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Afghanistan beyond the headlines

© Thijs Broekka

Gripped by war for over 42 years, Afghanistan is still characterised by little more than this. Stories that made international headlines are usually about terrorism and war, in turn painting a dark image of a country as if it is nothing more than an apocalyptic wasteland where no beauty can be found. While the country is indeed in turmoil, this is not it’s only identity. Despite the ongoing war, daily life continues. People go to work and take their children to school, many a smiling face can be found, and there are, in fact, safe parts of the country. Progress is being made, albeit slowly. After the fall of the Taliban, the country saw an increase in the percentage of women in secondary education, attendance in schools, literacy rates amongst young people, access to electricity, seats in parliament for women, and the per capita income and the government’s own come are percentages of the GDP. Now facing a critical turning point, as the country is experiencing withdrawals from international forces, and negotiations are taking place with the Taliban. Because of this, many fear that the progress that has been made will be threatened when the Taliban have a legitimate position in the government. However, the majority of the population continues to live normally, with their own hopes and dreams that they wish to pursue. Afghanistan has a considerably high population of young people, making up the largest percentage of the country’s demographic. They especially are eager to connect with other cultures, and with the Western world.

In a study, local Afghan photojournalists were asked what kind of photos they often see published in international media of Afghanistan. To this, they responded that the majority of images depict war, violence, military forces and negative aspects of the country which show social ills and problems. When asked what images they would like to see in international media representing their country, the Afghan photojournalists said they would prefer images of daily life, ordinary people, as well as landscapes, historical sites, sports, reconstructions, and development. The imbalance of visual representation of the country confirms and strengthens stereotypes. To correct this, it is important to show the other side of the story. So, what does Afghanistan without war look like? What constitutes daily life? By focusing on the quotidian which encompasses the rich cultural history of passionate poets, ancient arts of rug weaving, intricate architecture and enchanting music, one would see an antidote to international media coverage. By solely depicting darkness and tragedy, the media puts forward a binary, one-sided image of the country: ordinary people and the richness and beauty of Afghanistan are, in turn, neglected.

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