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The Afghan expat's dilemma: Should I stay or should I go?

Thousands of Afghans who returned from abroad after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 now face the dilemma of once again having to flee and bear the resentment of Afghans left behind.

By Halima KazemCorrespondent / November 12, 2012

A family enjoys a day off in Babur Gardens in Kabul, Afghanistan, in April. Afghans who returned to the country after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, now face the dilemma of once again having to flee and bear the resentment of those left behind.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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Kabul, Afghanistan

In a 12 x 12 windowless room hang hundreds of oil paintings, Islamic calligraphy, and other fine art pieces created by Afghan artists trying to preserve traditional art forms, as well as push local boundaries in an effort to create new ones.

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The room is in The Galleria, a small arts gallery tucked away in the corner of a busy Kabul city neighborhood. The owner of the gallery is Rameen Javid, a clean cut, fast talking Afghan-American from New York City.

Mr. Javid is one of thousands of Afghans who fled in late 1970s and '80s because of a communist takeover of the country and ensuing violence and then returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. And like many other Afghan returnees, he now faces the dilemma of once again having to flee Afghanistan if the security worsens and bear the resentment of the Afghans he leaves behind.

“We have no plans of leaving anytime soon. There has to be an extreme security situation for me to leave,” Mr. Javid says referring to his 1-year-old daughter and his wife Nadima, who was born and raised in Afghanistan.

While going to high school and college in New York, the 40-something said he dreamed of returning to Afghanistan and working with the local artists to market their work. He says he’s not going to give up his dream so quickly even if it means sticking it out through random insurgent attacks, fighting, and increasing crime in Kabul City. 

“I am helping to change the lives of these artists. I’ve increased their profit margins from 25 percent to 200 percent. I want to make art a part of life in Afghanistan,” Javid says, pointing to paintings by a master artist from the western province of Herat.

In order to cover the cost of running The Galleria, Javid takes anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the sale price of a piece of art and gives the rest to the artist.

“When we have a surplus, we either reinvest in more stock or a different variety of goods, or give advances to artists for their personal and professional needs,” Javid says.

Other Afghan Americans are also holding on to hope that the security situation in Afghanistan won’t force them out again.

Helena Malikyar, an Afghan-American from Arizona lives in Kabul with her husband and son. She says that despite the bleak forecast that many Afghan experts are predicting for Afghanistan after international forces completely withdraw in 2014, she still thinks young Afghans will rise to the occasion.

“I count on the young generation. I think they have developed a sense of awareness that gives them the potential to pull their act together to protect the gains of the recent years and work for progress and prosperity. I am aware that this may not be achieved during my lifetime, but I still hope that my son sees the Afghanistan that his parents dream of,” says Ms. Malikyar.

‘I felt like I was failing’

Other Afghan-Americans aren’t as hopeful as Moshref and Malikyar. Many have packed up and returned back to the US, leaving behind lucrative jobs, friends, and any hopes of seeing a responsible and capable government in Afghanistan.

“For a very long time, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in every little thing I did while living in Afghanistan, but toward the last few months, no matter what I did, I felt like I was failing. The security situation was getting worse. Attacks were becoming more random and a sense of mistrust was building all around me,” says Nilufar Shuja, an Afghan-American from California.

Ms. Shuja first returned to Afghanistan in March 2002 and has lived on and off in Kabul since then, working as a business development consultant for Afghan and international organizations. She returned to the US for good in July because she says she was seeing how quickly the security and the economy in Afghanistan were deteriorating.

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