Afghanistan’s Lost Hope

2002

In the spring of 2002, the year after the assassination of Afghanistan National Hero and Lion of Panjshir “Ahmad Shah Massoud” by Al-Qaeda, we traveled to Afghanistan.

Our plan was to visit Mazar-e-Sharif, where we were going to photograph The Jahenda Bālā ceremony, one of Afghanistan’s religious rituals- held every year in early March-simultaneous with the Afghan New Year, that had been banned by the Taliban for the previous four years.
The US Army was engaged in a war with the Taliban and the Afghan government, ruled by the incumbent President Hamid Karzai, was facing a huge challenge against influential people such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The ongoing conflict provided photographers from big agencies with news events every day. But we had the intention to photograph the daily lives of Afghans, which was rarely considered to be newsworthy. Intercity transportation proved our biggest challenge. The number of flights taking off from Kabul Airport had been reduced to a minimum and it was impossible to plan for a specific day. Therefore we decided to go all the way overland from Herat to Kandahar, Kabul, and Mazar-e-Sharif (2715 km), a journey which, because of the bad road conditions, took us many days.

From the moment we entered Afghanistan, we encountered people who had been suffering from multiple wars with either foreign or domestic forces and threats. People who were still standing firm against all odds and difficulties. There was a remarkable sparkle of hope and excitement in their eyes, caused by the downfall of Al-Qaeda, but at the same time, they were still suffering from the civil war with the Taliban which evoked an uncertain and dark future for them. I witnessed a diligent and veteran nation whose only hope was the presence of US troops in the territory.

During our journey, I saw the happiness as well as the suffering of the people. It was important for me to be an honest narrator. I got tired and sorrowful often, seeing the suffering of the people we encountered along the way during our difficult journey. At those times I would ask myself: “why am I here and why am I photographing?” The answer was obvious to me… ” I record for a photo, cause it’s worth a thousand words.” Photography is a way for me to sense the moments that I forget myself and I believe that photos are more definitive and reliable than words.

Now, nearly 20 years later, we seem to have come full circle, and looking at the images from that trip I can’t help but feel profound sadness.
At the same time, I am reminded of the Afghan people’s incredible resilience and realize that hope is never really lost.