Juma one of the local Ismaili interviewees. “They used to come and graze their flocks peacefully. But this year it is not clear what they will do to our farms,” he added.
A PLEA TO INSTITUTIONS AND JAMAT
The majority of interviewees agree that the economic catastrophe and collapse caused by the recent changes has negatively impacted their life and financial positions. They expect the AKDN and other aid organizations to help them and distribute food and other relief aid packages. They have enormous challenges and are very worried.
I again repeat my previous calls to Jamati institutions and the AKDN as well as Jamats around the world to go beyond their normal call of duty and involve themselves in action that will improve the situation of the Jamat and the citizens of Afghanistan. I am afraid the plight of Ismailis in some remote villages is not being addressed adequately, and I urge you not to be passive and indifferent to our well-being.
I look forward to submitting more letters to Simerg for everyone’s attention and consideration.
Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
Date posted: February 13, 2022.
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