The ongoing situation in Afghanistan has made headlines across continents having triggered another potential humanitarian crisis. Although the epicentre is Kabul, it would be safe to say that the tremors are being felt across the world, and Assam is no different. Sure, there is no ‘refugee crisis’ here, but the small Afghan diaspora in the city is worried. And for good reason.
Ask Shahzada Khan, an Afghan refugee who has been living in Assam for the past 40 years. In a conversation with EastMojo, Khan could not help but lament at the events that are unfolding in his home country.
“The situation has turned so dangerous, and people are so desperate that they clung themselves to the wheels of aircraft. So, you can imagine how horrific the situation is.”
Khan, who now stays at Mirza in Assam’s Kamrup district with his wife and children, had a harrowing experience three years ago when he had to spend 15 months in the Goalpara detention centre after he was declared a foreign national by the Government of India.
Following this, he was deported to Afghanistan in 2018 for verification of his identity.
Khan, who is on a travel visa to India, recalls that even before the Taliban takeover, things were far from ideal in his home country. During his one month stay in Afghanistan, he had to remain in hiding at a friend’s place fearing attack from the Taliban.
“I was with a friend in Afghanistan. For one month, he protected me from the Taliban. We don’t share any blood relations, but he is more than a family to me. If the Taliban knew about it, they would have killed him. Despite that, he took the risk and provided shelter to me.”
“When I went to Afghanistan, though the government was there inside the city, the Taliban were there outside the city. The war that the Taliban is raging is not a religious war, because it is the same community on both sides. They were just ‘supari killers’ of Pakistan and received funding from other countries,” Khan said.
Khan is still in touch with his friends in Afghanistan. Though a thousand miles away, his heart cries, anticipating the bleak future looming over his motherland.
“I still call them. They are very frightened. They fear going out to the market. In the last 20 years, Afghanistan has developed a lot, their lifestyle has changed. But now, the Taliban wants to take it 100 years back. This can’t happen.”
Kalyan Saikia, an IT support professional from Assam, has no direct relation with Afghanistan, but he too feels bad for the people there. Reason? He worked at the US military bases in Afghanistan for seven years.
“When I was working there, Kabul was a colourful city. People used to walk without fear on the streets. But now, people are running desperately on the same streets to save their lives. These things are really painful to see,” Saikia said.
Another Afghan national, Sher Khan, who has been staying in Assam for almost 10 years now, is worried about the security of family members back home.
“The situation is very bad there. The people are living in fear; they can’t go out freely to the streets. The kids can’t go to school. For women, it is hard to go to the market,” Khan says.
Though the Taliban has publicly assured that no harm will be done on Afghan civilians and government officials, Khan is not convinced. “They are telling us not to worry, but we don’t trust them,” he said.
The last time Sher Khan visited his home village in Afghanistan in 2010, the situation was much better. “At that time, the situation was very good, there was no issue to travel to Afghanistan on flights. We would often meet Indians who used to work there.”
“But now, we are afraid to go there. Having stayed in India for such a long time, we fear that we might face the Taliban’s wrath if we go there,” he said.
Given the current situation in Afghanistan, Khan worries about when he will visit his family back home. He says, “I don’t know what to do. I’m clueless about whether I should go there or bring them here. There are financial issues also. We don’t have enough money to bring the family and raise our kids here.”
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