This past month, Afghans across the world watched with horror as our country fell into the hands of the Taliban. The United States troops withdrew, our flag was replaced, our president fled, and our female news anchors said their goodbyes. Supporters claim the Taliban have changed, yet Hazaras continue to be the target of ethnic cleansing, a beloved comedian in Kandahar was brutally killed, and Afghans who have collaborated with the Americans are being hunted.
Adding to this shock were images of desperate Afghans clinging onto planes, falling from the sky and meeting a gruesome death. We in diaspora are scrambling to accommodate refugees, watching our elders grieve, and trying to remain strong for them while feeling our identity slip through our fingers. Most diaspora Afghans do not get to visit home. Most have never been but have grown up in host countries where we are told we don’t belong. Afghans are familiar with pain, but this loss hit us in a way I cannot put into words.
For over 40 years my people have been screaming, pleading, negotiating with terrorists, politicians, anyone who would listen. What we have found is our cries fall onto deaf ears. The silence and complacency from the Muslim community in particular stands out. And completely goes against what I was taught about Islam.
Most diaspora Afghans do not get to visit home. Most have never been but have grown up in host countries where we are told we don’t belong. Afghans are familiar with pain, but this loss hit us in a way I cannot put into words.
I grew up in a relatively secular household. My mother named both my sisters non-Islamic names; Arezo, meaning “wish” in Farsi, and Awesta, the name of the Zoroastrian holy book, an homage to our pre-Islamic past. However, after leaving Afghanistan, my mother missed the azaan so much, she named me Madina. I was enrolled in Islamic school, and I finished reading the Qur’an by the time I was 8. I learned from my imam that the global Muslim community comprised the Ummah, and that “when one limb aches, the whole body suffers”. I loved partaking in Eid festivities, being amongst a diverse community of people who unified under one faith.
But what myself and many other Afghans have discovered is the Ummah partakes in selective activism. Many Muslims come out in droves when an oppressor is non-Muslim, as in the case of Kashmir & Palestine. But when Afghans speak our truth and point to our “Muslim” oppressors – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, among others, we are gaslit and silenced. And even worse, we are met with confusion. Afghanistan has been burning for 40 years – and you tell me you didn’t know why?
I was shocked to discover most of my Muslim friends had no clue that Pakistan has supported the Taliban for decades, that Saudi funded warlords, and that Iran has a history of mistreating Afghan refugees. Turkey, often boasted as the crown jewel of the Muslim world, is actively pushing Afghan refugees back. So not only are Afghans grieving, we are being asked to educate a community that is supposed to stand in solidarity with us by default of faith. Prayers and praise of our resilience is not enough; allyship requires the seeking of truth. And the truth is, the Pakistani state has a decades-long affair with creating instability in Afghanistan.
Starting with former President General Zia ul-Haq, who supported the genocide and mass rape of Bangladesh, Pakistani politicians have employed a policy known as strategic depth. This is a concept in which Pakistan uses Afghanistan as an instrument of strategic security in ongoing tensions with India by attempting to control Afghanistan as a pawn for its own political purposes. Afghan-Pakistani relations are plagued by the legacy of the Durand Line border, which no government of Afghanistan has recognized, and which many Afghans view as an illegal occupation. The maintenance of control over Afghanistan means Pakistanis support the Taliban — but won’t trade them in for their own government. As Zia ul-Haq once stated in reference to Afghanistan, “The pot should be kept boiling, but should not boil over.” Recently, #TalibanOurGuardians was trending on Twitter in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated the Taliban in their victory, stating they have “broken the shackles of slavery”.
The irony. The Taliban are known for their brutality – restricting women’s access to employment and education, massacring Shias, Sikhs and ethnic Hazaras, and banning tenets central to Pashtun culture such as the Ataan and Loya Jirga. In Pakistan, they are known for targeting Pashtun activists. Afghans haven’t broken any shackles; we’ve been placed in them by Islamabad.
But what myself and many other Afghans have discovered is the Ummah partakes in selective activism. Many Muslims come out in droves when an oppressor is non-Muslim, as in the case of Kashmir & Palestine. But when Afghans speak our truth and point to our “Muslim” oppressors – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, among others, we are gaslit and silenced.
Recently, #sanctionPakistan trended online. The movement aims to target the Pakistani government and military for their documented support of the Taliban, a group many believe are a Pakistani proxy army, enforcing strategic depth. Although many Afghans are aware that sanctions have dire consequences for innocent people, the community in general is frustrated and fed up. When Afghans point to the facts, we are gaslit by Pakistani nationalists. We are called “Namak Haram”, meaning unfaithful, and are told we should be thankful Pakistan hosts Afghan refugees. What isn’t mentioned is Pakistan wouldn’t have to host refugees if their leaders never began a campaign of violence in Afghanistan. We are told the Pashtun people agreed to join Pakistan, leaving out the part where Pashtun activists were massacred during protests resisting the creation of the Pakistani state.
If Islam contains teachings against nationalism, then how can a Muslim country justify brutality to maintain their borders? How is it so many Pakistani nationalists claim they support the Taliban for their perceived “Islamic” ideology? According to Zaid Shakir, “if the shared identity informing national consciousness leads to a scheme where the rights or humanity of other groups are denied by an exclusive quest for sovereignty on the part of an individual group, Islam questions the ensuing nationalist enterprise for the reasons that will be presented.” Nationalism clearly comes at the cost of Afghan lives.
It is obvious Pakistan is not the sole reason for instability in Afghanistan. My country has been plagued with foreign intervention and war crimes from imperialist powers like the USSR, USA & Britain for decades. But Pakistani policy only makes this easier.
Afghanistan, sometimes called the “Home of Sufi Saints”, has given the Muslim world notable figures, such as Rumi and Ibn Sina. The dominant culture and history of Afghan resistance to tyranny is found within the practice of Afghan Sufism. But I don’t need to prove to you Afghanistan is valuable to the Muslim world. We Afghans have tried that. Will you continue to turn a blind eye when Muslims oppress Muslims? Will you fall into Western tropes about Afghanistan being a place that is comfortable in perpetual war? Or will you stand firm in your faith and call out oppression when you see it? Afghans don’t have time to wait and see.
Madina Wardak is a displaced Afghan settled on Tongva Land (Los Angeles, CA). Madina studied Political Science with an emphasis on the Middle East and Social Work. She is the founder of Burqas & Beer, a social media platform that explores identity, mental health, SWANA current events, and Afghan history. She currently serves as a Youth Advocate for a transitional living program and is on track to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.