By Shoaib Mehryar
I was compelled to move to Afghanistan in 2012 at the age of 16, after my cousin was killed in a bomb blast in Hazaratown, Quetta, Pakistan. My parents were terrified for our security and felt it would be safer for me to move to Kabul to pursue my studies. In Pakistan, in general, Afghan refugees are disdained. Hazaras, specifically, are frequent targets in terrorist attacks. I was accustomed to the prejudices against us in Pakistan, but was not prepared for the discrimination and disdain that I would face from my fellow Afghan-Hazaras when I returned to Pakistan after my short stay in Afghanistan.
As a 16-year-old boy being far away from my family was intolerable, in addition to all the hardships of working and trying to support myself financially. I desperately awaited my opportunity to return to Quetta to spend time with my family and reconnect with my childhood friends. Equally important was the mental and physical relaxation I anticipated upon my return. “Home Sweet Home” was an expression on my mind during my trip to Pakistan. When I reached home, I greeted everyone, shared my experiences and talked about the difficult circumstances I had suffered. My elders appreciated my sacrifices and encouraged me to be strong so that I could study well.
I was excited thinking about the first day I would meet my friends. I expected to gather again and enjoy the same fun as we did in the past. But it didn’t happen. Everything had changed. My friends were not the same as they were before. The expectations I had of my town were not the ones I experienced in reality. Some of the people I knew misjudged me and wrongly perceived people who return from Afghanistan as enemies. My friends had changed their mentalities and had developed discriminatory perspectives toward me and toward each other.
My peers had become isolated and unwilling to communicate with others. They had begun to distinguish and divide themselves in an intra-ethnic rivalry by the towns in which they lived, Mariabad and Hazaratown. They insulted and discriminated against each other for a reason I cannot understand, with each acting and feeling superior to the other. My friends were from both towns so it was difficult to accept how much things had changed.
I saw how language and accents were used to divide people. Some students who are better in English and Urdu felt superior to others. Afghans in Quetta have their own accent called Qtagi. It is an accent mixed with English, Urdu and Dari. I was teased in Afghanistan for my Qtagi accent and now my friends in Pakistan ridiculed my accent which had changed since being in Kabul. I became depressed that I was not even comfortable with my childhood friends and my home community. I left the city and it was difficult to recollect my early and happy memories about the place where I was born, the place where I grew up, the place where I once belonged.
I ask myself, “why is this happening?” I want each of us to reflect on our past and consider how many people we have insulted or mistreated in such a way. Nobody wants to be judged or labelled. Nobody wants to be looked down upon because of how they speak or dress, or where they live, or what ethnic group they belong to. If we are Shia or Sunni, from Jaghori or Wardak, speak with a Kabuli accent or a Qtagi accent, if we were refugees in Iran or Pakistan, if we come from a village or a city – we are all equal! Please help to teach your friends. Discrimination causes nothing but the failure of a society. Unity is the key to success and it will occur when each of us starts to change ourselves. As it is said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” and take our first step toward success for a better and brighter tomorrow.