Regardless of how often you visit Afghanistan, you always ask the same questions: how is the situation and what is the mood in the country? At first glance, life seems normal in Kabul: busy streets, slow-moving traffic, people going about their daily routines. Scratch a tiny bit beneath the surface, however, and the pent-up anxiety and sadness overwhelms you.
Contrasting the current mood with 2008, when I visited Kabul for the first time, it’s a world of difference. Back then there was still some hope that the country would pull through the crisis; youth were optimistic and very enthusiastic about rebuilding their country. Today, desperation and frustration are the order of the day.
When I met Ali Mustafa in Kabul for the first time in 2008, he was quite keen to set up an IT company once he finished his studies at a local university. Seven years down the line, the 28-year-old is struggling to find a stable job. He is trying to mobilize money so that he can go to Europe as a refugee. Many of his friends have already reached Germany as refugees but due to financial constraints he is forced to stay in Kabul.
Human traffickers in Afghanistan demand twelve to fourteen thousand dollars to send anyone to Europe, a figure which has doubled in just one month. Despite this huge cost, demand has not gone down. You won’t find anyone in Kabul who doesn’t have a relative or friend that has left the country.
Some reports suggest that the Afghans constitute around 18 percent of the refugees that have reached Europe so far. Such a mass exodus of Afghans has not taken place in recent memory. In the 1990s, many migrated to neighboring countries and further abroad due to the civil war among the different warlords and the Taliban. But such an exodus during peacetime is a new phenomenon and is very disturbing for the stability of the society.
It is a telling verdict on the National Unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani. In just over one year, the new regime has lost the trust of Afghanistan’s people. With the economy in bad shape, shrinking job opportunities, and a deteriorating security situation, the Ghani government seems to have lost its grip on governance quite early in its tenure.
The mood is a far cry from April 2014 when people participated in the general elections in large number, defying the Taliban with their hope for a new future.
The Taliban offensive in Kunduz a couple of months ago, in which the city fell to the insurgents for a couple of days, has shaken the confidence of the people. It badly dented the image of the ruling regime.
Major parts of Afghanistan are struggling to maintain rule of law. The Taliban and ISIS are fighting for control over territories in different parts of the country. Some of the areas in the north, which has been relatively peaceful zones until recently, have become so hostile that even locals fear to go there. The attack at Kandahar airport on Tuesday evening that claimed more than 30 lives, and has further alarmed the common people of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
In 2001, the international community came to Afghanistan with the aim to restore peace and stability in the country. More than 14 years down the line, peace is still elusive and stability is still uncertain.
“I don’t see a future here. There is a deep sense of insecurity,” says Mustafa. He adds, “I want to escape the desperation and uncertainty that has gripped my life.”
Mustafa’s desperation is shared by many in Afghanistan today.