For more than a decade, images of war and death have filled most Americans’ minds when they think of Afghanistan. What is easily forgotten in times of war is the people.
Photojournalist Daniel Berehulak first documented the country in 2009 during its second presidential elections. He returned to Afghanistan in November, aiming to reacquaint himself and find changes in the story as the country prepares for NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline.
Berehulak gives a glimpse into daily life in the country’s capital of Kabul, as well the shifting security forces.
For any foreigner traveling in the country, safety is the first concern.
“There is always a consideration (of safety) when covering assignments in hostile environments,” Berehulak said. Danger never reveals its true colors until it’s too late, he added.
“On this trip I felt somewhat safer walking the streets, being able to meander through the markets and talk to people.”
Berehulak’s strategy was to move from place to place without a pattern, never staying in one location for too long. With their strong sense of pride, he noticed that Afghans are welcoming yet cautious to meet foreigners.
Most of the daily life Berehulak photographed was present during his trip in 2009, but he noted that the country seemed more exposed to its own culture now.
“One thing I did notice with the young professionals there was a sense of urgency to get out of Afghanistan,” Berehulak said in an e-mail interview. Many, having previously worked as translators during the war, are working to finish their language qualifications in hopes of getting a job in the United States or Europe before 2014.
Despite the attempts to focus more on their future, Afghanistan is still plagued by its recent past, according to Berehulak.
“As far as I am concerned (the country) is currently still at war,” Berehulak said. “Even though (it is) not ripping through the capital, there is fighting in many of the 34 provinces.”
Berehulak is well versed in the violent nature of the region, having been present in Pakistan at the 2007 suicide bombing and attempted assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi. Since then, he has become interested in documenting the violence and the people of South Asia "caught in between."
But gunfights are not the only problem plaguing the area.
Disease also affects the locals, like 12-year-old Bismillah Gul (image
10) who suffers from polio and sought treatment in Kabul.
“His father had travelled with him from (the) far away Khost province to receive treatment for a disease that should have been eradicated a long time ago,” he said.
Vaccinations for polio have not made it to areas of the country because of the war in Afghanistan, according to Berehulak.
Since 1988, polio cases around the world have decreased by more than 99% because of a global effort to eradicate the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
Only three countries remain "polio-endemic," Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, according to 2012 statistics from the WHO.
“It hit home as I was looking at this kid and thought to myself that this really shouldn't be happening,” he said.
In his images, Berehulak has documented a quieter side of the country that, though commonly seen every day in Afghanistan, is not typically seen by Western culture.
- Clint Alwahab, CNN