Eid cease-fire shows Afghans there is an alternative
I escaped the Taliban with my family when I was young and, despite now studying for a Ph.D. at Cambridge, I still think of Afghanistan. This year, I was thinking of those back home more than ever.
Just a year after my family and I left in the back of a refrigerated lorry, another group making the same treacherous trip lost their lives. Their fate impressed upon me the huge risks people take when they make the decision to leave their home.
My father, Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi, and his studies in law meant that we lived in constant fear of persecution by the Taliban. Not only was his academia a threat, my mother studied law until master’s level, in total opposition to the Taliban’s views on women and education. My parents knew they wanted me and my siblings to have access and the choice to pursue an education, no matter our gender. Our escape gave us that opportunity, but fear of violence or persecution should not prevent those still living in Afghanistan from fulfilling their potential.
For all its history and troubles, Afghanistan is a tapestry, weaving together different communities, ethnicities and backgrounds. While Afghanistan is an Islamic country, its population of 35 million comprises many diverse cultures — including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and many others — all with their own dialects and differentiations in how they practice Islam. Despite years of conflict, these communities continue to live side by side and are still doing their best to improve the country.
We have seen, as witnessed in the news, some dark moments in Afghanistan’s recent history. In the first half of this year alone, more than 1,000 people have died in Afghanistan as a result of terror attacks. Recently, 10 journalists lost their lives in an attack as they rushed to report on one that had happened earlier that morning. This premeditated targeting of journalists showed the terrorists’ disapproval of Afghanistan’s slowly growing free press: A key component of any democracy.
For all its history and troubles, Afghanistan is a tapestry, weaving together different communities, ethnicities and backgrounds.
Democracy is, after all, something that most citizens of Afghanistan hope for. It will allow people to have their say and help shape their institutions without fear of reprisals or coercive control. Afghanistan will be holding parliamentary and district council elections later this year, with a presidential election scheduled for 2019. These opportunities to vote represent individuals’ right to decide the future of their country.
Terrorists, however, thrive on control, not choice. With more than 60 people killed while attempting to register to vote both in Kabul and Baghlan earlier this year, it reconfirms how democracy threatens the Taliban. It is clear they will do whatever they can to prevent its success. What is also clear, however, are the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and the positive steps being made by civil society.
Afghanistan’s future is hard to predict but the cease-fire between the Afghan government and Taliban over Eid can give us some hope. The first cease-fire in 17 years allowed people to return to villages they had to leave behind and showed the young generation of Afghanistan an alternative future. While attacks by other terrorist groups were sadly not prevented and Afghanistan still lost its citizens to gratuitous violence, glimmers of hope did emerge.
Three days may not have been enough time to solve the complex situation but it showed how important an end to the violence is to the people of Afghanistan.
President Ashraf Ghani may or may not continue to be the leader of Afghanistan after the elections, but the process of free and fair ballots is a necessary part of democracy. Whatever happens, he and the government of Afghanistan certainly achieved something with the Eid cease-fire. It may have only been a three-day pause, but it showed people there is a desire on both sides to see a permanent end to the violence; no matter how far in the future that might be.
Our weekend of Eid celebrations and communities coming together encouraged us to reset, recharge and get ready for a new year. From those within the government to people, like me, working and studying abroad and, importantly, those trying to rebuild their everyday lives in Afghanistan, Ramadan may have ended but we now have an opportunity to hold on to the spirit of this holy month.
For me, my hope is that, this time next year, this surge of energy will have led to many more positive stories from Afghanistan.
• Rabia Nasimi is a Ph.D. sociology student at the University of Cambridge, UK. Rabia’s father, Nooralhaq Nasimi, is the founder of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), a London-based charity that helps refugees integrate in the UK.