Completing one's education usually seems a thing of joy and celebration but at the same time, it also throws one into the territory of unfamiliarity and uncertainty where many of us find it difficult to navigate.
One thing that is certain among students who are studying outside their home cities or countries is that they are eager to return to their places and equally eager are their families to receive them.
But that is not prevalent among people from countries afflicted with decades-long conflict. I had a number of classmates and friends from Afghanistan during my MA in Jamia Millia Islamia and one common thing that I heard from most of them was that their families were not very keen about them coming back. And the reason was obvious, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Shuaib Khan Mohmand who has lived half a decade of his life in New Delhi for his education is now facing such a dilemma, whether he should move back to Afghanistan, where it will not be difficult for him to find a good job with the Master's degree he earned in India, or should he look for further studies in India or somewhere else. He and his family are inclined more towards the latter for the obvious reason - survival.
Shuaib is from Kunduz but his family moved to Kabul in the hope of finding a more secure environment. His province has seen a number of attacks in recent times; the latest was the takeover bid launched by Taliban. The attack, which was followed by a major offensive by Taliban militants to gain control of the city, ignited a battle between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban. Dozens of people including civilians and security officials were killed and many others were injured in the attack.
While the American and Taliban negotiators were finalizing the details of the preliminary peace agreement during the past few days, the period ironically saw some deadly attacks in the country including the attacks in Kunduz and the Afghan capital Kabul. According to a September 5 report by the New York Times, more than hundred civilians have been killed in Afghanistan only in the past seven days and the figure is essentially incomplete as many local officials refuse to confirm the casualty information.
"The biggest problem we have is lack of secure environment as all other things depend on it. One cannot even move freely without the fear of losing one's life even in Kabul, supposedly the most developed and the safest place in the country," says Shuaib.
"In Afghanistan, I receive a call from my family every now and then whenever I go out of my home but that is not the case when I am in India. They know I am safe," he adds.
Civilians bear the brunt irrespective of the actor
Taliban is not the only major actor at whose hands the people are losing their lives. The influence of the Islamic State (IS) who is at loggerheads with the Taliban seems to be rising in the country. In the last month IS executed one of the deadliest attacks at a wedding in Kabul that killed more than 60 in an instant and left hundreds of the guests injured.
While the non-state actors are regularly carrying out attacks to kill civilians, many a time, civilians have also been killed during the operations of security officials. One such incident occurred this week in Jalalabad of Nangarhar province where four brothers were killed during an overnight operation by the Special Forces. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the next day that he has accepted the resignation of the National Directorate of Security chief, Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai and added, "As a responsible state we have zero tolerance for civilian casualties. I have ordered the Attorney General to investigate the incident immediately."
This is not the only incident of 'extra-judicial killing' or collateral damage. There are a number of them. Shuaib recalls one such controversial incident that occurred in his home province last year. The incident was "Kunduz madrassa attack" in 2018 where airstrikes by Afghan Air Force killed and injured dozens of people. A graduation ceremony was taking place at the madrassa and hundreds of people were attending the ceremony at the time of the airstrike. The authorities claimed the target of the attack was Taliban but the locals deny that any Taliban militants were present at the madrassa. Ashraf Ghani's government later apologized to the victims of the airstrike.
"It does not matter if you went to a madrassa or a university; you are merely reduced to a casualty, a number, a small part of what the media calls 'death toll'," Shuaib says.
"Even if one goes back to Afghanistan after completing education to serve the nation, there is no certainty, one may die any time. All the hard work and the years spent in India or anywhere else are burned to smoke in an instant," he says citing the example of Sifatullah Saleh who died in a blast in Maidan Wardak last month. Saleh received his education in Chandigarh and was a faculty member at Kandahar University.
Smaller worries and the larger woes
Ayesha's (name changed on request) situation is almost the same. She says the war as a problem is an obvious reason. It started before even she was born. She has lived during the war. But the war does not take away the other little problems one goes through in daily life. "Nevertheless, the larger woes very often overshadow the smaller worries," she says.
Ayesha hails from Kabul and came to New Delhi for Masters on a scholarship by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Her hometown Kabul has seen two deadly attacks in the past few days; one near the US embassy and another on September 2 in a residential area near Green Village compound that houses international organizations. Dozens of people were killed in the attacks and hundreds of others were wounded. She is not very much inclined on going back to Afghanistan. Ayesha enjoys living in Delhi. She has come back to collect her mark sheet and degree but she is in no hurry to receive them as that will make her stay longer in Delhi.
"There is security in India, no fear of a blast or a suicide attack but it is the smaller things that I enjoy the most while living in Delhi. I can go for jogging, wear whatever I like, can go out for a movie without the fear of being judged by the people… or of a blast," she laughs.
The ideal situation for her will be to get a job at the Afghan embassy in New Delhi but she sees no prospect of that as one has to work in Afghanistan for a certain number of years before landing a job at an embassy outside the country. Meanwhile, she is waiting for her degree and certificates and trying to find out more about the option of the contractual job at the embassy.