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THREE YEARS ago, during a ghastly but compulsory maternity confinement, I sought solace reading anything ever written by J.R.R. Tolkien and Khaled Hosseini. Let’s talk about the latter and keep the former for future discussion when time and word-limits are kinder to us.
Hosseini, through his best-selling fiction (I have my doubts for I still think the book is a semi-memoir), The Kite Runner, conjured up a moving image of life in Kabul. Since then, I have longed to set foot on that history-rich desert where dust is considered a curse; it is a place so foreign that it invokes melancholia – and romance, even – in the deepest corners of our hearts, think you not?
I sought more and found numerous pictures, websites, write-ups and books on Afghanistan. Yet, my insatiable desire knows no bounds. So, I badgered my friend, who sits on Mercy Malaysia’s committee board, to send me there in the name of charity. She is still, as we speak, ignoring my desperate plea. Some friends I have!
Since I am not going to Kabul anytime soon, I seek your indulgence to listen to my story about Afghanistan – from my flawed perspective, of course. If you could spare a few minutes, that is.
Poor Afghanistan! For centuries – though arising from colliding continental plates and arid landscape – she has been geographically blessed to be at the crossroad of trade and migration between East and West.
But if you were to knock on the graves of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timor Lang (Tamerlane), Persian Kings or even Turkish Sultans, to ask about Afghanistan, I think the answer from these conquerors would likely be something along these lines: “Frankly, my dear, this is a very unforgiving land.”
Great empires have fought futile battles to conquer this bereft land. None have ever succeeded in exerting their influence, let alone in leaving legacy for the Afghanistan spit out so unceremoniously. The British Empire, in a deluded dream to expand during the 19th century, still has rows upon rows of graveyards of the soldiers who died in Afghanistan to show for it – a painful reminder of their past mistake.
Even the great assault launched by the then Communist Russia resulted in defeat when their soldiers just refused to march on, singing phases like “even the tree hates you in Afghanistan”. So the story went. But a new type of conquest, heavily re-branded to avoid the nasty stigma of imperialism, is well under way in Afghanistan. Euphemisms like “the fight against terrorism” now replace more accurate (though less socially acceptable) words like “murder”.
Lest this new-age conqueror forget those failed attempts to conquer this unfortunate postcode named Afghanistan, history is bound to repeat itself. How cliché.
Poorer still would be the fate of the Afghans, who already have shorter lifespans due to things like lack of basic healthcare, education and amenities, and are now faced with the additional challenge of bombs falling on their rooftops.
Oh, did I tell that death now comes in a new form for the Afghans?
The last time the Russians came visiting, Afghans feared the deafening sound of flying bullets and bursting bombs that plied their skyline with the precision of a Japanese train schedule. Nowadays, with the advent of technology, death has been reengineered for them in the soundless serenity of the night using unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones if you like), controlled hundreds of miles away from Afghanistan and her borders.To some, such senseless killing is in the name of curbing militant groups’ activities. I just wonder if the machines can differentiate between the militants and civilians – or children for that matter.
The poorest title goes to the children of Afghanistan. Conceived and born in a war-torn desert, their days are numbered. Poverty, a phosphorous environment, hunger and even stray missiles prey on them. Many have been turned into orphans and their basic needs of decent shelter, food and education are sorely neglected. Need I say more, really?
World War II American General Dwight D. Eisenhower had a message when he said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those whose hunger is not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
● Elviza Michele Kamal has always been fond of the road less travelled. She is now staring forlornly at her passport. She blogs at http://www.elviza.wordpress. com