Home At Last
When Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union (Dec 1979 – Feb 1989) my father used to say we will defeat the foreign invaders no matter how long it takes. They have no right to impose their way of life on us. By mid-eighties Afghanistan had the single largest refugee population in the world: almost 6 million excluding the internally displaced people. Over three million Afghans took refuge in Pakistan and another two and half million in Iran (UNHCR) . Many people could not leave and many made a conscious decision to stay. My father chose to stay. After the demise of the Soviet empire their puppet government remained in power until early 1992. The West abandoned Afghanistan soon after the US president George Bush announced the end of the cold war in February 1989.
Power was transferred to an Islamic Government in April 1992. Within a few months of their coming to power a bloody civil war broke out.
The people of Kabul were witnessing some of the worst atrocities in human history being committed by Afghans against Afghans in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. My father used to say that he would stay until the end. He never explained what he meant by the end. I remember one of his letters which was unusually long and in part read like this:
………………today the streets of Kabul have become the battlefield of our so called Muslim brothers of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
who for many years have sown the seeds of hatred among our people and divided us along religious and ethnic lines. Their proxies are fighting this war for them…………they are seeking their fortunes in our
sorrow and grief…..
In 1994 my father’s house was partly destroyed by a rocket. My youngest brother was injured. As all Kabul hospitals (whatever was left of them) were treating the war wounded my father and my mother brought my brother to Islamabad for treatment. As the war intensified they were stranded in Pakistan. It was the first time my father experienced the bitter taste of exile. My parents and brother had to stay in Islamabad. My father could not cope with living in exile. I suppose one of the hardest things was the reality of being stateless with no identity. He was struggling with the reality of being a refugee. He could not accept the fact that he had taken refuge in a neighbouring country whose leaders he used to openly condemn for intervening in the internal affairs of his country.
He had taken refuge in a country, which did not even exist when he was a young child. He was proud of belonging to a nation whose people defeated the might of the evil empire and broke the yoke of their oppression not only in his country but also in Eastern Europe. He prided himself with his father's remarkable contribution and service to his country.
That was all history as he found himself and his family at the mercy of the officials of a country whom he regarded as one of the main obstacles to reconciliation and unity in Afghanistan. These officials were only good at harassing and humiliating Afghan refugees to obtain bribes. In response they would extend their exceptional stay in the country. This is a right refugees have under the United Nations Convention 1951. Despite close religious ties with the host nation their day to day experiences were nothing but grief. They never felt welcome. Although my parents lived very well and in an affluent part of town, it was the constant fear of harassment that was intolerable. His only wish and prayer were for a peaceful solution to the political situation in Afghanistan, which would enable him to return home with dignity.
I made an application to sponsor my parents and brother to join me over here but my father was very much offended by the British immigration
officer who conducted the interview through a Farsi interpreter from Iran. When my father raised this as an issue and highlighted that there were over three million Afghans in Pakistan, couldn’t the British High Commission find an Afghan interpreter? The immigration officer replied through the Iranian interpreter that they could not trust the Afghans.
My father later said that he was hurt so much about the comment, which in fact dishonoured him. He jeopardised his application by telling the officer in question that even if he was given the whole of the UK he would not set foot on its soil. He can keep his country and walked out of the interview.
My parents and my brother stayed in Pakistan from 1994 to 1997. My father always wrote about his yearning to go back. From a distance it almost seemed like going through an endless bereavement. He appeared to openly suffer much more than any one of them. My mother and brother dealt with their devastating loss and vulnerability through resilience. They tried to move on and get on with life. My father really felt that it was a loss, which he could recover. The longer the duration of his exile the stronger was his attachment to Afghanistan. Whenever there was talk of coming to the West and applying again to reactivate the sponsorship application, he would mention my second youngest brother, still in Afghanistan, and say that he had a responsibility towards him. He had to see my brother settle down before he could discuss prolonged exile and specially to the lands he had travelled in his years of youth. Despite the ill-treatment in Pakistan he was a step closer to home. He was in constant touch with people who, like him, had left their homes and possessions to flee to safety. He could hear, among other things, about the hopes, the rumours and gossips of Kabulis.
His daily routine was long morning and evening walks. In the evenings he would be switching from one news channel (radio) to another in the hope of hearing something positive above the political situation back home. Then he would start cursing these proxies and their foreign paymasters. The UN, as far as he was concerned, was the right arm of the US and saw it as the main obstacle to peace. When he could not trace a tiny glimmer of hope in the news, he would find solace in music. He would listen for hours and lose himself in between nostalgic songs of homeland. It felt safe to be transported to a different place and a different time when everything was fine then.
When he tried to find a reason he would refer to the dilemma of the Afghan Emperor (Ahmad Shah Durrani –period of rule Ad 1747 –1773) on the throne of Delhi but still longing for the barren plains of his beloved homeland:
By blood, we are immersed in love of you.
The youth lose their heads for your sake.
I come to you and my heart finds rest.
Away from you, grief clings to my heart like a snake.
I forgot the throne of Delhi
When I remember the mountain tops of my Pashtun land.
If I must choose between the world and you,
I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own.
Afghanistan (1980) Louis Dupree, Princeton University Press
I saw my parents in November 1996 for the first time after eighteen years of separation due to war. I had promised them that next time I would be accompanied by my wife and their grandchildren whom they had never seen except in photographs. In February 1997 I was called by my brother to inform me that my father had been taken seriously ill and that I had to come to see him, may be for the last time. I could not believe the news at first. To me my father enjoyed good health for most of his life. There was no history of ailments. In fact he was so health conscious that he paid significant amounts of money to have a full medical examination and general check ups every six months.
I soon arrived in Islamabad and found a changed person. In a short space of time his illness had transformed his looks and appearance beyond recognition. He looked frightfully gaunt and weak. My youngest brother who could not keep up with his pace in walking long distances had become his walking aid. His unspoken expressions had the definite signs of an ending; the ending of the journey of life. He passed away five days after my return to London. My mother and brother had to pay their last respect by braving the dangers of war and take my father back home. His only wish was to be buried in his homeland near his father and mother. In the last few years of his life he was unable to be reunited with his country. Only in death he was home at last.
London, October 2002
Comments about this poem (Home At Last by TSN Anonymous )
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