Afghan journalists pray for asylum, ‘not Pakistan’!
Journalist Alyssa Jan is sitting in Kabul at her paternal grandfather’s aunt’s place. She arrived in the dead of the night from Baghlan on August 14 – ironically the day marked and celebrated as Pakistan’s Independence, a country she blames for snatching the joy of Afghanistan, in her lifetime. On this night marking her neighboring country’s freedom- ‘Unfortunately,’ she says, “My freedom is doomed forever this day onwards, in my own country.”
Talking to The Kashmir Images, from Kabul, Alyssa is a woman, a bold journalist, and remains un-hijabed, by choice. All these boons ‘unfortunately’ are transformed into banes with the first ray of the sun of 15th August that spells doom for her, her gender, her ilk, and her family. This mid-August Day spells the dawn of India’s Independence Day celebrations, a country she loves as most Afghans do.
Incidentally, hers and most of other Afghan’s style of conversation starts on a luck-scale with words like -‘Fortunately’ or ‘Unfortunately’; Life for Afghans indeed is not only perilous but pendulous, oscillating wildly on the luck factor.
Ask her about her present condition, and she says: “Fortunately, my father and brother drove me here on my insistence. Since I and my brother are the only earning members of the family, we could get our way. It was a horrendous fearful journey that lasted 9-hours, circumventing check posts being taken over by the Taliban, as the transition of power to the oppressor was taking place, albeit sluggishly, as dust winds swept large swathes of barren landscape enroute. We reached my aunt’s house in Kabul and were sneaked in.”
She continues: “While my family members stayed in Kabul for few days to ensure that I may get onto a flight from Kabul airport, they were forced to leave seeing the futility of the situation and the dangers during their own return journey. I refused to go with them. I tried everything to get out of Afghanistan, writing an application for a visa, networking with fellow journalists but each one was loaded with their own sufferings and desperately looking at their own safety, family and connections to zoom to another country for freedom.”
Another journalist inserted: “Unfortunately, we two being from a different province the local Kabul journalists were at an advantage and we are at a disadvantage. Kabul-based journalists were more adept at networking, connections, know-how, had information access, additionally also knew surreptitious routes to Kabul airport, which we did not.”
A male journalist who too tried to reach a flight out of Kabul but failed contended: “Unfortunately, things turned horrendous day by day with blackened faces of women’s posters on show windows of beauty parlors, billboards and Ads. Several desperate Afghans wanting to leave Afghanistan were killed in Asadabad as the Taliban fired on the crowd waving national flags of Afghanistan after tearing down the Taliban’s white flags. Two loaded bomb blasts on the airport and the entire place turned into bloodied-limbs hell. Unfortunately, the blasts sealed our fate too, as they halted evacuation and several other operations.”
The NATO forces left in the dead of the night of 30 August just before the clock chimed in the next day of the deadline dawn of 31st August 2021! Ratt-a-Tatt from automatic weapons – echoed and droned around hills throughout the deathly silence of that day and night, in a victory Celebratory fire.
“If Pakistan is the only option to save your life, will you go?” I asked
“Unfortunately, I hate to say this, but I hate Pakistan and would try to save me in other ways. It is not easy to say but I would rather die in Afghanistan than go to Pakistan begging,” a woman journalist chips in.
Another fellow male journalist aired hesitancy. “I would go to Pakistan but only with a job opportunity, never otherwise.”
“Will you come to India?” I insert.
“Yes! Yes!” They chorus in unison on Zoom talk, their smiles and eyes lighting up, soon to look forlorn again. “Fortunately, we can go to any English-speaking country of the world, because many of us know the language, rest is Khuda’s marzi,” one of the journalists sums it for all of them.
Unaware of the worldly view of their plight, Alyssa sings us a song ‘Mei Tujhe Qabool, Tu Mujhe Qabool’ to reinforce her love for Indians and Bollywood. The song was from the film ‘Khuda Gawah’, the last Indian mega movie shot in Afghanistan.
India is loved by Afghans due to its sensibilities, its syncretic, plural and inclusive culture and also bold Indian Muslims like Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah who took strong exception to a section of Indian Muslims who celebrated the capture of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The actor openly expressed extreme displeasure over the euphoria by the section of Indian Muslims saying that even as the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a cause for deep concern for the world, the celebration of barbarians by a section of Indian Muslims is no less dangerous.
He asked every Indian Muslim to ask themselves if they want a reformed modern Islam or the barbaric values of the past? “I am an Indian Muslim and as Mirza Ghalib said years ago, my relationship with God is informal, I don’t need a politicized religion!” Naseeruddin tweeted in a video message.
Alyssa’s bid to get on a flight from Kabul airport is shattered even as she had banked entirely on the fact that she was allotted a USAID project related to strengthening the role of women in Afghan society. “They have left us to our fate, I am deathly scared now,” she laughed as if it was a joke.
On an aside, Alyssa needs to be more fearful, as the back channels are floating heavy with rumors, that the Taliban are contemplating creating ‘Female Madrassas’ to radicalize entire families to forward their Jihad agenda.
Changing the topic to a lighter tone, Alyssa relates to us about her grandmother talking about Nawroz- the Parsi New Year celebrations. The Nowruz tradition is over 3,000 years old and was widely observed in Afghanistan, as a happy occasion with the arrival of spring solstice on March 21st. “Baghlan, my home province is the historic site of the Fire Temple ruins of Parsis of Iran, in Afghanistan,” she adds. “My grandmother says: the ‘Guli Surkh Festival’ (Red flower or Tulip Festival) during Nowruz, was the highpoint. It was celebrated with songs and swinging while preparing delicious cuisine of ‘Samanak’-a special dish made of sprouting wheat, symbolically ushering in new beginnings. ‘Haft Mewa’ – a salad of seven dry fruits including walnuts, almonds, prunes, pistachios hazelnuts, and plums with Kulcha-e-Nowruzi cookie and Mahi wa Jelabi a dish of Fish, being the highlights. Men played a game of Buzkashi – Men on horsebacks use a goat carcass as a ball to score goals, besides which people visited Blue Mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif- a symbol of Peace.”
“These times were moments of joy, merriment and outing however, other than the two Eids, every happy occasion has been sacrificed. We are at the whims and fancies of trigger-hungry Taliban who wave their guns at any hint of entertainment, digressing even slightly from Islam,” she says.
Meantime, Rag-tag, shaggy, wild-bearded, stoned, light-menacing-eyed, Gun-toting Taliban baby-clutch M-16 and M4 Rifles and Carbines, leftovers from NATO forces and scan offices lists of employees to make notes of women employees. Alyssa’s colleagues inform her about how they have made off with the list of employee names.
Male journalists are also on the lens of the Taliban. They are being hounded for abandoning their place of work. It is assumed by the Taliban that these journalists who didn’t report for work were purportedly reporting against the Taliban and were seeking asylum to save themselves from brutal punishments.
At Kabul near the airport, other journalists have preferred to change their appearance to look like disinterested men, and merge with the ordinary public instead of standing out with their neat appearance. Few were luckily whisked away in the aircrafts including women journalists. Many await their turn, hoping that Almighty may make them ‘Fortunate.
To this painful time in history, a poem by Ellen Bass reproduced below is apt and elevating.
The Thing Is ….
By Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like
your own flesh
Only more of it, an obesity of grief,
You think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face,
No charming smile, no violet eyes,
And you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
PS: All names and other giveaways have been changed to protect Afghan Journalists