The View from an Afghan Taxi Driver
I take taxis or rickshaws everywhere in Herat. Most of the times I avoid taxis — instead I take rickshaws because I can save some money and give it to the poor. I say this not to show off my virtues but to describe the desperate economic conditions people are in. Any amount of money can help mitigate their hunger.
Today, on my way to the doctor I took a taxi because I was in a hurry.
The cab driver looked really interesting — his physical stature and form looked like an elite soldier, which prompted me to start a conversation and ask him: how is business. He said it was alright — not as good as it used to be and finished his sentence saying that there’s not “maza” in anything anymore. Maza means taste but in the vernacular sometimes people say that business maza nadara, which means business is not too good.
The long taxi drive and the rush hour spearheaded our conversation into political issues. In a country like Afghanistan, everything and everyone is political. Necessities and pressing social and economic matters have made everyone political. To be political is to be bedar (awake) in this country. So no matter whom you meet the issue that they want to discuss is politics.
We, the driver and I, came across a number of traffic cops — and his disgust for them became obvious immediately. He talked about his morning and that he was pulled over by a cop for having run through a red light. While he was being questioned as to why he committed this traffic violation, an important car which meant it belonged to some high ranking commander or wali (governor) did the same thing as this cab driver had done. Instead of pulling over this traffic violator, and to the taxi driver’s surprise, this cop and his colleagues didn’t even bother going after the car.
In Afghanistan, there are some laws and legal measures in place — but they only apply to the poor. The rich and the governing class can get away with anything and everything. Murder someone and if you have money, you will walk away scot-free. These are things that have turned people away from the government — to the point that some want to join ISIS or the Taliban in order to be free from oppression and subjugation.
The taxi driver continued to register his frustrations with the government. He said this current government is over. It’s been six months, he said, since its employees have been paid. He said every public official knows that this government cannot work and that it is doomed to collapse. He said they are here to enrich themselves and walk away. It’s amazing how much corruption there’s in the government of Afghanistan.
You cannot find one government office that is free from corruption. The high degree of corruption combined with the regular abuse of people by the security officials are driving the people into the arms of the insurgents.
August 19th is the day I rode with this cab driver to see my doctor. It’s also the day Afghans claim to have gotten their independence from the British. A number of celebrations were underway throughout the city of Herat. For example, at the stadium of Herat there were a large number of people talking and celebrating their independence. Around the city there were small gatherings in which a mullah or a prominent leader talked about Afghanistan’s heroic history and how Afghans have always maintained their independence.
As my taxi was making a turn toward our destination we heard a bunch of people clapping to the words of whoever was speaking to them. The driver started laughing out loud. He said he doesn’t know what our officials and politicians are thinking; either they are mad or we are mad.
He interrupted himself right away and said, “I know we, the Afghans, are not mad. These politicians aren’t mad either. They are just too stupid celebrating an independence that doesn’t mean anything because Afghanistan is still occupied and has become a rentier state. How can we claim independence when we are so dependent on foreign governments? Independence must mean not only political independence but also economic independence.”
As we got closer to my drop-off spot, the driver said, “I’m so tired of the government that sometimes I’m tempted to join ISIS in Afghanistan.” Then he looked at me as if to impress me with the seriousness of his tone and said, “Sometimes I am tempted to join ISIS so I can kill as many officials as I can. It pays $500 a month. What can be worse than that?”