By Staff Writer
Some twenty years ago Afghanistan was at its worst. Partially sighted Mullah Omar’s Talib movement, in the guise of patriotism, had afflicted every single Afghan. The Taliban were executing anyone who even raised a finger about their methods of ruling the country.
Women were forced to wear the Niqaab (full face veil). The streets of Afghanistan were so dark that they could have been the set of some ghoulish Hollywood movie. In truth, the entire land of Afghanistan, with its area three times the size of Britain, was a place that oozed nightmares.
The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers caused great problems between Afghanistan and the West. The situation escalated to such an extent that the US Army, under then President George Bush, alongside other NATO member countries, went to hunt down Bin Laden. As a result, the West managed to officially root the Taliban out of Afghanistan. From then on, Afghanistan seemed a little better.
The Western Coalition Forces marched on the roads of major Afghan cities like Kabul and Kandahar. Military planes hovered in Afghan skies and in Kabul, things began to look a bit better politically.
Under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, his associate Mohamud Mohamud played the heavy game of introducing a normal political system in Afghanistan.
The heavy Western presence stationed in Afghanistan with their military might was so strong that it forced the Taliban to retreat- but this was merely a retreat.
People felt Afghanistan was embracing its new dawn with fair elections and a democratic political system. Women were no longer confined to their homes or forced to wear the Niqaab. Despite the nation’s upheaval, Afghanistan’s city life seemed to brighten. People began to have hope for their lives.
Afghan people have been so embroiled in violence caused by the vicious circles of politics, tribal rivalries and religious disagreements that it is hard to believe that they are peace loving. However, as a people, they are.
Afghan people hitherto knew they were one under Islam. It is under that very guise that they have been engulfed in acrimonies, disunity and eventually the violence triggered by war.
Mohammed Zahir Shah, long ago the King of Afghanistan, was deposed in 1973 as a result of internal feuds about who ruled Afghanistan appropriately. This was the first event that triggered war and violence in Afghanistan. It affected everyone. People began to protect themselves not by dialogues, consensus, elections or debates, but revenge or acrimony. War broke out between the feudal clans in Afghanistan. Immediately it became the breeding ground of a Cold War power showing exercise.
Under the pretext of maintaining the Soviet-Afghan Treaty, signed by Nur Mohamed Taraki, a communist who was deeply popular among Afghan people. The USSR, in order to protect its treaty and to take revenge against all those who opposed Taraki, invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, aiming that it would maintain the Afghan-Soviet relationship, protecting its own borders with the Central Asian nations which also bordered Afghanistan.
Taraki was a friend to the Soviet Union. The irony was that he was assassinated by the Afghan Communist Party members. To resolve the conflicted mystery of Communism, the Soviet Army presence lasted for ten years, so that the world perceived Afghanistan to be the “Russian Vietnam.” The Soviet Army installed Babrak Kamal, the exiled leader of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and after a while had to deal with the Mujahideen endorsed and financed by US President Jimmy Carter and Saudi Arabia whilst keeping Pakistan as the logistical mediator to the supply chain of money and arms.
The concoction of international feuds now emerged not only with the Soviet presence which the opposition forces called the invasion of independent Afghanistan, but, towards the end of the Cold War, Afghanistan became the playground of internal politics in which not only the Cold War superpowers had their tussles, in the process it also allowed previously subdued new nations such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India to have their fair share.
In the guise of international politics, religious biases and a myriad of other non-standard philosophies of existence, Afghanistan increasingly became the battleground of ideologies whereas, it pushed people inside the country towards backwardness, poverty and the many darker side effects that would destroy the confidence of the Afghan people as nationals of an independent sovereign nation state of the world- the concept designed in the aftermath of the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.
After the invasion of the Twin Towers by terrorists, led by Bin Laden of Saudi Arabia, on September 11, 2001, Afghanistan once more became the grounds of anger for the Western powers, led by the only superpower of that time, the United States of America.
George Bush Jr, the then US President, vowed to hunt Bin Laden, who as a former member of the Mujahideen, was hiding in the terrain of brawn-bald mountains of Afghanistan which remained as a safe haven for the terrorists, mainly members of Al-Queda.
