My Country, My Life, My Work Under the Taliban Rule in Afghanistan
By Saleem (pseudonym)
Life under the changing, often experienced as harsh and brutal, influences of what some view as a terrorist Taliban junta can be challenging, but is especially critical in my capacity as a peacebuilder, human rights and women rights activist, and a professor who teaches modern studies. I was born and raised in a war zone, but highly enthusiastic about studying abroad to change my war-torn society into a more peaceful one, where everyone, both women and men, girls and boys, can enjoy the fundamental human rights of getting an education and work. I, Saleem (pseudonym) was provided a rich opportunity to study peace, conflict analysis, and development studies in prestigious universities through prestigious international scholarships.
In 2014 when completing my Fulbright scholarship in USA, relatives and close friends insisted that I remain in the US as a refugee, but I have set a totally different goal for myself and for my country. I believe that living and working in my country will help thousands of young women and men achieve education and acquire the right to work. In addition to being a university professor, I have had the opportunity to work in the context of civil society, where I have worked for human rights, women’s rights, education development, and peacebuilding. Pursuing these particular objectives while facing the evolving cultural challenges, has been risky and full of personal sacrifices. For instance, I lost two of my uncles who were medical doctors working especially for economically disadvantaged families (victims of war). This was a tragic occurrence during the Taliban’s resumption of power. My second uncle was assassinated in eastern Afghanistan right before his clinic.
I lost my job resulting in severe financial problems. I can no longer support my family of four sisters and four brothers. I have been labeled SPY when, in reality, I am only an ambassador of peace… When conflict results in a change of government, it is easy to be misinterpreted with respect to objective and action. Accordingly, I have remained in hiding since August 16, 2021. This has naturally resulted in severe psychological pressures/tensions. My world literally collapsed because of my inability to be with my family and constantly changing locations. My family still receives threatening calls from certain elements within the Taliban.
The senior leadership of the Taliban often speaks of impunity, but on the ground, realities tell other stories, such as extra-judicial killings and imprisonment. Today, I regret prior efforts at espousing the values of the US and UK in Afghanistan. I was on the frontlines of implementing initiatives to empower women, advance education, build peaceful conditions, reducing corruption on behalf of the US and UK-based organizations, which have since abandoned me.
As a peacebuilder, I am not in a position to take sides in a conflict or advocate for particular political ideologies. Still, conflicts too often result in being misinterpreted as doing such. One can only hope that as conditions normalize under different leadership, peacebuilders will be viewed in a proper light and valued. Regrettably, that does not appear yet to be the case.
Today schools and universities for girls have closed and the ruling Taliban are changing the role of women in society. One can only hope things will eventually change in ways that affirm the well-being of all Afghans. I recently called one of my female students Ms. Nazia (pseudonym) to hear her personal story. She was crying and said, “I have no future in this country. I lost all my hopes. Schools are closed and we are again treated as housewives only and means of satisfaction for men, which is really bad.”
While remaining appropriately apolitical, I hope the world will not turn its back on and isolate Afghanistan. In the spirit of affirming the essential interests of humanity, Afghanistan needs to be invited into and engaged by, the community nations. Only through positive engagement can Afghans eventually overcome their current challenges and realize their potential as full-fledged members of humanity.
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