We’ve decided after much deliberation that we’re going back to Afghanistan.
We started travelling to Afghanistan some years ago. I personally have been to Afghanistan 16 times, and it was a genuine moment of sadness when Coronavirus prevented me from taking another group of intrepid open-minded travellers through this amazing land. It was even more shocking when it seemed that Afghanistan was imploding with the chaotic withdrawal of NATO and US forces and then the takeover by the much-feared Taliban.
We all saw those harrowing scenes of scared Afghanis clinging to the side of airplanes, climbing barbed wire fences to get into Kabul airport, or queueing hopelessly at land borders with Iran and Pakistan trying to escape. Something we had forgotten is that Afghanistan has been a mess for a lot longer than just since the Taliban took over. It’s been in a constant state of chaos and war since the late 70s. Something we also forgot was that the Afghans are an amazingly resilient people. They’ve had to be. It’s been a hard place to live for a long time.
But Afghanistan hasn’t imploded as we all feared. Life is still tough as it always was, being a female is tough, but it was never particularly easy and the fear of violent attack is still present, but now from other sources, just no longer from the Taliban. There are attacks against minority groups, but if that’s our litmus test for travel to Afghanistan, then the sad truth is it will be a very long time before anyone would be able to go there.
What really swung the scales toward resuming taking people to Afghanistan was the constant messages we were receiving from Afghanis who remained behind. “When are you coming back?” “I think they’re issuing tourist visas again, does that mean we’ll get to see you again?” “I hope it won’t be long before we see you again!”
Over the last couple of months, we’ve been speaking to our friends and colleagues in Afghanistan about important topics such as safety, supporting the current government, what the general feeling of local ordinary Afghanis towards our presence would be, as well as what benefit might come from tourism, albeit very limited, returning to Afghanistan. We weighed up all the pros and cons and decided that on the whole it is just as safe as before when we previously organised tours, and that whatever support we would be providing to ordinary local people would be better than no support.
Most importantly we believe that we would be warmly welcomed. Most Afghanis have always wanted to be a normal part of the international community, and treating the country as off limits and to be avoided isn’t the way we think these amazing hospitable proud people should be treated.
There will no doubt be those who think this is the wrong decision and that any travel to Afghanistan while the Taliban is in government is morally incomprehensible, but we’ll have to respectfully disagree. We’ve always believed that so long as safety has been taken into consideration, we shouldn’t tarnish ordinary people with the actions of their governments.
We honestly didn’t think we’d be going back only a year after all those dreadful scenes we saw last August, but we were also swept up in the general dismay at what we were witnessing. It seems in Afghanistan life has returned somewhat to normal, but Afghanistan normal which will always be a strange and difficult reality, but beautiful and mesmerising, and somewhere we can’t wait to get back to.