By Anjan Roy
A top ranking US diplomat had observed in a security conference in Qatar years back, where this correspondent was privileged to be a participant, that “a country is known by the sport it plays”.
Afghanistan’s national sport is “buzkashi’, which is a gruesome blood sport, involving players on horseback trying togged hold the carcass of a headless goat. There are no rules and laws regulating the movements, it is free for all. Bid to capture the bloody mass of flesh.
By the end of the game, invariably several of the participants are brutally wounded or injured and the object of greed is reduced to mince meat unrecognisable from its original form or shape.
By the end of the twenty years of coalition forces occupation of Afghanistan, until the Taliban freshly ran over the whole country, people had reportedly spotted thronged crowds watching locals play games of cricket. Football matches were also sometimes witnessed.
Adjacent to Pakistan and India, some optimists even hoped that there would be an addition to the international cricket tournament of another country.
Taliban or no Taliban, Afghanistan has irrevocably changed in the last twenty years since the end of the Soviet occupation. Roads had been built, traffic flows quickened with fast cars (instead of horse drawn carriages), multi-storied buildings had appeared and civic facilities were viable in the major cities.
But there are at the outset, manifestations of some deeper societal transformation. Afghans had learnt to speak up freely. A multiplicity of voices have emerged, almost rising to cacophony.
Unlike the Soviet days, Afghanistan had witnessed the pupal emergence of a middle class, which, given the chance, could have played a role of a midwife nurturing s robust democratic polity. The Afghan middle class is now getting reduced to poverty and utter uncertainty about its future.
These ground realities were articulated by a handful of intellectuals, all from the region, at a webinar hosted by the Central Asian Programme of the George Washington University last night. The importance of what they were saying was highlighted by the fact that barring one, all of those giving details of what was happening, were young women. They were desperately voicing their frustration about potential losses from the region itself.
One of the biggest loss, some of these ladies were bemoaning, was crumbling of national institutions which were set up in the last twenty years. The institutions had a principal achievement: these were institutions which had been able to “develop a chain of command bypassing the traditional family and tribal structures and affiliations”.
Such social capital was the foundation on which a modern state could be built and a precondition to development of a merit-based rational system of administration. These young ladies are pointing out the sudden “brain drain” from Afghanistan which is leaving the country devoid of that elusive talent, which is the most productive contributor to overall development of a society and a country.
One of these commentators is Mélanie Sadozaï, a PhD candidate in International Relations at the Center for Europe and Eurasian Studies (CREE) at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO/Sorbonne Paris Cité) in Paris, France, and a Visiting Scholar at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the George Washington University.
Another is Malali Bashir, a journalist and video producer, who is from Kabul, has covered a range of topics related to Afghanistan, often with a women’s rights perspective. Bashir has written for BBC Pashto, Foreign Policy, and The Daily Times. Prior to her journalistic work, Malali was a Fulbright scholar at Brandeis University, Massachusetts.
MS Bahir was speaking on the basis of facts gathered from her contacts in various cities and districts of Afghanistan and displayed details of what was happening on the ground. People from Nimroz province were fleeing to Kabul for fear of reprisals at the local levels where children have stopped going to schools altogether.
In Balkh and Badakshan, girls were being told to get into Hijab. They haven’t heard of Hijab, these being absent for two decades. The price of Hijab has increased from 400 Afghani (local currency) to 2000. A typical blue Brkha was the preferred colour.
If there is promise from Taliban to leadership of co-operation and no reprisals, there are communications gap between the local levels and top leadership. Bashir avers. (IPA Service)