Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect

On the morning of December 18th, I opened up my morning paper to read the following in the Indian Express—“The Taliban has regained the strength to dominate large swaths of the country, and government control is tenuous in at least 20 per cent of the country.

Militants have built a network of bases in the tribal hinterlands that straddle the frontier with Pakistan. Over the past year, a growing number of mobile encampments on the Afghan side of the border have given the insurgents greater self-sufficiency, military officials say, although they still draw on logistical support and weaponry from the Pakistani side. “They can come and go pretty much undetected,” I find that piece of news disturbing and it brings back memories that are perhaps best left buried…..


 …….One of the most satisfying as also one of the most painful initiatives I have been involved in my long NGO career happened when the Taliban were pretty well entrenched in Afghanistan, 9/11 was a long way away and there were swathes of Afghan refugees in India – mostly educated, middle class and secular minded Afghans reduced to penury by the harsh living conditions imposed by the Taliban. India was not the permanent dwelling place most had in my mind but it was the place of halt for the secular Afghan, escaping from Afghanistan and Taliban friendly Pakistan as they got organized for putting in asylum applications to various Western embassies.


It was a difficult life they lived in the mean while in refugee ghettos, creating a cocooned refugee sub culture of their own. Even as they did the rounds of the UNHCR offices to collect their stipends and the embassy lawns in Chanakya puri with their visa applications, they had carved out a living space of their own which can only imagined. A former army major selling second cameras in the Sunday chor bazaar behind Red Fort, doctors whose qualifications were not recognized in India practicising clandestinely among their own, a woman lawyer rendered unemployed working in an illegal Afghan bakery , their frames and despair filled faces still flash across my mind.


In small, window less rooms they lived and from these rooms their children went to school. Exiled from their homeland and with no clarity as if the children would ever see their watan, the mother land, the parents drew small pictures of hills and deserts on tattered pieces of paper hung up on peeling walls. There seemed to be no money for maps and atlases


Occasionally some one would get a visa but it was not always a cause for celebration. The entire family of course would apply for a visa, but it wasn’t usually the entire family that got the visa.  One or the other did- some times the father, occasionally the mother, now and then the oldest child. The joy of it all was crowded out by the thought that the family would separate – two or even three generations that had always lived together – laughed and cried together were about to be separated … possibly for ever. It was not unusual for a family to be separated in another way. Most families had applied for asylum in more than one country. It was not unheard of for spouses to get asylum in different countries as faceless bureaucracies processed papers according to their own legalistic criteria. Aged grand parents would stay back with younger children and babies as other family members scattered around the globe leaving behind emotionally scarred families.


Then 9/11 happened and of course, shortly thereafter allied troops poured into Afghanistan and the Taliban dislodged from power. Hamid Karzai, a liberal and a friend of India was brought to power. The refugees trekked back to liberated Afghanistan and the camps first shrunk and then disappeared.


Our project Umeed, conceived in hopelessness was no longer necessary with hope flourishing all around. Many people as they went back post cards,  sent greeting cards and even phoned or emailed us thanking Umeed  for that it had done for them in some of the darkest hours of their lives. It was a time of great fulfillment, knowing that families would be united again, there would be proper careers for the lawyers and the judges and the teachers , that children could see their own deserts and mountains and not merely see two dimensional pictures on limp walls.   It was an euphoric moment.


But today as I track articles reporting the slow but relentless progress of the Taliban over much of Afghanistan and the declining morale and effectiveness of the NATO troops , I cannot but wonder— will those long nights be back ?

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