President Barack Obama managed to be victorious in the hunt for Bin Laden, who was officially found in Pakistan in 2017. By this time the entire NATO forces were occupying Afghanistan.
The 20 year Western occupation of Afghanistan ended abruptly and tragically on August 31st 2021. The world is still reeling, knowing how the poor people of Afghanistan had to run, clamouring to board the planes landing on the tarmac of Kabul airport.
As soon as Joe Biden decided that the USA would leave Afghanistan, the Taliban had officially captured almost all of Afghanistan with merely their Kalashnikovs. It was humiliating even to see how the USA and the Western world had to let go of their pride. It seemed as if they had lost courage, pride and strength all at once.
The expensive occupation by the Western nations, worth nearly 1 trillion dollars, ended so badly that it looks like the world of international politics, diplomacy, legality and the rule of law nationally in Afghanistan has ended and as such the validity of the international order has ended too. The tragedy has made the Taliban, who are perceived as forces of evil against modernity, women and education, and the politics of debate, discussion and consensus.
In the alphabetical order of the names of nation states in the world, Afghanistan always appears first in the list. Other than this, seemingly there is not much that makes the Afghans proud internationally such as in the fields of science and technology, sports, trades or Arts and Culture All these ‘good’ phenomena that mankind can do whilst they’re humans have been lost as if forever, although individually speaking Afghan people are nice, kind and hardworking.
But the nationally degrading feuds of clans and tribes meant that Afghans have always been a cause of suspicion or disregard to themselves among each other, whilst internationally they are simply seen as people who were made to become the refugees of the world.
Today Afghans are everywhere around the world. There is hardly any country in the world where there are no Afghans. There’s nothing wrong with that- Afghans can be and should be able to be wherever they want to be. But the irony to a sensitive, proud and decent Afghan who wants the dignity of an equal and a respected human, is that Afghans are not treated as such, said one anonymous Afghan who lives in London and works as a cab driver, while requesting us not to reveal his name.
The story of Afghans’ infighting and disunity at large doesn’t remain pervasive, in the streets of Kabul or Kandahar or Panjisheer or Ghazni or Helmand Province, they are equally suspicious of each other mostly because of the politics of the Cold War, which poisoned their chemistry at the beginning. Now, those very chemicals have molecules as their origins, that form their identity as Muslims per se, but divided and afflicted. There are several types of Muslim living in Afghanistan. The main ones are Shia, Sunni,and Hezara. They mainly speak Pashto .
As it stands, Afghanistan today remains synonymous with disunity, even though all Afghans believe that they are united under Islam. Afghans have so many divisions, even though they mostly aim to be united in the name of Islam, that even in their dreams they cannot be united. This is obvious even here in the UK where we have various actively functional, yet still divided Afghan communities.
ONS Findings on Afghans in the UK
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that there were 79,000 people born in Afghanistan living in the UK in 2019.
The first Afghan immigrants to the British capital were students, business people and Afghan government officials. It wasn’t until years later that significant numbers came in the form of refugees. The first large wave of Afghan immigrants to the UK were political refugees fleeing the 1980s communist regime and numerous others came in the early 1990s escaping Mujahideen. The number skyrocketed later that decade due to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Despite the flow of immigrants and refugees remaining fairly stable over the new millennium period, the number of Afghans coming to the UK since the mid-2000s has completely eclipsed the recorded number of Afghans in the 2001 census, as more and more were fleeing the threat of violence and even death in their homeland during the War in Afghanistan. In 2003, the British government announced that they would begin enforced repatriation of failed asylum-seekers in April. This marked a break from the previous policy, observed continuously since 1978, of not returning any Afghans to their country of origin whether or not they were deemed to be economic migrants. At the time, roughly 700 Afghans applied for asylum in the United Kingdom each month, making them one of the largest groups of asylum-seekers along with Iraqis.
Between 1994 and 2006, around 36,000 Afghans claimed asylum in the UK. Many whose claims were refused have not returned to Afghanistan, although the International Organization for Migration has helped some voluntarily return. 5,540 Afghan nationals were granted British citizenship in 2008, down from 10,555 in 2007.
