For years, Afghanistan has been engulfed in war. From past generations to today, everyone is acquainted with the hardships of conflict. The smell of smoke and gunpowder has reached everyone’s nostrils after each suicide attack, and no one has escaped the loss of a loved one in these wars. In 2001, when the Taliban regime was toppled after five years of rule by U.S. intervention, a new chapter in Afghanistan’s history unfolded. Following the establishment of an interim government led by Hamid Karzai at the Bonn Conference, a new, legitimate, and internationally approved government emerged in Afghanistan. With the formation of the interim government, international aid became available to the war-torn and destitute people of Afghanistan. This aid opened the way for a significant number of migrants to return to the country.
Three years after the fall of the Taliban regime, my family and I returned to Afghanistan—a place to which I belonged. Afghanistan, more than I had imagined, was devastated and lagging. Everywhere I went, I could see the signs of war. Burned houses, bullet-riddled walls, demolished streets, and disabled tanks along the roads were all testimony to decades of conflict in Afghanistan. The remnants and consequences of war were not confined to these alone. Cemeteries were filled with the casualties of war. Some had lost limbs as a result of the conflict. Most people, in one way or another, were grappling with physical and mental illnesses. Although the war had subsided, it had left behind a world of ruin. We all had to start anew, rebuilding a country tired from its war, both physically and mentally exhausted.
Life in Afghanistan gradually began to take shape. After the establishment of the interim government, a constitutional law was created in the country. People participated in political mechanisms, various administrations became operational, and a large segment of the population became engaged in work. Cities were reconstructed, and public service centers were established. One of the most significant transformations during that time was the change in the legal and social status of women in Afghanistan. During the five-year rule of the Taliban, women were deprived of their fundamental human rights. They had no right to education, employment, or participation in social and political affairs. Women were compelled to wear the burqa, and they couldn’t even leave their homes without a male escort.
Women have been the most affected group in the political upheaval in Afghanistan. Despite the establishment of laws by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to secure women’s rights, significant challenges still obstructed the path for women. The years of war and the imposition of misogynistic laws by the Taliban had so profoundly influenced public perceptions that the change in the political system and the enactment of laws to safeguard women’s rights were not sufficient. For years, wearing the burqa remained a common practice among the general populace, and in certain instances, it was obligatory. Families were still hesitant to allow their daughters to attend schools or universities or work outside the home.
Many years passed until the presence of women in society gradually became more pronounced. This was all the result of the efforts and perseverance of women themselves. I remember when I started my education in a school, there was no room for new students, but families lined up outside the school gates, eager to enroll their daughters and sons. Children were so eager to learn that they gathered in groups of 30 to 40, sitting on the ground under the blazing sun to study. However, despite the progress, numerous obstacles stood in the way of women. They faced many hardships in pursuing education. The school where I studied was attacked twice by the Taliban. Due to poisoning, all female students were transferred to the hospital, and we spent days under treatment. This incident occurred in almost all girls’ schools across the country. The Taliban still expressed their opposition to women’s education.
After decades of war, people were beginning to feel a semblance of peace and tranquility. The hope was that future generations would only read about war in history books. However, at the height of this calm, sparks of conflict reappeared. The year 2006 marked the resurgence of the Taliban. Periodic battles between the Taliban, government forces, and foreign troops erupted in the distant provinces of Afghanistan. These conflicts invariably claimed the lives of non-combatants. Amidst this, women were more vulnerable than others. War killed, disabled, or left women grieving for their children and spouses. Those women who lost their husbands and relatives in the war experienced the most challenging lives. Women were compelled to bear the consequences of a war in which they played no role in initiating.
With the onset of a new wave of Taliban attacks, the scope of war reached large cities and the capital of Afghanistan. Public places became the primary targets of Taliban suicide attacks. Men, women, and children were killed and injured in mosques, hospitals, schools, universities, markets, and other public spaces. I, too, was among those who narrowly escaped harm in these attacks, and according to many, luck was on my side each time. While the war with the Taliban continued, another enemy emerged against the people of Afghanistan under the name of the Islamic State or ISIS in the east of the country. Suicide attacks became the modus operandi of this group. Subsequently, suicide attacks intensified in the country, as we were confronted with two types of enemies, both employing a similar militancy approach.
With the increase in suicide attacks, my family prevented me from going to school and educational centers. However, with persistence and great determination, I managed to continue my education. My family was not the only one reluctant to send their children to school in such circumstances. Many students, especially girls, faced such situations because there was no safe place for us in schools and other educational institutions.
The educational center where I was preparing for the university entrance exam was attacked one month after my graduation. I lost many friends there, and many were left disabled and impaired. The fire of war was so destructive that it dragged numerous talents into the dust and blood.
Every day, I went to university with fear. Every moment, I imagined a loud sound rising, and an explosion occurring. Every day, thinking that I might not return home, I bid farewell to my mother every day before going to university. Within me, there was both the eagerness for education and progress and the fear of losing my life. The scope of this pervasive hatred was so extensive that it engulfed even the last educational haven where I felt a bit of tranquility, and there, I also smelled the scent of smoke and gunpowder. It was my third year at university when terrorists entered Kabul University and stormed the students. I survived that incident too, but once again, I lost loved ones. The attack on the university had a profound impact on our psyche. During lectures, my eyes were on the door and window, searching for an escape route. We gathered together, contemplating escape routes amid all the fear and terror. Despite all the insecurity, people were hopeful for peace and improvement in the country. However, after the resurgence of the Taliban, the tragedy overwhelmed people’s lives even more than before. The achievements of the past two decades were lost, the constitution was canceled, the army collapsed, investments halted, elites migrated, and women were deprived of their most basic rights. Women who had overcome numerous difficulties over the past twenty years and were just finding a place in society were now pushed to the margins and confined to their homes once again.