Afghanistan-born activist marks 17th anniversary of fighting in her homeland

By Audrey Cleo Yap

Samira Abrar, a refugee of the Afghanistan War, partnered with CODEPINK to remind people of ongoing combat within the country

When she lived in her hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan, Samira Abrar got used to not making plans with friends. And when they did, they would punctuate their would-be lunch dates and shopping excursions with the expression, “Inshallah” — “God willing” in Arabic.

“You would plan things, sure, but you’re like, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to happen, so I better not be so excited about it,’” said Abrar, 24, referring to the daily anxiety she said she felt whenever she left her home to work or attend school, unsure of if she would be alive at the end of the day to come back.

It was a fate the peace activist narrowly escaped in August 2016, when the Kabul branch of American University, where Abrar was studying law, was attacked
by suspected Taliban forces. Abrar and some of her classmates managed to escape through an emergency exit. Sixteen policemen, security guards, professors and Abrar’s fellow students weren’t as lucky: they lost their lives in the 10-hour siege.

“Anyone could have been targeted anywhere. And some of those attacks were targeting international troops, but along the way civilians, could be victims,” said Abrar. “That’s how we realized we aren’t really moving forward. That it’s actually going back to the same kind of violence that we had been experiencing [before the U.S. invasion].”

Oct. 7 marked the 17th anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom initiated by the United States in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime and the start of the ongoing war in the country. By some estimates, over 30,000 Afghan civilians have died as a result of the conflict since 2001; according to the Department of Defense, over 2,000 U.S. servicemen
have died.

Afghan citizens continue to endure deadly and increasing violence, from conflicts among Taliban forces, ISIS, some 20 other insurgent groups and U.S. and global forces, despite periodic ceasefires.

The first half of 2018 saw some 1,692 fatalities, a record high, according to a report released by the United Nations.

For Abrar, the violence became too much for her and her family: she relocated to the U.S. two years ago to finish her degree, completing her classes over Skype and at Santa Monica College, while her parents and seven siblings scattered around the globe, immigrating to India, Australia and Germany (she has one sister who remains in Kabul). Abrar’s family had previously fled the country for Iran — a harrowing journey that included paying off Taliban members and the aid of human smugglers — where they lived for almost eight years before returning to Afghanistan in 2008.

According to the U.N., 2.6 million refugees worldwide come from Afghanistan, a population second only to that coming from Syria.

While she now lives in Pacific Palisades, Abrar and her fellow activists are doing what they can to ensure that this so-called “forgotten war” remains in the public consciousness. Local members of CODEPINK, a grassroots anti-war organization, recently held a vigil in Venice to commemorate the war’s almost 20-year anniversary. Members followed up with a meeting that included several speakers of Afghan descent.

For Abrar, who previously worked as a campaign manager for CODEPINK, it’s one small acknowledgment of the devastation and civilian casualties related to the war in Afghanistan that she still hears about on a daily basis from friends and family who live in Kabul. She added that costs of war cannot only be measured in terms of lives lost: factors like the country’s stunted economy, lack of infrastructure and inadequate access to everyday needs like clean water and electricity should also be considered. According to the World Bank, a quarter of the country’s labor force is unemployed and only 54% of young Afghans are literate.

“We say to be alive is fortunate and death could be anywhere. That is exactly the situation right now in Afghanistan,” said Abrar. “Everything is very uncertain. This war is not just about killing but the whole cost of war on Afghan people.”

Still, she said she hopes to return to her home country, and to the hometown where she was born and raised, one day — inshallah.