By Farooq Sulehria
August 09, 2012
Kabul is shrouded in dust. Until a few years ago, dust would cover the town mostly during summer. Now it envelops it the whole year round. Millions of saplings have been planted to compensate for the aggressive deforestation caused by the civil war in the 1990s. However, not merely do side-streets remain unpaved; some of the major roads have been left unfinished. Meantime, Kabul has now become home to roughly four million people. In the absence of a decent public transport system, middle-class families drive around in private cars. When half-a-million vehicles ply Kabul’s unpaved streets, they send clouds of dust into the air, where they continue. That waste is not recycled, even when collected, Kabul is fast becoming an environmental catastrophe.
An aggressive foreign occupation, mindless Taliban violence, phenomenal financial corruption by politicians beyond accountability has alienated Kabulis. Insecurity about the future has apparently rendered them indifferent to all such problems. This alienation and indifference further dim the atmosphere of the town. On arrival from Pakistan, the only factor you find enviable is the uninterrupted power supply.
Amid the pall of gloom and dust, the youth turn to music. These days, Arif Lohar’s “Jugni” is all the rage. For the first time since 9/11, an import from Pakistan has been popularly welcomed. I noticed another goodwill gesture towards Pakistan. Stencilled on all sides are friendly slogans on Kabul’s buses – in Urdu, Persian, and Pashto. “Pak-Afghan Dosti Zindabad” (Long live Pakistani-Afghan friendship), says the Urdu slogan. “Tohfa az Pakistan” (A gift from Pakistan), announces the line in Dari (Afghan Persian). However, as if to annoy Pakhtuns, the Pashto version is incorrectly written.
Instead of saying “Zamong worar wali adamah lari” (Our friendship will go on), it says “Chamong rorowali adamah lari” which means nothing. “It seems a bored Punjabi stencilled the Pashto version,” quipped my local comrade-cum-guide.
I haven’t been to Kabul University for the last three years. But four years ago, when I visited the campus an under-construction building was described as an Arts Faculty dedicated to Allama Iqbal, built by Pakistan. These are expressions of Pakistan’s soft power. Now brace for harsh realities entailing “strategic depth.”
Pakistan is the “other” in post-9/11 Afghanistan. My personal impression is that Pakistan is not hated in India, Islamabad’s official enemy number one. On the contrary, a Pakistani is often warmly welcomed. It is either among certain quarters in Bangladesh or Afghanistan that one finds some revulsion for Pakistan. Our military experts appearing on talk shows hosted by media Mujahideen and the Jihadi columnist dominating the Urdu press predicting Taliban victory are a throwback to the press coverage ahead of the Pakistani army’s surrender at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka on December 16. Until December 15, our mainstream press was convincingly arguing the case for an Indian rout in East Pakistan. When Faiz and Jalib attempted to break the silence, they were persecuted. Faiz went underground, Jalib ended up in prison.
As I write these lines on the evening of August 3, my ears echo with debates and news reports I heard this morning on Kabul TV. Participants of the talk-show Nun (Today), parliament members Sadiqzada Neeli and Qazi Nazeer were arguing the case for an attack on Pakistan in retaliation for rockets fired from Pakistan killing innocent Afghan citizens. Nun is followed by, Doim Mukh (Second Page), a current-affairs programme. Yet again Pakistan is attracting criticism. Recently Dr Muhammad Hussain Yasa was arrested. An activist of a pro-Iran party, led by Muhammad Mohaqqiq, Dr Yasa was spotted frequently visiting the Pakistani embassy. Intelligence sleuths were alerted. Doim Mukh reports that Dr Yasa’s brother is a brigadier in the Pakistani army. “Links with Pakistan are not news,” says journalist Waheed Mozda. As Doim Mukh proceeds, one meets Abdul Rehman Hotak, a political analyst. He advocates teaching Pakistan a lesson. Invoking the strategic alliance struck between Kabul and Washington, he requests the US to attack Pakistan.
When I visited Afghanistan in summer last year, attacks on Afghanistan by Pakistani forces were the biggest media debate. Alleged Pakistani aggression was a subject of considerable debate even at the Afghan parliament last summer. Ironically, when one switches to Pakistani TV channels, one finds Pakistani newscasters reporting on Taliban arriving from Afghanistan and killing Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan receives little sympathy in real-life Kabul too. Mention Pakistan and a flurry of complaints follows. “Pakistan is withholding school textbooks at Karachi port,” an official at the education ministry complained. “Construction material is delayed because of Pakistani tactics, and this affects our country’s reconstruction effort,” grumbled another at the ministry of public works. Honestly, every time I return to Kabul, I find it hard to decide which of the two is more unpopular here: the occupation or Pakistan?
Farooq Sulehria is a freelance contributor.