One thing that I’m being reminded of is how differently Afghans view their national issues from the way that Westerners view them. Americans are often the furthest from the Afghan view. If you toss individuals from Afghanistan and, say, seven other nations in a room and have them all come up a viewpoint from an Afghan perspective, the Americans will often miss by the widest margin. It’s in the mindset. That’s not to say that Americans are bad, or that our intentions are less than pure. It just means that we have to ask the right questions in order to reach solutions that are appropriate for the environment and people here.
There have been numerous examples of the phenomenon this week. The coursework here involves a number of Practical Exercises. In one group, a mixed bag of Americans, a Canadian, a Norwegian, and two Afghans were working together. All of the Coalition troops were officers. The two young Afghans, Sergeants in a special Anti-terrorism unit that did yeoman’s work during the orchestrated attacks in Kabul recently, were a little intimidated and had to be coaxed out of their shells. Sometimes their input really surprised the group.
Like 180 degrees out.
Each class gets to take a trip to Darulaman, the Queen’s Palace. I almost didn’t accompany them, since I’ve seen it. It’s still impressive. I took a few pictures, of course. Roaming around the palace evokes a hint of glory past, ethereal as the ghosts of past regimes seen through the lens of destruction and sorrow of war. The senselessness of failing to arrive at a political solution to human differences becomes profoundly obvious in such a place. Much blood was spilled in and around the grounds of the once-grand edifice.
I view it through American eyes. These eyes, a shade of blue almost never seen in native Afghans, are every bit as different in their perception as in their hue. Although I feel that my eyes were forever changed by my first tour, which is what adds value to my second, still do not see Afghanistan as Afghans do. I was about to be reminded of this.
As I roamed the shell of the palace, wandering through what was once a grand hall on the third floor, my eyes were drawn to an Afghan civilian who stood deeply considering the graffiti on the wall. I assumed that he was feeling the great sorrow of such a place, representative of the hope that Afghanistan had once held and the destruction of that same. I greeted him in Dari, asking how he was. We exchanged the traditional pleasantries. He told me his name was Mirwaz. (No he didn’t… but that’s what I’ll call him here, just to protect him.) Then I asked him why he appeared to be so deep in thought.
“I am reading what has been written on the walls,” he said.
“What does it say?” I asked.
“Taliban. From Pakistan. There is a lot of that in this place,” he offered.
“Yes. See here; this one says, ‘Fazel Achmad,’ and here is where is from… ‘Pakistan,’ above the name,” he pointed out.
I took a picture, for this space, and asked him how Darulaman made him feel.
He thought for a moment, fingers on his chin. “Proud.”
“Proud?” I asked, incredulous.
“Now, I am proud; and I’m thinking, ‘Do something in your life unique like this,'” he told me, “I pray to God to give me energy like this, to kick all of these insurgents out of here and I will tell them, ‘Hey, 80 or 100 years ago, they made this place. Why you made this place like this?'”
“It doesn’t make you sad?” I quizzed him further, intrigued at his outlook.
“No. I feel this sorrow, but I cannot change these things that happened. But, this man, Amanullah, did a unique thing. I can do a unique thing too, inshallah.”
I was struck by his ability to let go of the past and live in today. The powerful simplicity of the release freed him to look to the future.
“When I am President, this will be the Ministry of Culture,” he said, his smile becoming a chuckle, “and that,” he indicated the King’s Palace in the distance, “that will be where the Loya Jirga sits.”
A Canadian officer passed by and took note of Mirwaz’s pronouncement. “Now that would take some doing. It’s pretty damaged. I heard it was unstable.”
“I will be President,” Mirwaz grinned, “it will be a small thing.” With a wave of his hand, he had solved that problem. He knew it wasn’t that simple, or a small thing, but he saw that destruction and loss doesn’t have to be forever.
“Amanullah did this unique thing, and it calls us to think of him,” he explained to me. “Many men have done the unique thing.” Mirwaz rattled off a list of names, some of whom Americans would question as being admirable, but they were Afghans who had made dramatic changes in their country in their attempts to fulfill their visions for Afghanistan. I could see him talking about such men in the same way that we might speak of Lincoln, Roosevelt or Wilson.
Mirwaz and I talked as we walked through the building, then the road down the hill that Darulaman dwarfs with her mass. He works for what is probably the single most influential ministry for the coming years, the MRRD, or Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development. This ministry, more than any other, brings Afghan problems together with locally accountable Afghan solutions to problems that face communities. Largely directing foreign funding, MRRD utilizes elected boards in each locality to select and manage projects which MRRD oversees.
He explained to me how he had been a refugee in Pakistan during the Russian and Taliban years, and how he had earned a Bachelors degree in economics in Pakistan. He returned overjoyed after Taliban were forced to flee. “I was happy,” he said, “but also disappointed by what had happened to my country.”
“Every family is like this place,” he said, sweeping his hand around the palace gutted by war, robbed of it’s finery and scored by weapons. “Every Afghan family is the same as this.”