Few in Afghanistan remember 9/11. Two-thirds of its 39 million inhabitants are under the age of 25. Only the elderly keep memory of those attacks that occurred 10,000 kilometers from their country, but that turned their lives upside down and rewritten their future. In the most remote places they did not even find out immediately. With television banned by the Taliban who ruled then and have now returned to power, radio and word of mouth were the main avenues of information.
Wahidullah was 25 years old when Al Qaeda tore down the Twin Towers and attacked the Pentagon. Already then he was working as a currency trader at Kabul’s Saray Shahzada (Prince’s Market), an informal but authorized job. “Two days before they had killed Commander Masud and that was all that was said in the market and in the city,” he evokes in reference to the assassination of the guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Masud by Al Qaeda. “Then the attack against the United States occurred and everything changed from then on,” he sums up.
He still feels a slight chill when he remembers the news. “We found out on the radio. Since then television was forbidden, at night in my family we used to listen to the radio ”, he says. “At first, we did not know what had happened or who was behind it, but when the US accused Bin Laden, we were very scared because it was a great power and its threat was dangerous,” he says. Everyone knew who Osama Bin Laden was, the leader of Al Qaeda. “He came to do the jihad and he stayed, ”says Wahidullah.
In a few weeks, the bombing began. “Many people left, but my family stayed and I experienced the attacks on Kabul. None of my relatives died in that war, but some of our neighbors did, ”he recalls. The damage came later, when the occupation was prolonged and many Afghans were killed in the bombings by the US and its allies, and the attacks by the Taliban against their presence.
Only a third of the 39 million Afghans are over 25 years old. Many did not know immediately, as in 2001 television was banned by the Taliban
Today, this father of eight daughters is convinced that the American intervention improved their lives. “There was more work, the schools opened, although I continued with mine, the business also increased a lot,” he sums up. Now, he says he has not received any threats or is afraid, but he is concerned about the economy. “The situation is very bad and there is no work. That is our problem ”, he concludes.
Outside of Kabul and other cities, information circulated more slowly. Still today only 30% of the Afghan population is urban; then, those who lived in the country were around 80%. Shaima, a 50-year-old homemaker, was among them; he resided in Surhood, a town in Nangarhar province. “We heard it on the radio the next morning; We didn’t know what was going to happen when the United States attacked, but we decided to stay, ”says the woman — covered in a handkerchief, but with her face uncovered — during a visit to the market. He does not regret that decision.
Her husband, who had been in the Communist Army and was then working a small piece of land adjacent to their home, joined the new Army. “We have had a good life thanks to his salary and that of our son,” he confides. “Our children have studied, the oldest is an engineer, the second has just finished accounting and now, without income, we cannot pay for the little girl’s school,” she explains. “I am not afraid of the Taliban; I just want work for my husband and my children; to be able to live and pay for Maryam’s education, ”she adds as the 12-year-old girl shyly hides behind her mother.
Mohsen Kayumi must have been one of the few Afghans who found out about 9/11 on television. “Although it was forbidden, at home we had a hidden device and at night we would take it out,” justifies this 52-year-old man, owner of a small gold shop. “At first we thought it was a mere plane crash. We only understood the seriousness, when the US threatened the Taliban with an attack if they did not hand over Bin Laden. We wondered what would become of us ”, he recalls.
Still, the Kayumi did not leave Kabul during “the American war.” “I continued working with my father in this same store, as my children do with me now,” he says, pointing to Bashir and Navid. A relative was killed in the bombings, but there were no casualties in the close family. 28-year-old Bashir remembers the excitement and nerves of those days. Navid, 18, only what the elders have told him.
The father agrees with other interviewees that the US intervention was positive, although what followed ruined it. “Business was not going well during the Taliban. With the new Government of [Hamid] Karzai everything got better. Now we have returned to 2001, people do not have money and are worried about the future, “he summarizes while handing out a 10 Afghani bill (0.1 euros) to each beggar who appears at his door (and there are at least half a dozen in the half hour that the journalist spends with him).
Afghanistan’s economy already suffered a severe blow last year, when the poverty rate increased from 55% to 72% due to the contraction caused by the covid, according to data from the World Bank. The UN Development Program (UNDP) estimates that in the next six months the number of Afghans living on less than two dollars a day will reach up to 97% due to the interruption of foreign aid and the prolonged drought.
Kayumi explains that Afghans used to buy gold as an investment, for weddings or, in the case of young women, “because they like it and because they made money they could afford it.” However, since August 15, he says he has not sold anything. “For the rest, life continues normal. It’s not like before 2001, when the Taliban beat people on the street for no reason. Now that does not happen, but the economy is stopped ”, he emphasizes.
But their children are suspicious. “Young people are afraid. So far they haven’t told us anything about the clothes or the hair, but we fear for the future, ”Navid intervenes, wearing jeans and a patterned T-shirt. “Nobody is happy,” says Bashir who, like his father, has opted for the traditional shalwar kamiz (long shirt over baggy pants).
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