The van came to a stop at a wayside tea house in Warduj. My young Kiwi guest and I stayed in the vehicle satisfied with our scroggin. I had been warned that the least secure section of our journey was the valley of Warduj.
Close to the Pakistan border with Afghanistan, Taliban fighters had found it to be a safe haven for their activities in the region. I had hoped to pass through unnoticed as quickly as possible. Stopping for tea was not part of my plan.
But our driver called out to us, “Come have some tea”. Reluctantly we joined the group of men under a spreading tree by the simple hut. They placed a paratha, a Pakistani fried flat bread before us, and asked the standard questions: our origins, our reason for coming, our opinions of Afghans. Thankfully the conversation turned away from us to the surrounding canyon walls enclosing the valley.
“Is there a path to the top?” I asked.
“Yes,” our host replied. “From the top of the canyon walls you can fire guns right across to the other side. Many battles, before the time of Karzai, were fought high above the valley floor.”
“It is a great place for fighting,” one of the men offered, to affirmations from rest. I stuffed a salty piece of paratha into my mouth and washed it down with sweet tea.
Now back in New Zealand on a visit, I am often asked what will come next for Afghanistan. What will happen when the international troops leave? Will the Taliban regain control of the country?
I reply that the place does not lend itself well to predictions. I can’t say. As with most cases in life, it really is a bit of a mixed bag. But I do know that the Afghans I am most in contact with are hopeful for the future.
We recently returned from a conference in Europe where we had taken a few of our Afghan colleagues along. Upon his return, one of our managers was asked why he had not stayed in Europe. He replied, “The countries of Europe were torn by war fifty years ago and they rebuilt their nations into what we see today. I am a young Afghan and I want to build my country in the same way.”
Our role is to engage with Afghans, like our colleague, in whom we can help build their capacity to make a better life for themselves and their nation. Yes, evil men with evil intentions are at work there. But God has led us to work with men and women of peace. Investing in their “good skins” can give us a cause for finding hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.
Today I received a February prayer calendar for Afghanistan. It included the following: These past few weeks the security in Warduj, Badakhshan has deteriorated. The result is that it now cuts off five other districts from receiving aid.