In Afghanistan, many families suffer from the fear of not knowing where their family members are. But after thirty years of war, attention is finally being drawn to the issue.
An Afghan radio program called “In Search of the Missing” airs twice a week and takes calls from families who want to know where their missing family member could be, regardless of how long it has been since they last saw them. During three decades of war, approximately one million Afghans have gone missing, according to officials, and this number is rapidly growing as the battle against the Taliban continues.
Disappearances in Afghanistan are something that people have come to expect. The Afghan radio program has helped reunite over a dozen families and has provided answers to several others. It is a beacon of hope for a country of 30 million. Afghans make up the largest portion of the world’s refugees with a population of around 2.5 million people, and another 600,000 displaced in their own country.
A report from 2013 by the Physicians for Human Rights states that it has become commonplace in the daily lives of Afghan people for people to go missing, “throughout decades of conflict, massive displacements, deaths and disappearances.” The missing include young girls seeking a way out of forced marriages, young boys and others who disappeared during the Soviet invasion and civil war in the 1990s.
Despite the fact that it is commonplace for citizens to go missing, many Afghan people hadn’t realized the severity of the situation until “In Search of the Missing” aired ten years ago. Today, about one million people tune into the Afghan radio show.
Founded in 2004 by Zarif Nazar, the Afghan radio program aims to locate missing Afghans by airing stories shared by relatives in hopes that a listener may know where the relative is or even what happened to them. Since the Afghan government currently has no program in place to locate missing citizens, many of the Afghan people call the radio program, preferring to put their faith in listeners of the program rather than the government.
In 2013, Dutch investigators revealed a list of around 5,000 men and women who were presumed missing, but had actually been killed by the Afghan government in 1978 and 1979, providing answers for many families. While the Afghan government had originally compiled the list, it had not been made public.
“There are thousands of people who have no proof,” said Hafiz Rasikh, the head of political affairs for the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan. The group’s main platform is to gain clarity from the government regarding those who are missing. “Maybe they think their relatives were killed, but they can’t be sure.”
Because of the Afghan radio program, siblings living in Canada managed to locate their father 15 years after the Taliban arrested him. The program has had its share of successes in reuniting families divided by borders and even oceans.