How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…

I don’t want to exaggerate the significance of this, but I have no doubt I was able to help a young man whose circumstances I could hardly imagine. This young man.

Ahmad Shuja, Bamian November 2006

His blog at the time tells the story.

This post comes to you from the heart of Asia, roof of the world, and, sadly, a used-to-be treasure trove of Buddhist relics, Bamian. Yes, I’m writing to you from an internet café located under the majesty of the remains of the giant Buddha statues destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.

I am here to work on a book which is about the culture and history of the Hazara people of Afghanistan. It will contain stories for children about the struggles of daily life in this cold but historic province. The book aims at introducing these people to the children of the United States whose country is spreading “freedom” and “democracy” in that region. The Hazaras are one of the three largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan and are of Turco-Mongolic ancestry (I am a Hazara myself, if you’re curious)….

Hazara. Have you read The Kite Runner, or seen the movie?

Then you may have an inkling about what Hazara means. Have you any concept of the history? I confess I was largely ignorant too, but it is not a happy story in every way. See for example this 2021 article The Persecution of Hazaras.

In January 2021, Deash (Islamic State) marked the new year by murdering eleven Hazara coal miners in Quetta, Pakistan. The world press covered the story ruminating that the murders sprout from the Shia-Sunni schism because the Hazaras are Shia and Daesh is Sunni. However, the persecution of Hazaras, the original inhabitants of Khorasan, the historical name of a region including Afghanistan, is much older and complicated. Daesh, the newest slayers of the Hazaras, adores the name Khorasan as it resonates with the nostalgia of converting the people of this region to Islam in the 7th century.

As explained below, atrocities against the Hazaras of Khorasan, comprised of killings, ethnic cleansing, land confiscation, enslavement, underdevelopment, and forced exile, are not new. The Hazaras have been suffering persecution for centuries. Presently, there are more than 8 million Hazaras, but only half of them live in Afghanistan. To escape persecution, the other half migrated to other countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Europe, and Australia. In Pakistan and Iran, the Hazaras face degrading treatment as a refugee ethnic group while Daesh and Taliban slaughter them in Quetta and other parts of Baluchistan, Pakistan.

And Ahmad is a Hazara. I gather at this moment in 2021 he is in Kabul.

He eventually managed to get to the USA in 2007 and studied at Berea College in Kentucky. Let us look back at his 2007 blog:

Okay, so I got an offer of full tuition, room, board and laptop scholarship from Berea College. I accepted it, enrolled and got approved of a student visa after passing an interview at the American Embassy in Islamabad. But some of you might know that last year I traveled to Bamian for research for an upcoming book I am co-authoring. Also, that on my way to Bamian, I nearly got killed.

Well, it had been in the pipeline for months that I go there once again for more research. But due to the security situation, I find myself unable to make the trip. That’s because in the past two weeks, there have been two separate incidents involving civilian passengers who were slaughtered by Taliban. In one of the incidents, seven Hazara passengers in a public van were hand picked, abducted and slaughtered in cold blood. In another one, four Hazara travelers were killed the same way after their car was stopped by the Taliban. Both incidents occurred on the highway between the restive southern province of Bamian and the capital Kabul.

The Hazaras are one of the four main ethnic groups of Afghanistan. They have a long history of oppression, ethnocides, genocides and subjugation, mainly fueled by ethnic and religious prejudice in the hands of different governments. And I, being an ethnic Hazara, find it extremely risky to make a trip to my home country for the purpose of writing a book that portrays the culture, history and current situation of my people.

Considering that after the fall of the Taliban till the recent past, security on the highways was generally good. But events have taken a turn to the worse in the past few months. Now, not only the cities and streets are unsafe, but so are the roads and highways too. I don’t care what the news reports say or don’t; I don’t pay much heed to how government or international memos describe the situation in my country–because they are biased more often than not. But if I, as a common man, am unable to travel for fear of my life, it is a cause for alarm–and a real indicator of the degree of trust that I and people like me have on our government, its  security institutions and the international forces.

