Why British Afghans have fears for their homeland’s future


A man who lost his leg to a land mine walks past bomb-destroyed buildings

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“I have experienced losses because of the war. Three of my cousins were killed in explosions and my brother was abducted.”

Hamid Khan was 21 when he came to the UK from Afghanistan about eight years ago. He feels the situation in the country is “getting worse and worse”.

The recent elections were “a failure” according to Hamid – with people afraid to vote due to violence.

And you can’t blame them: an average of 74 men, women and children were killed every day in August. The total number of dead stood at 2,307 by the end of the month.

It’s now 18 years since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in the country in 2001 – making it the longest war in US history. Radio 1 Newsbeat has been finding out what hopes British Afghans have for their homeland.

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Safety fears were partly behind the low turnout in the recent Afghan elections

‘It was survival’

Ali Zaheer’s dad came to the UK alone in 1998, with Ali and his seven siblings being raised by his mum in the province of Nangarhar.

“It was quite a lot for my mum – it’s very difficult to raise so many children alone and in that state. We were relying on any income my dad had here in the UK. So it was quite hard on him as well,” he tells Newsbeat.

“Wartime was horrendous. There were bombings happening all over the place.

“It was survival, taking each day as it comes. The future was uncertain because we knew it was going to be a prolonged war.”

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Ali Zaheer

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Ali visited Afghanistan in 2017 and was “saddened” by what he saw

Settling in

Ali eventually made it to the UK in 2004 aged 14 and faced bullying despite going to “an ethnically diverse school”.

“There were still some remarks about where you live, where you come from, what you wear and how you talk.”

Now 30, he works as an engineering manager in London and “feels secure” in the UK – saying the education system has helped him build a life here.

Ali visited Afghanistan in December 2017 and says he’s “deeply saddened” by what he saw.

“It seem even worse there than before. One of the first things that struck me was how little the country had progressed.

“I felt really out of touch. Buying stuff like beans, cooking oil, flour feels basic here in the UK – but it’s a luxury there.”

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Media captionHow cricket changed the lives of teenage Afghan refugees in the UK

Laila, who’s 21 and studying medicine, says her experience of adjusting to the UK has been easy – but in Afghanistan her family are still terrorised by the Taliban.

“My family have told me of running out of the house because the Taliban have come in.

“They’ve not even been able to pack anything, they’ve just got the clothes they’re wearing on them,” she adds.

Who are the Taliban?

They are a hardline movement and follow a radical form of Islam.

They first took control of the Afghan capital Kabul in 1996, and ruled most of the country within two years.

They were accused of protecting Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda movement, who were behind the 9/11 attacks in America in 2001.

Despite being removed from power by a US-led coalition and its Afghan allies after 9/11, they’ve had a resurgence in recent years – carrying out attacks and taking control of large areas of the country.

Laila says her dad’s sacrifice made sure she could adapt to life in the UK without a problem.

He came to the UK in 1997 – eight years before she did – and worked as a shopkeeper. It meant when Laila and the rest of her family came over they “didn’t have to worry about important things like housing, unlike lots of other refugees”.

“I didn’t feel any hostility, I was good academically – because I was so young I could pick up the language easily. And I benefitted from having parents and teachers who encouraged me to focus on studying.”

Turmoil and Taliban

Some people, like delivery driver Hamid, didn’t plan on staying in the UK for very long. But as the situation worsened in Afghanistan, circumstances changed.

“At first I wanted to come and study. I didn’t have any thoughts of staying here for a long time. But then with time it got worse for my family there, so I had to apply for asylum.”

He blames the Taliban for his family being unsafe.

“My cousins were killed in an explosion when they went to watch a cricket tournament.

“The Taliban have destroyed the security in the country.”

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The Taliban follow a radical form of Islam and enforce punishments like public executions

Laila, Hamid and Ali would all love to return to Afghanistan, but don’t feel too confident about the future.

“There hasn’t been much hope about the elections – because we all feel there are other groups that decide things around Afghanistan, so it doesn’t really matter who the president is,” says Laila.

Hamid agrees, saying the options “weren’t great”.

Hope and peace

At one point it did seem like change might be on the way.

After a year of secret negotiations, President Trump looked likely to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban. But that plan was halted in September when the Taliban admitted they were behind an attack that killed a US soldier.

Trump was criticised at the time for offering to host the Taliban for talks at Camp David just days before the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.

Hamid might have lost his loved ones in attacks by the militant group, but he still wants an agreement with the Taliban.

“They have a lot of support. There’s no other way – because we cannot ignore their resistance.”

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Media captionIs peace with the Taliban possible?

In an ideal world it wouldn’t happen, Ali says, but he believes it’s “the only way” to reach a peaceful end.

“The Taliban isn’t just going to go away and disappear into thin air. They’ll just keep fighting.”

Despite the number of people killed – an estimated 32,000 civilians, along with 3,500 members of international military forces since 2001, and 45,000 Afghan military personnel since 2014 – there are positive stories coming out of Afghanistan.

Ali takes the success of the national cricket team as a sign of progress in the country.

“It’s incredible what some people – like our cricketers – have already achieved. But to fulfil your potential, there has to be peace.”

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The Afghanistan cricket team has qualified for multiple World Cups

Laila’s also hopeful because of what some Afghans in the country are doing.

“There are a lot of start-ups working and addressing the issues within Afghanistan founded by Afghans, which is amazing.”

She hopes to return one day to “contribute something”, but knows a lot has to change.

“I don’t want to be worried that I won’t return home because of being shot or bombed.”

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