Najibullah greets me each day with my latte round-up. He kindly replaces my need for a morning shot of espresso with a quick run-down of the latest Afghan security updates: kidnappings (new and resolved), suicide bombings (completed and prevented), and the like, ensure that I remember to lock my car doors, and keep my headscarf from slipping down the back of my head. The problem is, that Najibullah realizes that I would be quite happy to ditch the car any chance I get to wander the crowded markets, back alleys, and am practically salivating over the thought of hiking up one of the mountains to follow the path of an old stone wall that is calling my name.
I am so comfortable in this country, I had several friends comment that perhaps going back to Breckenridge will not be a home-coming after all as I seem to have found my place in the world. More than one has mentioned past-lives as an Afghan, and I was honored to have two prominent female leaders in Kabul refer to me as an Afghan sister. Yet, as a stubbornly headstrong, athletic, and independent woman, its strange to think that THIS corner of the world would be where my heart settles, a place of restrictions and security concerns that impede my natural desires and dress code!
Security is the name of the game over here and while I am at ease, I am still quite aware of the false sense of security that pervades daily life. I may be comfortable, but get too much so, and I could easily be on the wrong side of newsfeed. I have to remind myself of that when I jump eagerly on the back of motorbikes or stride through the tight streets in Old Kabul, lost in the sights and smells. Immerse, experience, and interact, but stay alert.
The topic of security is a common thread through nearly every meeting and interview I have. Both Cabinet Minister, Dr. Massouda Jalil, a female minister who has run twice against Karzai in the Presidential elections since the Taliban’s defeat, and Dr. Roshanek Wardak, a female Parliamentary member representing the conflicted province of Wardak, stated that security is the priority above all else. Without security, growth in areas of infrastructure and education could not move forward. Without security, drug smuggling and corruption would continue to run rampant. Dr. Wardak emphatically stated in our meeting, “The ONLY priority for progress and peace is security”.
Yet the question continually bounces around in my headscarved head…how does a region such as this acheive security. If it were such an easy fix, then wouldn’t the confluence of international militia, aid organizations, and UN personnel have that under control already? This is the question I pose to Faheem Dashty, editor of Kabul Weekly, Afghanistan’s largest newspaper. He takes the question of security further by describing how security cannot be a first or second priority in a list of Afghan steps towards peace.
“Security cannot be a priority above all else.” Faheem explains. “How is that possible with drug smuggling, poverty, and the needs of education, all influence our country’s security? We need a clear view that realizes that all four are interconnected.”
The real key is with the Afghan people. They will lay down their lives, quite willingly, for the good of their country. Millions have died and many more are willing to take on the risks involved to create a lasting peace within Afghanistan. They understand the complexity of their region and need the support of the international community to make real and lasting changes from within. They realize that millions cannot be spent destroying poppy fields, if the void left isn’t filled by other viable crops or exports. Infrastructure cannot move forward if corruption runs rampant through the private contractors hired to ‘oversee’ progress. Schools can’t be built to further education if they are built in areas where the Taliban rule. Security can’t be ensured if the Afghan police are barely paid a living wage and private security forces roam the streets, a law unto themselves. Yet the number of guns you see on an average street in Kabul gives one the idea there is security all around.
A perfect example of my own false sense of security is made evident in the Kabul airport. As I make my way through to fly back home, I had to pass through 10 separate security checkpoints and three additional body searches. That’s a lot of security. Yet, had a I chosen to smuggle something back I am quite sure I could have…each of the bag and body searches were insufficient. Not to say that the security in our own airports is any better at home. Taking my shoes off and putting my shampoo is a Barbie doll sized container is inconvenient, but not really aiding security, but apparently it makes us feel better.