x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Afghans crave to return home

Afghans who fled the violence of their homeland for the safety and business opportunities afforded by Dubai say they still dream of home.

DUBAI // In the decade since the US-led invasion of his home country, Sulaiman Sargar has been wounded by a car bomb and mourned his friends killed by Nato forces.

He has been threatened by armed thugs yet just more than a year since his parents bundled him off to the safety of Dubai, Mr Sargar, 30, is making urgent plans to return to Afghanistan.

"Within two or three months, inshallah," he said, sitting in the small Afghan restaurant in International City, where he works as a waiter.

The US-led war in Afghanistan marks its 10th anniversary today. It has pushed Afghans such as Mr Sargar to take refuge abroad.

Despite billions of dollars in military efforts, these exiles say, security is worse under the international coalition than it was before the Taliban regime was toppled.

But at the same time, the inflow of funds has brought modest improvements in roads, schools and hospitals.

And it has created big opportunities to make money. Afghans have started businesses in safer parts of the country and won well-paying contracts or jobs from foreign governments.

Several Afghans in Dubai say they would like to return home, despite the risks.

Because of the dreariness of his life in Dubai, Mr Sargar feels especially motivated to leave.

He works 11 hours a day, seven days a week at a mundane job for two thirds of what he earned at home. He has few friends. With no means of transport, he has only left International City twice.

Back in his village in eastern Khost province, Mr Sargar owned a car and lived with two dozen relatives on a property surrounded by fields of wheat and maize.

After the US came, he used his fluent English and college education to land a plum job for an American non-profit organisation that trained teachers.

Roads built by the US halved his commute to the city centre. His nephews and nieces attended schools also constructed by the Americans.

But with the foreigners came danger, in the areas where they battled the Taliban for control and in the rural expanses where they had no control, giving rise to theft, kidnapping and murder.

Mr Sargar, like many around him, carried a gun. His family kept Kalashnikovs and grenades, and others had rocket-propelled grenades.

"The police and US forces cannot come to your defence," he said.

At times, those troops became the source of danger.

When soldiers carried out "night raids" - surprise visits to search Afghan homes - residents who made moves that looked suspicious could be shot. Mr Sargar said he knew a student and a headmaster who had died that way.

"And tomorrow you will hear from the BBC and other news channels that US soldiers have killed two terrorists," he said.

It was a Taliban-planted car bomb that injured Mr Sargar's leg and compelled his parents to send him away.

He sends much of his Dh1,500 monthly salary home but is also saving to move to the Afghan capital Kabul.

Like Mr Sargar, Obaid Khan, 23, moved to Dubai at his family's behest - although he arrived in better circumstances.

Because his family's construction business had flourished after the US entered Afghanistan, he was sent here three years ago to set up an office and source building materials.

Mr Khan negotiates deals with suppliers during the day and spends the rest of the time visiting cafes, the cinema or any of his dozens of relatives who live in the UAE.

He also faced danger in Afghanistan, even in his hometown of Kabul where Nato and Afghan forces have the strongest presence.

A rocket once landed 100 metres away during the opening ceremony for a construction site. A bomb exploded 200 metres from Mr Khan, leaving behind smoke, charred vehicles and dead bodies.

Over the years, several other bombs exploded minutes before he arrived on the scene.

While working in the southern provinces, where fighting has been fiercest, Mr Khan was never caught in crossfire but kept an ear out for reports of the latest attacks.

"Everyone feels, 'If I go outside of my home and go out, maybe I will not come back alive'," he said.

But Mr Khan hopes the family business will allow him to return home after a few years. He already spends several weeks there every four or five months.

"I prefer Afghanistan," he said.