Trevor Keck is the CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.
Here’s the story of Zalmay, a boy living in a very small village on the border with Pakistan. Assadullah – the boy’s uncle – told me his story at a local radio station in Jalalabad, where we met.
Just after international forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban came to Zalmay’s house while retreating back over the border into Pakistan. They killed Zalmay’s father and wounded his mother so badly she was permanently disabled. Zalmay was only two years old.
Assadullah doesn’t know why the Taliban targeted Zalmay’s family. He wonders if it might be that Zalmay’s father had been a senior military commander in the communist regime that preceded the Taliban. When the Taliban came to power, Zalmay’s father no longer had a place in the military and turned to woodcutting to provide for his family.
Without a breadwinner, Assadullah began taking care of Zalmay, his mother, and his two sisters, which he has done for more than ten years. Now a teenager, Assadullah is training Zalmay in his shop to work as a car mechanic. Zalmay is now the only male in his immediate family, which means that he must work to support his mother and two sisters instead of going to school like a typical teenager. His destiny is that of manual labor.
Taking care of Zalmay’s family as well as his own is a financial burden for Assadullah, who hopes that one day Zalmay will be able to open up his own shop and be self – sufficient. Financial assistance from the Afghan government would be extremely helpful for both Assadullah’s and Zalmay’s families, which are entirely dependent on Assadullah to survive.
Assadullah also said he wanted the international community and the Afghan government to “make good on their promises.” For Assadullah, that means peace, economic opportunities and good governance. According to him, only the politically connected get help from the Afghan government; it doesn’t work for everyone.
“We are so tired of war…I am 35 years old and I haven’t seen a good day in my life,” Assadullah told me with a look of despair.