Understanding the Americans in Afghanistan

    MEMOIR / Afghanistan's youngest female mayor's memoir covering the country's tumultuous two-decade span, from the Taliban's initial banning of women in school to America's incessant airstrikes and beyond.

    Zarifa: A Woman's Battle in a Man's World
    Author: Zarifa Ghafari Hannah Lucinda Smith
    Publisher: Virago Press, UK

    I am about to return to Afghanistan. And on top of my to-go list, there is a name: Maidan Shahr. A city 60 miles from Kabul. A one-hour drive away. The city had the only female mayor in the country. And the youngest, too. Who knows what it looks like now, I told myself. How it changed. What better place to understand the Taliban?

    And so I ordered the biography of Zarifa Ghafari.

    Now that I read it, I will still go… but to understand the Americans.

    To begin, from all I had come across, from all her interviews to countless BBCs, for the countless awards for the courage she got, I had not realised that Zarifa Ghafari had not been elected; she was appointed. Like any other mayor, of course. But appointed by President Ashraf Ghani. Who was not, say, very popular – when the Taliban took over Kabul, he fled straightaway with all his ministers and advisors. and $884 million. Also, Zarifa Ghafari was not only 24, she had been abroad for a long time. Because she studied in India. And she is not from Maidan Shahr.

    Her family is from Maidan Shahr. Not her. She is from Kabul.

    And she grew up in Gardez. Towards the border with Pakistan.

    And as a mayor, she didn’t move to Maidan Shahr. Instead, she continued to live in Kabul.

    Afghanistan is deemed to be complicated. But honestly, the rule around the world is always the same. You just need to ask yourself: what if it were my country? Think of our parliamentary polls. When in our constituency, there is a candidate from somewhere else. The famous safe seats. Think of our reaction. Now. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, or in Syria, in Yemen, the local authority is basically the authority of the elders. Of the wisest. And so: imagine if tomorrow, suddenly, your mayor gets replaced by a gathering of old men with a tunics and white beards.

    the rule around the world is always the same.

    Old men you have never met before.

    And who have never lived in your city.

    Nor did they start living there.

    And who have never been in power. Not even as condo managers.

    Zarifa Ghafari
    US Gov – Secretary of State’s photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    To avoid any doubt. I am not defending those who prevented Zarifa Ghafari from entering her office for nine months by physically blocking the door of the City Council. At all. She has all my respect. As a child, she was not allowed into rooms with men, and in the book, deservedly, stands out a picture where not only is she in a room packed with men, but is centre stage: for she is the one in charge. She attended secret schools, dark classrooms in cold basements because she was born in 1994 under the Taliban when they banned the radio and TV; and she went to India because she was admitted into the University of Khost. But her parents didn’t want her to live on her own. To live on campus. While in India, she had relatives. And she survived three assassination attempts. Her father, a colonel of the army – an army trained by NATO and so branded a traitor – was killed. It goes without saying that with such a background, she has all my respect and support. But she tells it all herself on page three when describing the areas around Maidan Shahr: in twenty years, she says, Afghans here didn’t get anything. Only airstrikes.

    And the little they got, they got it from the Taliban.

    That’s why they are back.

    Because Afghanistan, indeed – it is not so complicated.

    And she is fully aware of a key contradiction: she is more renowned abroad than at home. As she is still striving to enter her office, she is already a star; she has already been included by the BBC among the 100 most influential figures of the year: and she knows very well that she is a symbol, yes, but most of all, she is kind of an attraction. An exotic voice, a different voice: perfect for festivals all around the world. Perfect for sponsors. But she believes that in this way, she will be listened to. She will matter. And so she plays along. Because she believes that the United States are the champions of human rights. The United States, which arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 with one Afghan in three on the brink of starvation: and left in 2021, with one in two.

    Now, they are freezing the Central Bank reserves, banking system, and economy. And 97 percent of the population is under the breadline.

    Now, one Afghan in one is going hungry.

    In Afghanistan, the Taliban violate women’s rights. But Americans violate all others.

    In Afghanistan, the Taliban violate women’s rights. But Americans violate all others.

    The day she should take office, there is a notice pinned to the gate of the municipality. She is not welcome, yes. But for three reasons. First, she has no experience. Second, she has not been elected. Third, she is from somewhere other than Maidan Shahr.

    What notice would you have pinned at the gate of your municipality?

    Honestly, I never met Afghans who didn’t want a better country.

    Are they against change or against a change so poorly designed to look like meddling?

    Francesca Borri
    Francesca Borri
    Italian journalist and writer. She contributes regularly to Modern Times Review.

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