The case of the missing Afghan

by Taran Khan

Headline: Has anyone seen Afghanistan at the Forum? I haven’t, at least not yet, and I’ve looked. Granted, I may have been looking in the wrong places, or perhaps its been addressed in broader based anti-war/anti occupation events. But I cant escape the niggling feeling of discomfort at this relative invisibility, even if it is incidental, and an outcome of the location and thematic preoccupations of this Forum.

It would be an exaggeration to say that my anxiety is rooted in the fact that the world may have forgotten Afghanistan once again. It is a truism that the region is one of the most heavily reported in the world, and one of the least understood. Afghanistan is still where journalists, analysts, academics and film makers head as a rich vein for stories. But when an assembly of the world’s largest and most influential networks tucks Afghanistan onto the back pages of its agenda, something seems wrong about the arrangement. For myself, looking for the country or its issues on the elusive pages of the Forum schedule brought up ghosts of images seen in magazines, and sometimes on the walls of homes in Kabul-incredibly lonely photographs of Afghan women and men dressed in their national costumes, standing outside various embassies protesting the Soviet takeover, the mujahideen war, the Taliban government. The loneliness of these images comes from their complete irrelevance at the time to the people they were addressed to. No one could argue that Afghanistan is irrelevant now, at least in terms of military strategy and public perception. But does its absence from the lists of things we are talking about here in Dakar mean something that we should try to figure out, as civil society players, activists and concerned global citizens?

As anyone with even a passing knowledge of Afghanistan will agree, the breakdown of civil society and institutions in the country has been devastating and almost complete. If the fragile initiatives to rebuild these institutions need support anywhere, it is here. Perhaps, as friends have suggested, the absence of these discussions from the Forum venues is a matter of logistics. Afghanistan is far away, and the trending topics are Egypt, Tunisia, and Palestine. But it may be useful to examine the distance in terms of priorities, and about whether we may be preparing to relegate Afghanistan once again into the space it has occupied for so long-a perennial problem, on the fringes of our consciousness, waiting to explode once again.

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