British troops finally left Afghanistan in late October 2014 ending a 13-year campaign in the country as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). I was prompted by this to reflect on my own visit to Afghanistan in December 2003 as part of a BMS World Mission filming team. This was only two years in to the presence of British forces and, based in Kabul, we were daily reminded of the devastation that country had faced through many years of bitter conflict and occupation.
Many words have been written about Afghanistan but this particular photograph sums up much of what I remember of my time there. As many writers, politicians and military commentators have focused in more recent years on the activities of Al-Qaeda and the terrorist threat to the west, it’s easy to forget that Afghanistan is populated by ordinary people trying their best to live a peaceful life.
My abiding memory of the people we met is that they were warm, friendly and very hospitable. What makes this one of my favourite photos from Afghanistan is that you can’t really tell it was taken there and that, in a way, expresses a sense of ordinariness. Here is a young girl holding a small child, probably a brother or sister. I can only imagine what she may have seen or experienced in her young life but her eyes hold hope and there’s a hint of a smile not very far away.
It reminds me that in conflict situations there are always ordinary people who are caught up in it, innocent victims of the violence of others. Ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives, just like us.
Today, 11 November, is Remembrance Day when millions of people stop what they are doing and observe a two minute silence at 11am in memory of those who have been affected in all conflicts. Traditionally the focus is on the men and women of the armed forces who lost their lives in the defence of freedom. I’d like to also remember the ordinary people who, through many conflicts, have also lost their lives and been otherwise affected.