I write this piece while passing through a remote region of Afghanistan. The locals here, although extremely poor, share bread, tea, and the stories of their lives, with a generous heart.
As we gathered under the freezing cold, a news segment aired on the radio. Afghans like their news, the way they like their tea -- hot and in constant supply. When the newsreader started to narrate the biggest story of the day—President Donald Trump’s press conference on Syria and Afghanistan— the men around me stopped what they were doing to pay close attention.
I watched as expressions of disappointment drew over their faces after hearing Mr Trump applaud the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. One of the older men sitting near me turned and said: “But the Soviets were the enemy to us and the Americans.”
He, and many others from that village who had fought the Soviets in the 1980s, were left confused: Why was the leader of a nation that they had viewed as a close ally now justifying an invasion carried out by a rival?
Afghans have considered Americans not just as supporters in the country’s fight against the Soviets, but also the main backers in the war against the Taliban’s extremist and oppressive rule that ended when the US intervened in 2001.
I remember the days immediately after the fall of the Taliban regime. I was a young boy and was visiting Kabul with my family. I recall seeing the destruction of roads and buildings along the way. Hardly any structure survived Washington’s bombing campaign or the country's civil war. But we rejoiced for the American forces nevertheless.
This might sound like a simplistic view of divisive US intervention in the country, but we cheered for American soldiers because for many of us they brought the hope of a better Afghanistan. We knew we could now expect better things because our friends had come to our rescue.
This is also why hearing what Mr Trump had to say was so upsetting. It was disheartening to hear President Trump refer to Afghans as people who wouldn’t be likely to visit a library. That isn’t true. Afghanistan has a contributed tremendously to global art and literature. I would like to remind the president that one of the most widely read poets in the world today -- Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi, more famously known as Rumi – is an Afghan.
It’s true that the literacy rate in Afghanistan isn’t very high today, owing to decades of war, conflict and poverty. However, that’s where our allies play an important role. Countries like India, that are developing nations themselves, have contributed to rebuilding our nation as we attempt to end this war. Their contributions, which include the building of libraries, have helped us develop our human resource. Our relationships with our allies isn’t mutually exclusive instead it reflects the diversity of the stakeholders who have invested in the future of Afghanistan. We stand by this diversity with pride and gratitude.
Afghans are a proud people. We are fiercely protective of our history and heritage. And so it is understandable why so many Afghans, especially those with Mujahideen history, would feel as though their struggle against the Soviets has been undermined by Mr Trump’s latest comments.
What’s more, Afghans and Americans alike are victims of global terrorism. This is reason enough for us to remain allies and strengthen the historical bond we share. Afghan forces have sacrificed their lives, alongside American soldiers in an effort to preserve the freedoms of both our countries. We value those sacrifices and mourn every American life lost on our soil, just as much as we do our own men.
We hope President Trump will not write us off so quickly, because Afghans are also fiercely loyal people. I implore the Americans, many of whom are my dearest friends and colleagues, to talk to us, get to know us and our shared history. In return, we will give our loyalty, as we have in the years past.