by Niala Mohammad
Dr. Qayyum Kochai, a former Afghan diplomat in his mid-seventies that fled Afghanistan with his family nearly two decades ago during the Soviet invasion. As I sat with him in his living room on the outskirts of “Little Kabul”, I received one of the greatest history lessons of my life, leaving me with a glimmer of hope for the future of Afghanistan.
Dr. Kochai is the quintessential Pashtun man, with his tall stature and grayish-green eyes; his every word was delivered with poise and class – leaving me in awe of his knowledge and experience. A native of Logar Province, Dr. Kochai holds a Ph.D in Political Science from the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow; he possesses a wealth of knowledge on South and Central Asian history. Like most elderly Afghan men, he is fluent in several languages including English, Pashto, Dari, and Russian.
As we sipped on green tea and nibbled on biscuits, he described to me his time as a young political officer during the late 1960’s and 70’s at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan. He served as a counselor and Charge d’ Affaires for the Embassy of Afghanistan in Bulgaria.
During the 70’s he served at the Afghan Embassy in Moscow, a crucial time for Soviet-Afghan relations where he developed a strong contempt for the Soviet Communist ideology. A contempt that had him jailed for two years by the Communist government in Pul-e-Charkhi, a prison notorious for torture and execution after the Soviet invasion. He was released along with many others that opposed the Communist regime without consequence in 1980 and left Afghanistan that same year for Europe where he stayed until 1982 in hopes that peace and stability would return to his homeland. Dr. Kochai eventually migrated to San Francisco with his family, and found it difficult to look back. But he eventually did look back, and he told me that despite all of the present obstacles, he still has hope for Afghanistan and the Pashtun people.
Dr. Kochai’s life and career were defined by the history of Afghanistan. As a diplomat, he lived at the epicenter of Afghan politics and history for years. Discussing King Zahir Shah, he viewed him as a fair man and a symbol of long standing peace. He also viewed Mohammad Daud Khan as a proponent of change that became a symbol popular among the Afghan youth. When it came to Russia, however, the tone on the conversation changed instantly. As a first-hand witness to the Soviet destruction of Afghanistan, he views Stalin as one of the most ruthless dictators in history. We spoke in length about the Communist era, the Afghan Civil War, warlords, the Taliban regime during the 1990’s, Al Qaida’s role in Afghanistan, American presence, and even his views on the Karzai administration of the Afghan government. Because he lived through all of these historical events at the eye of the storm, he had very interesting views to offer from every angle. Despite the ups and downs he has seen in Afghanistan over the past four generations, he has hope that Afghanistan will prevail if the right leadership is chosen. He is a strong supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, and believes that he could be the proponent of change that Afghanistan so desperately needs. “The Afghan people are tired of war and this current [Karzai] government. They want change. Ashraf is the only one who could bring change and security.”
Although Dr. Kochai has had several opportunities to return back to Afghanistan and take up ministerial positions, he refused to work for a cause that might force him to compromise his morals and values. So, for the last 18 years, Dr. Kochai has worked for a non-profit organization in San Francisco as a counselor, helping mend families and advising them through their difficult times – a way to give back to the community that he and his family now consider home.
But recently Dr. Kochai returned to Afghanistan during the 2014 Afghan Presidential Elections to help his fellow Afghans transition to democracy-a step that took tremendous courage. Leaving behind a life of security and stability in San Francisco to fulfill a commitment he made to his country and his people over 30 years ago.
His wife Malal, a stunning woman with jet black hair and turquoise-green eyes, showed me pictures of their two daughters and their families. Dr. Kochai also showed me several photos illustrating his incredible life experiences, and I found myself swelling with pride to share an ethnicity with such a distinguished and honorable man.
Dr. Qayyum Kochai’s book “Si Asi Stoonzay Aw Zama Daredze” (English Translation: Political Problems and My Standpoint) is available in Pashto and Dari at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.