I left Kabul on November 2, 1976, on a crisp, bright day. As was customary, immediate family members drove to the airport to see me off. The Ariana Afghan Airlines flight was on time. That evening, I landed in Paris to pursue higher education—far away from Afghanistan, the land of my birth, which had given me a very happy childhood.
But these days, Kabul and Afghanistan evoke a picture of chaos, war, and terrorism, causing human and material devastation. What I witnessed upon my return thirty years later I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest nightmares!
I’d been contemplating returning to Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. I was ambivalent because I didn’t want to spoil my happy memories of Afghanistan’s “Golden Age,” which lasted from 1930 to the mid-1970s.
Finally, the desire to see what had transpired got the better of me.
To understand Afghanistan in the twenty-first century, it’s essential to know what this now infamous city looked like three decades ago, because of events that unfolded so cruelly in reshaping it.
Back home in Naples, Florida, the bittersweet experience of finally being able to see the country of my birth—a country so devastated by internecine fighting—kept gnawing at me. While continuing with my aviation consulting business, I wondered what I could do, and how effective I’d be, in contributing toward Afghanistan’s recovery.
I returned to Kabul in July 2008. This time, I stayed five weeks. My experiences ran the gamut of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I visited the presidential palace twice—for the first-year anniversary of King Zahir Shah’s passing and for the late king’s son-in-law’s funeral. High-level posts in government and private sectors were offered to me, and I met with members of the present ruling Karzai family.
A co-owner of Pamir Airways, Mahmoud, offered me the CEO post, but I declined, as I didn’t want to compromise my core values. After meeting the country’s first vice president, Marshal Fahim, I couldn’t wait to wash my hands! Fahim, along with other warlords, have been responsible in destroying Kabul, along with murdering and maiming countless people.
I was still mulling what to do when serendipity intervened in spring 2009. Someone told me about the US Department of State’s civilian surge program for Afghanistan. I applied and was notified in July to be senior adviser to a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Training followed at the Foreign Services Institute in Washington, D.C., in September and in a military civilian program in Indiana.
As frustrating as it was to deal with bureaucracy, I welcomed opportunities to serve my birth and adopted countries. Both have shaped who I am today. Giving back as best I could was the natural next step in helping to rebuild Afghanistan while engaging in one of America’s most important foreign policy challenges impacting national and international security.
On October 13, 2009, I returned to Kabul as a US State Department diplomat.
The following are missives I penned to family and friends during my tour of duty while conducting rule-of-law and peace-building activities in Afghanistan.