In an entry six months earlier he describes An Adventure With Death: How I Survived NATO Firing which almost wiped out his father and himself…. People, this is not fiction. This is a teenage boy in 2006-7 Afghanistan, and this was his life. I was humbled but the blog’s comments became a means for me in the smallest way to offer encouragement. I believe that mattered.

“Ninglun” was my Internet name at the time. It’s just Mandarin for Neil and means “peaceful discussion.” We exchanged comment a few times.

I came back to Ahmad’s story in 2012 after watching the second series of the SBS show Go Back to Where You Came From. I blogged about it.

I note Ahmad is a Hazara. In a Diary-X entry for 30 August 2004 (saved to disk!) I wrote:

# Been reading a really good book: The Kite Runner by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini is beautifully written and should have been compulsory reading during the “children overboard”/Tampa affair – except it couldn’t have been, having been published in 2003. But a wonderful corrective to demonisation it remains, as well as an indictment of both the Taliban and the preceding communists. One is also left in no doubt about the difficulties of the Hazara people of Afghanistan, though I suppose it is kind of comforting to know racism is not just a European phenomenon…

I wonder if Ahmad has read it. He probably has. If so, I wonder what he thinks of it.

If I could know this without supernatural intervention, how come Angry couldn’t? As I said on Facebook:

Amazed by the fact Angry Anderson has waited until 2012 to discover Hazaras — and more so that Peter Reith seems to have been on a learning curve about them as well. OK, I am glad they now know, but couldn’t they have just been — Angry especially — a bit more curious about the country we are sending our ADF people, some of whom have paid the ultimate price? I know I was. Without access to anything special I have known about the Hazara issue for at least a decade, Anyone can even if all they look up is Wikipedia! Worth seeing or reading The Kite Runner too. Adding a few old posts in the comments if Facebook cooperates — this is my second attempt!

One such old post is  Incandescent with rage: 1 from July 2011.

I was able to add:

Update on Ahmad Shuja

I knew that at the time he finished My Scribbles he had enrolled in Berea College in the USA. I had followed the process of his getting that opportunity as it happened.

Now I see he has done rather well.

That is 2010. In 2012 we find:

And in 2017 — on Chinese TV now:

Just yesterday I started following him on Twitter.

Ahmad Shuja today.

Just one instance of how amazing this blogging thing can be!

Update 26 May 2021

Yesterday I see this blog had a visitor from Afghanistan — more than likely Ahmad Shuja, I would guess. Meanwhile here are a couple of additional items:

On ABC Radio National 19 June 2016: Ahmad Shuja on Afghanistan and the dangers facing refugees.

Ahmad Shuja is the Afghanistan research assistant in the Asia division of the international non-government organisation Human Rights Watch.
His own family were refugees in the 1990’s, and he did some of his growing up in exile in Pakistan. Accentless English reveals he’s been studying English since 9 years of age, and completed his University education in the USA.

Ahmad now monitors the human rights situation in Afghanistan, researching the broader issues facing the country and its religious communities, as well as issues involving Afghans in the diaspora. He spoke to Sunday Nights’ Noel Debien about what it will mean if Australia tries to send back up to 10,000 Afghan refugees who’ve arrived in Australia by boat, and how unsafe and unstable Afghanistan remains


Ahmad Shuja is a writer, blogger and analyst. He writes primarily about development, security, nation-building, policy, democratization and issues pertaining to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. He is an assistant editor at Iran Times, a contributor to the Huffington Post, and maintains his personal blog. He has appeared on the BBC, Al-Jazeera English, FOX News, the Kojo Nnamdi Show, TOLO News, Voice of America and other outlets. His day job is with the the Foundation for Afghanistan, a DC- and Kabul-based nonprofit organization that works to build human capacity in Afghanistan.

4 thoughts on “How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…

  1. Greatd story. As great as the Kite Runner in the book form is. The movie version does not do justice to the book. I had Afghan refugee neighbours and have heard first hand stories of what goes on there from the time of the Russian presence there. Afghanistan and its people deserve a much better life than they have had for the past almost half a century.

  2. Pingback: June 2006 really surprises me — 2 | Neil's Commonplace Book

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