Reading The Afghan Future

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Reading the Afghan future

Five months after the election, Afghanistan still does not have a president. But what Aaquib Khan discovered in the streets of Kabul during the election season fills one’s heart with hope

Afghanistan conjures up an image of a country torn between bullets and religious bullies, a no woman’s land, and a nation of young and old with little or no hope in a world that could not even be remotely called modern. The image in my mind was no different, well, until I landed in Kabul this March, when the country was preparing for its all-important presidential election.

Though a lot of the imagery conformed to my understanding of Afghanistan, there was more to it, at least in Kabul, which cameras rarely capture. It is a place where tradition and modernity are struggling to co-exist. But Afghans are making progress. There is hope, aspiration, warmth and hospitality, especially when they see the blue passport.

“Oh, you are Indian? I love Indian films,” is a phrase that is commonly heard. Posters of Indian film stars are not uncommon. A mall is named after New Delhi’s famous Select Citywalk. Visit any market place and you will bump into an Afghan student who studied in India.

The streets of Kabul run counter to the stereotype that we have of the city. Besides burqa-clad women, one can spot school-going girls strolling down the roads as well as young women going to college. DVDs of Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters can be found everywhere in a land where the Taliban had banned movies and mannequins, and brought down the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Colourful advertisements of telecom companies, FM stations and 24-hour TV channels are all over the place. When I switched on the TV, the two leading presidential candidates were debating their manifestos. There are plenty of hookah bars where hookah and coffee are served. There is no alcohol, but the youth dance to loud music.

The day I reached Kabul, there had been two terror attacks. One of the targets was the Election Commission, which, in retrospect, has done a wonderful job in organising the election in a vast and divided country. I was scared by the news of the blasts. But the people seemed to take it in their stride. The presence of my Afghan host, who studied in New Delhi, came as a big relief.

Bomb blasts or not, the people of Kabul are not afraid of venturing out. Vehicles honk past you and leave a trail of dust. Afghans complain of increasing pollution. Security personnel man the streets, helicopters hover over you, as it is poll season. Posters are everywhere, on electric poles, walls, shutters, and political slogans fill the air.

In Kabul, I savoured gulab jamun at a restaurant called Namaste, where the waiter was a Chinese and the owner a south Indian. The joint served idlis and dosas too.

Amidst all this exuberance, there is some apprehension: What will happen when the NATO troops leave? But the youth are not worried. A lot of hope is pinned on the election. The popular slogan of the youth says it all: “No Tajik, no Hazara, no Pashtun. One Afghan.”

Reality bytes Youngsters surf the Internet near the ruins of the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul. However, only 5.5 percent of the youth
have access to Internet in the country
Bollywood fever A poster of Hindi film Jab Tak Hai Jaan starring Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif adorns the wall of a music shop in Kabul. Bollywood movies are quite a rage in the country
Brides wanted Just like in India, weddings are a big festivity here. A typical wedding dress costs Rs 20,000. Lavish wedding halls have mushroomed all over Kabul in the past few years
Fight club Martial arts are a craze among the youth. Students from schools and colleges come to places such as the Free Fight Club to learn the techniques of sports such as karate and wrestling
Karaoke nights Restaurants are popular hangouts where the youth sing, dance, smoke hookah and sip coffee. But Kabul’s café culture has been under threat due to recent raids by the police
Hey Mr DJ There is a huge demand for transferring songs and music videos to cell phones, CDs, etc. Many youth, and even religious old men, visit these shops to get songs of their choice uploaded
Writing’s on the wall A graffiti calls for unity among Afghans, who are divided on the lines of ethnicity. It was common to find such slogans in rallies during the presidential election

Aaquib Khan is a freelance photographer based in New Delhi

[email protected]

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