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Free our Lands, Free Our Homes

Free our Lands, Free Our Homes

Displaced Afghans Stranded Amid Peace Deal

Preethi Nallu, Kabul, Afghanistan

Tawoos Khan remembered his president’s visit like it was yesterday.

As he stood in front of a photograph of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who visited his home in Charahi Qambar informal displacement camp a few years before, a mixture of pride and disappointment lined his face.

“Ghani Sahib promised that he would donate the land to us, but it was not a real promise,” he said, referring to the president.

In the absence of formal land rights, Tawoos and thousands of others living at the camp in the outskirts of Kabul, are considered informal residents or, worse, squatters. Having lost their lands and homes that are about 700 miles away, they count among the millions of Afghans internally displaced by war.

When I met Tawoos in 2017, he had already lived in the makeshift settlement for more than a decade. Over subsequent visits, little changed in the camp other than increased neglect and more displaced families entering an extremely crammed space.

Amid chronic conflict, long-term displacement has become a feature of life in Afghanistan.

On February 29, 2020, the US signed a peace agreement with the Taliban, claiming a “historic victory” that would end the 18-year war. By March 23, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, rushed to Kabul as the country’s leaders squabbled over the next president. Eager to extricate the US and withdraw troops, Pompeo threatened to cut two billion US Dollars in funding, if Kabul failed to produce a unity government.

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Despite the deal, the national peace process appears still-born with renewed fighting between Afghan Armed Forces and the Taliban. Meanwhile, the UN reported that 37,000 Afghans were ‘newly displaced’ between January and mid-March, 2020.

When I recently called Tawoos to get his thoughts on the latest peace deal negotiated between the US and the Taliban, he rebuked the idea with laughter. “Free our lands, free our homes, so we can go back, or give us something new to build on.” Tawoos’ reply has not wavered over the years.

Without helping displaced populations – new and old – build permanent homes and livelihoods, peace will remain elusive to Afghanistan.

* An earlier version of this text appeared on Refugees Deeply.

StoriesAsia, a collective of independent journalists from 16 South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, seeks to replace the present-day parade of faceless numbers with humanising narrative nonfiction – a largely ignored journalistic genre in the region.

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