The 2001 census recorded 14,875 Afghan-born people residing in the UK. The 2011 census recorded 62,161 people born in Afghanistan living in England, 562 in Wales, 737 in Scotland and 36 in Northern Ireland.The Office for National Statistics estimates that, by 2019, the Afghan-born population of the UK had risen to 79,000. About 49% are British nationals.
A number of unofficial population estimates have been made. Ethnologue estimates that there are 75,000 native Northern Pashto speakers in the UK, although these may comprise persons of other nationalities as well as Afghans. The number of Pashtuns in the UK is estimated at 100,000, forming the largest community of Pashtuns in the West, and the majority of Afghan Muslims in the UK are of Pashtun origin, however most British Pashtuns are of Pakistani Pashtun heritage. Other sources have put the Afghan population in London alone at 45,000 (2008) and 56,000. Whilst the Afghan Association of London estimates that the population of Afghans in the whole UK stands at 70,000 (2009). The International Organization for Migration conducted a mapping exercise in 2006, suggesting that the Afghan population of the UK was 20,000.
Most Pashtuns who originate from Afghanistan use Pashto in addition to English, with Dari (Afghan Persian) as a third language. Tajiks use Persian while Hazaras use Hazaragi, although some Tajiks and Hazaras are also fluent in Pashto. Pashto and Dari are both the official languages of Afghanistan.
Afghans Are Everywhere in The UK
At the 2001 census, about 70% of Afghans lived in the capital with the largest concentration in western boroughs. At the 2011 census, there were 37,680 Afghan-born residents living in the region, 60% of the UK total.The largest population was London Borough of Ealing with 6,015 residents, and is followed by Hounslow (4,463), Brent (3,698), Harrow (3,314), Hillingdon (3,248) and Barnet (3,234), altogether forming almost two-thirds of the London community. The least-three boroughs were Bromley (115), Bexley (109) and Havering (53).
In 2001 the single largest Afghan community in the UK was West Southall, where 1,121 Afghan-born people and many more of Afghan descent live. The locations with the fewest Afghan-born residents are Northern Ireland and Wales, which as subdivisions are estimated to have no greater than 100 Afghan residents each.
The West Midlands has the second largest number of Afghans by county, with the larger communities in Birmingham (second highest city in the country), Coventry and Wolverhampton, and minor communities in Walsall. The West Midlands region had an Afghan population of 6,552 in the 2011 census, and the South East England region had 4,819. South West England and North East England both had the lowest in England each numbering less than one thousand. The number for Wales was 562.
Religions Of Afghans
Most Afghans in the UK follow Sunni Islam although there is a significant number of Shias. There are also minorities of Sikh and Hindu Afghans in the Greater London area, with a particularly large Afghan Sikh community in the London Borough of Ealing, where 58% of Afghans are Muslims and a significant minority are Sikh in the 2001 census. In neighbouring Hounslow, 52% are Muslim, and in Hillingdon 47%. By contrast, the Afghan population in Brent is over 90% Muslim. Islamic Afghan cultural centres are located in Willesden, Norbury and Hounslow.
One study of Afghan Muslims in England suggests that the majority are of Pashtun ancestry.
Afghan Community Organisations in the UK
Elonat is a Dari language advertising newspaper for the community. Community organisations include: the Afghan Council of Great Britain, the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association based in Feltham, the Afghan Association of London based in Harrow, and the Afghan Community Organisation of London based in Lewisham.
Notable Afghans in the UK
- Idries Shah (Author)
- Nelufar Hedayat (Journalist)
- Maziar Kouhyar (Footballer)
- Shabnam Nasimi (Politician)
- Aftab Sachak (Actor)
- Hammasa Kohistani (Model)
- Aryana Sayeed (Singer/Songwriter)
Peymana Assad became the first British citizen of Afghan origin to hold a London borough council seat when she was elected a councillor for Roxeth ward in the London Borough of Harrow in 2018. She ran as the Labour Party candidate for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner constituency in the 2019 general election, losing to the Conservative candidate.