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What I saw in Kabul?

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KABUL: AfPak Media Exchange delegates called on former President Hamid Karzai at his office. Karzai thanked the delegates of the media exchange program and wished for peace in the region.
By Asma Gul
Usually people from across the world shy away from going to conflict-riddled countries. And the reason is obvious. The fear of being landed somewhere in troubles and sometimes even killed. There are too many war-wracked countries. But in my case, it is not Syria, Iraq, Libya or Palestine, but Afghanistan—a country and people that has been witnessing the war for the past plus-three-decades. Unlike those who usually shy away from taking the journey to Afghanistan, I was too excited to visit the country, which is too near, but still far away. In a city like Peshawar, where millions of Afghans live, for most of us Kabul still remains exotic. I started nursing a desire to visit this nearby city.
I could have taken the venture to visit Kabul in a private trip, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been that much exciting, fruitful, informative and mind-shaping as was the third AfPak media exchange program organized by the Equal Access. When we landed in Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, I thought some danger will be lurking just outside the airport but as soon as we left behind the airport, a wide and neat highway and some skyscrapers and lustrous marriage halls by the side of the road welcome us. I was astonished. And all of a sudden the grim pictures I had in mind regarding Kabul disappeared. To watch and read is something totally different than coming to Kabul and seeing the developments you’re your own eye. Though on the way to our lodge, I came across too many beautiful things yet the same time, those poor and pale faces, bristled hair of the beggars still haunt me.
On one side there was astonishing development and changing city while on the other there was poverty quite visible in every square of the city. Those very statuses of poverty tell their own stories of grief and terror and economic disparity. Whenever I have stepped out the confines of the guesthouse not far away from the beautiful Shahr-e-Naw, I came across a multitude of unskilled laborers waiting desperately but with a despondent look on their faces that someone will come and pick them up for construction works. The poor state of these laborers and beggars speak volumes of economic disparity and the widening rich-poor standoff. On one hand, if Kabul has been flooded with latest cars and shops are being built with an exotic touch, on the other hand, poverty makes this city obnoxious as it is flooded with beggars.
New buildings are being built. Kabul has become the world’s fastest changing city of the world, and given that there are no major security problems and the city doesn’t slide back into 90s, soon the city will regain its ancient charm, tranquility and attracting people from across the world. The signs of the war are disappearing from the capital city or you may say there are no signs of the war at all. Yet there is sub-consciously felt fear, which is ubiquitous and being felt not only by those coming from outside but even the natives. Amid this fear, guest houses are being sprawling. The city is growing. What is worth interest is most of the people know speaking Urdu. This is because either they have lived in Pakistan or they learnt it from Indian movies. The people are friendly. By looking at the dresses of the people, one can easily build up a view of how the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and some well-off Afghans, educated in the West, have shaped the city’s culture. The people are open. They are not diplomatic. And they speak their hearts frankly and honestly. Whatever they feel about Pakistan, they speak it out.
Being in Kabul and back in your hometown makes you think that our soils, of course, are parted but not our souls. There is warmth in the air and love on the ground.
Though, there is an array of grievances, some of them not unfounded. And these grievances need to be addressed. The people, we met there make a long list, but meeting with Malala Shinwari, an ex-parliamentarian and a person who visited Taliban’s Qatar Office, a few months back as a part of a 20-member delegation and held informal peace talks with the representatives of the Taliban, provided a window on women’s role in politics and peace talks.
Since the theme of this third media exchange was “women’s empowerment” therefore meeting with women’s change agents was really productive to peep into women’s role in shaping the future of Afghanistan. Shinwari said the Taliban representatives voiced their support, for the first time, for female lawmakers. Another worth mentioning name is Jamila Mujahid, the CEO of The Voice of Afghan Women Radio FM 96.3.
This radio channel is speaks for women’s rights and provides them an opportunity to raise their voices. She briefed us on the history and efforts of the channel for Women Empowerment. The week-long stay in Kabul was enough to make my view regarding Afghanistan. I wish peace must thrive in the AfPak region and the two nations come closer so that our souls are not parted. Visiting Kabul is different than leaving Kabul. Before taking the venture to visit Kabul there is a sense of fear and insecurity, however, when you leave the city, you are reluctant to say good bye.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. She holds a masters degree in journalism and wants to focus on women’s empowerment through media.