A young, liberal elite has emerged in Kabul, including many women. It is taking a stand against the Taliban’s atrocities in the form of political and artistic initiatives and wants to put an end to Afghanistan’s culture of violence.
By Susanne Koelbl
Sitting in her house in Kabul, where two steel gates provide security from the street, Shaharzad Akbar is talking about overcoming hatred. The 29-year-old, who holds a master’s degree in development studies from Oxford University, wears a colorfully embroidered Bedouin dress over her tight jeans.
In January, the Taliban murdered one of her best friends, Abdul Ali Shamsi, the deputy governor of Kandahar. He wasn’t much older than she is. On the day of his murder, he had met with diplomatic visitors from the United Arab Emirates. A bomb had been hidden in the upholstery of a sofa in the governor’s office. It killed 13 people.
Shamsi and Akbar had co-founded a group called Afghanistan 1400, a movement of young, well-educated Afghans who campaign for putting an end to the civil war in Afghanistan. On the day of her friend’s murder, says Akbar, a young spokesman for the Taliban had attended a workshop with members of the movement.
“At that moment, I hated that man from the bottom of my heart, because it was the Taliban that had killed my friend,” says Akbar. “But that is precisely the point: We need to stop hating.” After 16 years of fighting, she says, many members of the Taliban also yearn for peace.
The capital Kabul resembles a fortress. It is currently undergoing its bloodiest period since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion. Bomb attacks are commonplace. One of the worst attacks ever perpetrated in the capital struck the German Embassy on May 31. More than 150 people died and 460 were injured when 1.5 tons of explosives went off. The embassy building was almost empty, but the terrorists killed many employees of the Roshan telephone company who were housed in a building across the street. Almost all the dead were young university graduates, the kinds of people who could have helped rebuild the country.
For the last decade and a half, the world community has failed to solve the political problems in this region. Still, many things have improved. Today there are roads all across Afghanistan, including in areas where there were no roads before. Health care is improving. Even the mail is delivered with some reliability.
The country has produced female conductors, pilots, paratroopers and entrepreneurs. There are women-run radio stations and daily newspapers in almost every province. Dozens of TV stations produce daily political talk shows and broadcast news from around the world. Eighty percent of Afghans own a mobile phone, and the country’s colleges and universities produce tens of thousands of new graduates every year. Thousands of young people have studied abroad.
The emergence of the new, educated generation is perhaps the most revolutionary development of recent years. The seed sown by the West seems to have sprouted. The young generation are children of the global community, and in many respects they think in much the same way as young people in Europe or the United States.