AFGHANISTAN. THE name triggers almost a kneejerk reaction — The Taliban. Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has suffered continuous brutal civil war, including foreign interventions up to the recent 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government. Today, it is undergoing massive reconstruction — infrastructure, heritage and broken homes being fixed in a quest for a new identity for itself in the world.
The young Afghans are an ambitious lot, bustling through the corridors of Delhi’s colleges. Mansoor Jalal, 22, a graduate student in Jamia-Millia-Islamia, New Delhi, speaks English with an American accent. “In Afghanistan, it is a common practice to enrol into English tutoring classes, coached by Americans,” he says proudly. Mansoor’s dad is a college lecturer and his mother is a housewife in Kabul. He is happy now, happier than he’s been before. Living in a new born democracy with more security and less fears, he can see a bright future. “I am a global citizen,” he says about the possibilities of settling down outside Afghanistan.
How is youth reacting to the strong American foothold? “People outside look at it as American invasion. It’s really not that! It’s just their presence. There is a positive difference back home,” stresses Mansoor, giving examples of reconstruction work progressing each time he visits and more security for the people he sees being implemented. “The youth are angry. They want change. Having the Americans now is fine, but we will be more independent soon,” he says.
Twenty two-year-old Roya Saquib, a graduate student at Jamia-Millia-Islamia, feels India is the most preferred place to study when considering study options abroad. The fee is reasonable enough for a middle class family to afford it. “It’s also safe and comfortable for women here. I wish most for safety and unity in Afghanistan,” she says.
The students are a part of ‘Bridge the Gap’, a cultural exchange project between Afghan and Indian students, organised by the YP Foundation. The project aims to engage youth from both communities through the medium of discussion, films, literature and art, to promote better cultural understanding between each other.
So how do we bridge the gap? Idrees Haider, 22, a student at Indraprastha college in Delhi, sang two songs at Resurrecting Afghanistan, YP foundation’s film festival — Allah Ke Bande by Kailash Kher, and a Pashtun song, “I am the perfect example of bridging the gap. I want to show my love for both,” he smiles.
“In India, shopkeepers charge extra from foreigners, but in Afghanistan, if you’re Indian, you’ll always get a discount. We love India that much,” says 21-year-old Basser Ahmed. It’s time we reciprocate.