Dear Mr. President,
My name is Tawab Malekzad. I am one of the thousands of Afghans living abroad. I left Afghanistan in 2007 to continue my education. During my time abroad, I have taken every opportunity to educate foreigners about our 5,000 year-old culture, our great countrymen, and our beautiful country’s history.
This letter is for you and my watandar (countrymen).
I remember hearing gunfire and rocket explosions when I was a kid. I remember using bullet shells as toys. I spent the majority of my childhood hiding in my family’s dark basement. I remember my teacher spending half of the class warning us not to pick up any objects that we found outside. He spent the other half of class educating us about landmines.
The day the Taliban took control of Kabul, my father took me for a walk during which I saw young men atop tanks holding Kalashnikovs and RPG rockets and waving white flags. Like many other Afghan kids, I was not afraid, but I could not possibly imagine just how much my life was about to change.
That same day my family fled the country and sought refuge in Pakistan. My family and I lived happily in Pakistan. We never had to hide in a basement, not even once. As a matter of fact we didn’t even have a basement.
While living in Pakistan, I heard of the horrible and inhumane acts the Taliban were committing against Afghan citizens in the name of Islam. They were beating women for not wearing chardaris (burqas), and attacking men for not growing beards or wearing perahan tunban. They ended women’s education and told women to leave the workforce. The Taliban executed people publicly; they hung people and they stoned people. This list goes on and on and it does not get any better.
The inhumane acts against Afghan citizens were not the only crimes that the Taliban committed. The Taliban also destroyed our historic sites, our 5,000 year-old culture, our infrastructure, and our agriculture-based economy. Looking back at their five years of control in Afghanistan, I cannot come up with a single positive thing that the Taliban did.
After international forces toppled the Taliban government, we moved back to Afghanistan in hopes of a fresh start. We hoped to rebuild both our lives and our war-torn country. The development and progress made over the past 12 years are undeniable. Day by day, Afghanistan moves closer to a brighter future. Yet, there have been some challenges that have hindered the country’s development.
The Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, provides a path that will help us move toward the positive future that we have been working for. I respect the fact that you called for the Loya Jirga to decide on whether to sign the agreement or not. Now that the Loya Jirga have made their choice, you have since decided not to abide by the outcome they reached. Although you said you would respect their agreement, you have not followed through on your promise.
There are many different opinions concerning the future path of Afghanistan, both within and outside the country. One of the questions is: what will happen once the U.S. forces and the international community leave Afghanistan? Within the country, Afghans compare your government to that of Dr. Najibullah’s government after the USSR’s withdrawal. Afghans believed then that an elected government would remain in power for a few years after the Soviets were gone. Today, I cannot imagine a government surviving for more than a few months. Currently, Afghanistan’s armed forces are not as well equipped or trained as they were when the USSR withdrew.
The international community compares the future of Afghanistan to that of Iraq. The United States withdrew when they failed to sign a similar agreement with the Iraqi government. After eight years of fighting in Iraq, the American troops left the country in December 2011. The critical difference between Iraq and Afghanistan is that Iraq had a sustainable source of income to continue their fight against insurgent groups. Afghanistan does not have that sustainable source of income. According to the Finance Minister, Omer Zakhailwal, close to 100 percent of our budget depends on foreign aid. It is clear that Afghanistan is not ready to continue the fight against the rebels alone.
You not only refused to sign the agreement, but you have also demanded that talks with the Taliban resume. Throughout the past 12 years, the Taliban have been responsible for every single suicide bombing, which they claim to do in the name of Islam. Consequently, they have killed thousands of innocent Afghans. The Holy Quran, in 4:93, says, “If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell… and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” It is clear that the Taliban use Islam as a means and not as an end in itself. You of all people should know that the Taliban have no mercy; they take people’s lives without a moment’s hesitation. The events of the past few days illustrate this.
After refusing to sign the agreement, you met with the prime minister of Pakistan to discuss security issues. At the same time, the Pakistani army was launching rockets into Afghanistan. It is clear for all Afghans and the world that Pakistan has harbored those people that planned to bring horror and terror to Afghans’ lives, rather than security. I will let Afghanistan’s shared history with Pakistan speak for itself.
It is clear that our neighboring countries do not wish to see a strong and united Afghanistan. Therefore, they will do whatever it takes to push away foreign support and aid from Afghanistan. A fragile Afghanistan will not only give them the opportunity to have greater political influence in our country, but also to take advantage of the cheap labor of Afghan immigrants.
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen and as an Afghan who loves his country and countrymen. Like you, I care about Afghanistan and the security of its citizens. However, unlike you, I see Pakistan as an enemy of Afghanistan, not a brother. I see the security agreement with the United States as a safety net for Afghans and Afghanistan. I do not want any other Afghan kid to play with bullet shells as toys. I do not want any Afghan kid to grow up in the darkness of basements. I do not want any Afghan girl to be uneducated. I do not want any Afghan woman to be beaten up ruthlessly in public. I do not want to see any Afghan without the right to live how they choose.
Therefore, I ask you, my President— my countryman – to lead Afghanistan onto a path toward peace and prosperity. I ask you to sign the agreement because this agreement will help rather than harm. This agreement will ensure the security, the continuous development, and the progress that our country needs.
Tawab Malekzad is the co-founder of Foreign Policy Today.
*Photo Credit: Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos