Hope for the future is hard to find in Afghanistan. There’s always plenty of naïve optimism grounded in social denial, but realistic hope is another matter.
A group of boys from Bamiyan province, ages roughly 12 through 20, recently described for me the pervasive poverty, bribery, corruption, and ethnic division they face on a daily basis in their isolated, mountainous communities in central Afghanistan. They said society’s rewards—and western funds—invariably go to the already powerful and corrupt who care little about their countrymen and women. They told me stories of schoolbooks being stolen from their schools and sold elsewhere and teachers insisting on bribes for good grades. The national college entrance exam, which is supposed to select the best high school seniors for a free education at Kabul University, the polytechnic university, or the military academy, is riddled with corruption, they said. Favored students with the right social connections have the exam answers beforehand or their cheating is ignored by exam proctors who look the other way.
“Those who are corrupted are the ones who are nurtured and given funds” by the Afghan government and western donors, explained Hakim, a translator for the boys.
“There is no way out of this hopelessness,” added one of the youngest boys, smiling while delivering his grim assessment.
Theirs is a benign fatalism, a stubborn determination in the face of seemingly endless war and deprivation, explained an Afghan colleague to me later.
“Our world now is upside down,” said Hakim, and the restoration of hope “will take a very, very long time.” Honesty is a requirement for the journey back, he said.
A plea for peace drafted by the Bamiyan youth group appears on the right.