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Erfanullah Abidi

The Early Years

Afghanistan is a rough but beautiful country plagued by conflict and instability. It is home to resilient and proud people of different ethnicities. Most of its recent history has unfortunately been rife with disagreements between its different factions, stoked by neighbouring countries for their own political interests.

I grew up as a carefree young teenager in a happy, middle-class family in the suburbs of Kabul. We celebrated life with picnics and outings. Friends used to call in and stay over. My Islamic faith has always inspired my life as a good Sufi Muslim and I learnt to accept the diversity within Islam as well as other faiths. My father had a medium-sized property and grew a decent crop of vines which he sold on the market for a lucrative price.

Making the best of Life

We thrived and made use of the new services that were being offered by the central government of the time. I had access to a good university education and had a job that made the constant bombings worth putting up with, although it was quite tricky at the best of times. Somehow, we lived a relatively sheltered life in Kabul compared to the constant bad news from the regional areas. We would try to ignore the bombings around the city. After 2020, though, things started to change for the worse. The central government, which was largely propped up by foreign aid, started to buckle as the US was showing signs of budget fatigue. By the end of the year the writing was clearly on the wall. The bubble we were living in had to burst. The insurgency in the regional areas was escalating to a degree never experienced before. The question in everyone’s mind now was not if but when was it actually going to happen. With the collapse of the central government in mid-August the fate of the country and of our lives was sealed. With the fall of Kabul, we suddenly became enemies of the state overnight and unwanted refugees.

The Journey

Fast forward 15 days after we secured a humanitarian visa, my family and I experienced a living hell for three days without food or sleep. We changed houses to avoid capture, grabbed whatever we could carry in rucksacks, and made our way to the airport as did thousands of others desperately trying to push and shove our way through filth and sewerage. The aim was to get close to the Australian soldiers to take us into the airport. This was happening while the local Taliban were trying to control the crowds by shooting indiscriminately at us. It was an absolute nightmare and an emotional roller-coaster I would not like to relive. Having got through to the airport, a troop carrier aircraft ferried us across to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As the plane lifted off the runway, we sang our Afghan national song, Sarzameen-e-man, together. Everyone was grappling to contain their tears. It felt like our hearts were being wrenched out of our bodies. Comparative calm coupled with sheer exhaustion took over as we landed on safer ground in Dubai where we were debriefed and prepared for our new destination.

Arriving Down Under

We arrived early on the morning of 1 Sep 2021 in post-COVID Adelaide. It was not exactly a rousing welcome as we spent the next 14 days in lockdown. But we found Australians to be very generous people. We started to experience the safety and humanity of a normal life. Gradually we established a good network of friends to whom we are immensely grateful. The issues facing Afghanistan now and into the future will be centred on security, governance and economic prosperity. Among the population of 39 million, there are millions of displaced people and women and children still without food and work. I still have hope for a safe and free Afghanistan. Although it is hard to imagine this future for the people of Afghanistan, I believe it is possible with world powers leveraging their influence and aid for political change and I intend to play a part in it.

Looking ahead

I plan to take up further tertiary studies in Counter-Terrorism and Political Science. The knowledge I gained on the ground in my previous work in Kabul will put me in good stead towards a career in the Intelligence Sector for the Australian government. I am now in a position to make a difference to my old country as well as my new adopted country.

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