The defeated valley- Afghanistan
At some point or the other, human life pre-eminently captures trauma and its lingering fear. But for Haroon, time is not always a healer- the traumatic events and suffering of his people and community can take decades to fade. It was difficult for Haroon ,who was ten years old then along with his five years old younger sister, Rubia to leave their home country Afghanistan and take refuge in an unknown land. Haroon’s father worked in an NGO and his mother a housewife.
One morning in mid-May 1999, Haroon’s father had just finished breakfast and was getting ready to leave for work. He looked at his wife and smiled as he got on his bike and left. Within an hour, some of the neighbours appeared at their door with the bike. They said that the Taliban had abducted him. In the words of Haroon, “I will never forget my mother’s face, it was frozen with shock”. She went out and ran out of the house desperate to find him. After numerous attempts, she returned home with the weight of the world on her shoulders. There was no news of Haroon’s father, no news of where he was or whether he was even alive. That was not only the case with Haroon’s father but the Taliban even arrested and kidnapped other neighbours too. The last several decades of wars, the rise and fall of regimes, the shootings and lack of peace have turned Afghanistan a hollow place. Growing up in Afghanistan, Haroon as a young boy witnessed how one of his uncles, an elderly man, still keeps extra food and sacks of wheat in his basement out of fear that a fight may break out and for days no one will be able to go out. Afghans in the remote provinces still build their walls thick to prevent casualties in case of a rocket strike.
Life under the Taliban went from being a living hell to a black hole of hopelessness. Haroon’s mother fearing for their lives decided to leave Afghanistan and move to Mashhad, Iran. To cope up at Mashhad was a tough phase. Haroon along with Rubia started their schooling in Mashhad but the memories of Afghanistan always knocked them with some kind of regret and remembrance. Being Sunnis and speaking Pashto in Mashhad was very difficult as Iranians always have looked down upon the Afghans. The traumatic past of the family resurfaces quite often when they were considered as Afghan refugees. Unanswered questions and deep scars of the past have pulled them back to their homeland where they must reckon with their identity, pain and the road to healing. After staying for 10 years, when things in Afghanistan had improved, the family decided to return to Afghanistan and start their lives on a fresh note.
Haroon have been living in England for many years now for his higher studies. One day he met a lady named Nadia in a dental clinic, who is a writer by profession. As both of them were sitting outside the doctor’s chamber, Haroon was talking with his mother on phone speaking Pashto. Nadia smiled at him and asked, “Are you an Afghan?”. Haroon asserted positively and both of them had a warm long conversation. When he asked Nadia about her journey from Afghanistan to England, she spoke about many things. She narrated a disturbing picture of her past, at an upbringing surrounded by wars, even in language and reclaims her country’s past status as the land of poetry, story-telling, fables and folktales. She said how the Taliban remained deeply misogynistic. Their regime was harsh for denying women and girls access to education, employment, freedom of movement. Even the schooling of young boys were related with violence, war, guns and religious subjects. In language classes, while “A” was for Allah, the rest of the Pashtu alphabets included war-related components such as “T” for Toopak (gun), “Sh” for Shamsheer (sword), “J” for Jihad, “Ta” for Talib, etc. Nadia told, “In Afghanistan we do not write for fun, passion, or money, but to express the immeasurable pain inside. There must be something discomforting to be disclosed. At least that’s how we see it”. Before leaving the chamber, Nadia gave a copy of her recent book to Haroon named as The Defeated Valley- Afghanistan.
A week later, after coming back from his work Haroon switched on the television and was sipping his coffee. As he watched the news of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan again, he feared that history is repeating itself. Haroon visualized his dark past and is afraid of his mother and sister who are still in Afghanistan and for the millions of families who will suffer pain and loss like he did. He witnessed unprecedented scenes of desperate residents rushing and attempting to flee the country fearing the Taliban’s brutality. Once again conflict and extremism have made homecomings troublesome for the Afghan diaspora. Almost after two decades, Afghanistan has been one long story of desperation, grief and worst tragedies unfolding over the past weeks and the world watches in horror.
And like Nadia’s book The Defeated Valley- Afghanistan, Haroon could actually feel the agony and pain of this defeated valley. Tears rolling down his eyes, he uttered- “The only crime is being born as an Afghan in Afghanistan”.