Never has my heart been so far from home.
America has been good to me, and I am forever grateful. As a younger man back in Kabul, I worked with much pride for a U.S. defense contractor, and for me, this country always represented the hopes and dreams for my entire family.
In fact, my nickname back home was “Omid,” which in my native language means “Hope.”
I came to America nine years ago, alone. Now, after the heart-wrenching two weeks in Afghanistan, I am struggling to come to the realization that I may never see my family again. You see, like millions of other Afghans, they supported America and were in a common fight against the terror of the Taliban.
My family, like so many others, now are hidden at home. They went to the airport one day, waited for 20 hours, became dehydrated, suffered intimidation by Taliban thugs, and with my sister-in-law six months pregnant, fled back home for their safety.
From my perspective, America’s fight against the Taliban was the right one. The Pakistan-supported terrorists used my native country to not only kill and harm Afghan families like my own, but to give shelter to international terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that seek to harm all Americans.
These tragic losses should have been avoided. Despite what some in the U.S. are saying, it is not true that the Afghan military refused to fight. More than 60,000 Afghan soldiers have died in the last 20 years. And Afghans fought too. According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 innocent Afghan women, men and children have lost their lives. It is painful to watch what has happened in Afghanistan and what is going to happen now under the control of the Taliban.
My heart is shattered for all the Afghans and American families who have lost their loved ones in fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, and we all are heartbroken to watch how this all has ended.
It did not have to end like this.
Shortly before I left Kabul for my new life, the Afghan government was considering allowing the United States to build a number of permanent military bases. Such a move would have benefited both countries.
For America, permanent bases would be militarily strategic beyond South Asia. For Afghanistan, the bases would have been a stabilizing force, providing local economies, the strongest deterrent to Taliban recruitment and support. Like Germany, Japan or Korea, the troop presence on fortified bases would have served the “shona ba shona” — shoulder-to-shoulder partnership — the United States military had sewn into patches on their uniforms to demonstrate unity with their Afghan allies.
But politics in both Kabul and Washington ruined that prospect. Over the years, America’s “enduring partnership” weakened as the whole effort was defined as a “war” rather than a model similar to Europe after World War II. The result was the type of rush for the door that destabilized Afghanistan and strengthened the Taliban to the point that it took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
Besides the loss of what could have been for our two countries, what else will be the result of the Taliban’s victory?
For one, Afghan women will lose 20 years of empowerment, progress and education. My mother was a banker in Kabul prior to the original Taliban take-over in 1996. She was forced to quit, wear a burqa and forever lose her own hopes and dreams.
Millions of other young Afghan girls will also lose the opportunities that America built in grade schools, universities, healthcare and in the simple dignity of knowing they too can achieve success. All of that will be lost.
But the 20 years of achievements cut across all parts of Afghan society. Girls and boys learned for the first time since before the Taliban that they could play musical instruments, sing, dance, play sports, and talk to people all over the world on the internet. All of that will be lost.
Finally, for the last 20 years, America helped us build a free and open press with the right to speak up, speak out and freely debate our opinions and ideals. All of that will be lost.
So for me, the beautiful world I have here in America is certainly a comfort. But, seeing the unfolding world before us this week breaks my heart for all Afghans and the Afghanistan that the United States fought so hard to win as they attempted to build a better future.
Zi Azizi is a realtor with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in St. Petersburg, Florida