“We are the center of Afghanistan. But why we are so poor?” – a villager from Chekhcheran
The capital of Ghor province was a famous arena in Afghan history pages. It was mentioned many times by Babur, the great Moghul emperor. It was also expecting to prosper much further in 1970’s when there was a plan to build road through the Central Route of Afghanistan, thus connecting the Europe as far as to New Delhi.
But Chekhcheran today was an isolated town, far from both Herat and Kabul, suffering Taliban attacks in few years back, and now was desperate for further development. The road in the whole province was unpaved, and it was not lit by electricity at all. The whole province had to rely on private generators to produce local electricity to watch TV (no radio signal in the whole province), light the rooms, listen to Indian songs, and run businesses. At night, it was a complete dark.
“We are the center of Afghanistan,” said a local man, “but why we are so poor? Why our life is so difficult?” Chekhcheran, geographically, located exactly at the center of Afghanistan. The man continued, “You know in winter the snow is as high as this,” said him putting his hand on his breast, “we cannot go out but stay in houses for days. We are hungry. But what we can do?”
Chekhcheran was not only poor. It was under security threats. The city was scattered by landmines. On several walls of the old town was singed by the location of work sites of OMAR, the NGO which work in mine cleaning field. But when I visited the site near the old fort north of the river, nobody was there.
ISAF came 2 years back, and the area was now under the responsibility of Lithuanian soldiers. I was accidentally invited by Commander Mirza Alam, the commander of Afghan national army (Urdu Meli Afghanistan) to his office, and later I was invited also to stay a night in the barrack.
It was a modern office, carpeted, with clean bedrooms, bath room, and shower. Not many people staying here. Today there were 5 young men, four of them were the Mongoloid Hazara and 1 was Tajik, newly recruited soldiers going to attend training in Kabul. They were very young. One of them, I thought was only 12 years old, as he was very small and slim. But he was 19, he said. There were pamphlets everywhere in Afghanistan, from the Afghan National Army, to invite young men to join the army march. The 5 boys I saw today were answering the advertisement. They expected 10,000 Af as salary per month. But they were way too optimistic. Mirza Alam told me that the salary for Afghan soldiers was only 3,600 Af per month, nett.
The young boy, 8-year-old Qasim, who worked as servant in the barrack, was a very educated one. He read the ISAF News regularly. He even could mention the name of Japanese main islands and the 10 most populated countries in the world. “ISAF is good, ISAF bring security to our province,” said him.
How about Taliban?
The young boy answered, “Talib killed people. But I am not afraid of them. I am only afraid of God.”
The people of Chekhcheran I saw mostly were traders in the bazaar. The bazaar was not that busy, and people were desperate in earning money. Like this man, owner a PCO (Public Call Office), where I made a 5 minute call to Kabul. He tried to charge me 100 Af. The normal price was 10 Af/minute but he claimed it should be 20 Af.
“It is a new service here. It is still expensive.”
There is only one mobile operator working in Chekhcheran. That is Roushan. But I didn’t believe at all his explanation.
“Do you charge me foreigner price? I know it should be 10Af/minute.”
“No. You know, for foreigner, it’s 30 or 40 Af per minute.”
“Will you promise in the name of God? Will you say ‘bismillah’?”
The man didn’t answer.
“OK. 50 Af then give me,” he said after a few minutes.
He assumed I was a Muslim, and decided not to overcharge me.
“What kind of honesty is this?” I said, “our religion said that we should be honest!”
“I am honest only to Muslims, not to kafirs (infidels),” he answered.
The honesty problem was maybe caused by poverty in the province. Later I found that my bag, which I left in the corner of a private room in a restaurant, was opened. Nothing lost but a bottle of perfume.