Letter from Afghanistan — From the February 2013 issue

Kabubble

Counting down to economic collapse in the Afghan capital

( 2 of 7 )

Rasool Mohibzada greeted me at the door of his house in southern Kabul with a proud grin. “Now I have a permanent address,” he said as we entered the courtyard. He pointed out the double-paned windows; the large bedrooms for his parents, his siblings, his wife and child; the still uncarpeted basement where he planned to host family gatherings. Here was a space they could grow into. “When my brother gets married, he will build another story on top for his family,” said Mohibzada.

Mohibzada is thirty-one years old, with a reserve that might be mistaken for diffidence. He has a slender frame and is a careful dresser: when we first met in Kabul, he was coming from his job at the British Council — a government-funded cultural organization — wearing a modest but neatly tailored gray suit and a maroon tie. Today, he was wearing a gray shalwar kameez.

“It’s a very big thing that you have your own house,” Mohibzada said as we sat down in his living room. “You will have respect among people and your relatives.” He and his family had moved in five days earlier, ending a nomadic period that had begun during the civil war. Twenty years ago, they fled Kabul for Pakistan after Mohibzada’s father was badly injured by a rocket. Mohibzada, as the eldest son, had to provide for his family, first in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then in the ruins of Taliban-ruled Kabul. When money was tight and they hadn’t eaten in a while, Mohibzada’s mother would go around in the evening in a burka and ask the neighbors for stale bread, which the family would soak in water and eat. “We thought that life would always be like that, and so we killed our dreams,” Mohibzada told me.

Through luck and effort — and the deus ex machina of international aid — Mohibzada had secured a well-paying job as a computer technician with the British Council and managed to climb into the middle class. With his monthly salary of $1,400, and with $25,000 in loans from friends and relatives, he was able to save up $95,000 to buy the property and $60,000 to build the house. Now he was worried about paying back his creditors. The British Council job might not last — Mohibzada and his co-workers had a bad scare in 2011 when the office was attacked and burned by a team of suicide bombers, though the program has continued in a different location. The salaries of his mother and wife, both of whom earn $120 per month as schoolteachers, were reminders of the economic realities in Afghanistan before the foreigners came.

Mohibzada, like most Afghans in Kabul, is well aware that America and its allies are growing weary of their long, expensive engagement. The grand plans made in 2001 for a peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan have not come to fruition, and there is little hope that the United States and NATO can accomplish in the next few years what they have failed to do in the preceding decade. For Afghans like Mohibzada, 2014, the deadline for the transition to Afghan control of security, is a date to dread; the internationals, they fear, are all that shields them from the warlords and plutocrats, and from the poverty and daily violence suffered by their fellow Afghans in the countryside.

Mohibzada’s four-year-old daughter ran into the living room and whispered that some guests had arrived. “Go on, child,” he told her, smiling. “I’m coming.”

He turned back to me. “Thirty years back, my parents hoped that one day the situation would get better. But it didn’t.” He shook his head, then glanced toward the door where his daughter had walked out. “I will always be dreaming that my child, Negah, will go to school, then go to college, then one day she will get her certificates and get a job and get married according to her own choice. But this is our dream — whether it’s coming true or not, God knows it.”

is a freelance writer based in Afghanistan. His article “Disappearing Ink” appeared in the January 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Matthieu Aikins:

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2020

Trumpism After Trump

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My Gang Is Jesus”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Cancer Chair

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Birds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Skinning Tree

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Interpretation of Dreams

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dearest Lizzie

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content