Fahim Abed, 30, and Fatima Faizi, 24, are Afghan reporters for The New York Times in Kabul.
KABUL, Afghanistan — On Day 4 of the peace talks between the Americans and the Taliban last week, we looked up from our desks across from each other in The Times’s Kabul bureau and simultaneously had the same thought: “This could really happen.”
Then we wondered: What next?
“If there were peace, what’s the first thing you would do?” Fahim asked Fatima.
“I would go out and ride a horse,” Fatima said. The last time she did that was as a child in her home village, a place that’s been under Taliban control ever since. “Then I would visit my village. What would you do?”
Fahim thought for a minute. “I would buy a motorcycle, put two GoPro cameras on it, and take a road trip through all those places the Taliban control now — Uruzgan, Zabul, Helmand. And then Daikundi and Bamian. I want to see them other than from an airplane.”
It was so exciting to dream like that, even though we know better, given all that we have seen, all the friends we’ve lost, all the attacks on innocent civilians we’ve witnessed, all the uncertainty about how a peace deal could possibly be reached.
But like so many people, both friends and enemies, we were caught up in the hope of an unprecedented moment.
Then we had the idea that all of our friends were probably dreaming about what they might do, too. Like us, most of our peers have never experienced peacetime — they would have to be nearly 50 to remember that, and most young people barely remember the Taliban days.
All we have ever known is a country at war.
(We often read about how the war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest. Well, this is our longest war, too. Even in Afghan history, you’d have to go back pretty far to find a 40-year war.)
So we checked around, first on Facebook, where all of our friends are — in wartime, Facebook is even more important for staying in touch, because it’s safer than meeting in public places.
Fahim’s friend Nasim Pakhtoon, 35, who runs a government television channel, had posted that when peace came he was going to open a restaurant in remote Nuristan Province, a place tucked into the mountains and so hard to reach that it was long described as the fabled Shangri-La.
Fatima’s friend Tahera Rezaee, 28, a documentary photographer, had it all planned, too.
“I’ll grab my bag, a few dresses and my camera,” she said. “I’ll take public transport, not a private car. I will hike in Panjshir, listen to music in Helmand, go to Kandahar to visit the Aino Mena new city — I heard it is like Dubai. I will photograph girls in Badakhshan and dance with Sikhs in Nangarhar.”
Many of our friends had simple dreams.
Rafiullah Stanikzai, 30, who works at the United States Institute of Peace, said he would get into a car and drive across the country in winter, stopping along the way where there is deep snow. “I’ll light a fire and sit around it with my friends during the night,” he said. “I could never do that now.”
Laila Noorani, 23, who works as a radio producer, just wants to go jogging — something she has only ever seen women do in movies.
Throughout the peace talks in Qatar, there was much more laughter in our newsroom than usual. Reports suggested more and more that a peace deal could actually happen, and it put us all in a heady mood.
We wondered whether the Taliban were having peace dreams of their own, so we asked some of them, too.
Fatima reached one Talib in prison, who asked to remain anonymous because he feared getting in trouble with the insurgents once he is released (as he probably will be if a peace deal is reached).
He confided that he had been relieved to be arrested, because it meant no more fighting, which he had been doing as long as he remembers. He is 36.
“The first toy I had was a gun, a real gun,” he said. “We are tired of fighting.”
His dream? “I’ll get married. My fiancée has been waiting five years already.”
Our colleague Najim Rahim, based in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, managed to reach another Talib, Shah Mohammad, who is the shadow governor of Jowzjan Province. (The Taliban establish their own virtual government leaders at provincial and district levels, even in places where the government is still mostly in control.)
Shah Mohammad had a modest dream.
“The first thing I’ll do is visit my parents,” he said. He hadn’t seen them for six years. Then he would visit northern cities like Sheberghan and Mazar-i-Sharif, just to be able to walk around them without fear.
Then toward the end of the week, we all came back to earth. The talks in Qatar ended after six days without a deal — on an optimistic note, everyone said, but we’ve heard that before.
The obstacles suddenly seemed larger again, the way they had been for years.
It was especially disappointing this time, because we had gotten so excited. We Afghans almost never talk about our dreams for peace, because we have mostly stopped thinking peace is even possible.
Suddenly it felt kind of embarrassing to have slipped our guard. The newsroom laughter subsided.
We went back to remembering the war, which for a few hopeful days we had almost forgotten.
For Fatima, her most haunting war memory was the scene in 2016 in Dehmazang Square, where two Islamic State suicide attackers targeted protesters, killing 120 and wounding hundreds. She was in the middle of it, but her physical wounds were minor.
For Fahim, his worst war memory was from when he witnessed, at age 11, the slaughter of Taliban prisoners in his hometown, Mazar-i-Sharif, in 1997.
Hundreds of Taliban bodies lay in the street after their defeat by jihadis, and then a group of Taliban prisoners were brought in, and jihadi militiamen tortured and shot them.
“They were behaving like animals,” Fahim said. “We fled the city before the Taliban came back and evened the score. They did the same things to the prisoners they took.”
In trying to think of an ending for this story, we had several ideas.
Last week we were so hopeful. We thought of all the friends we had lost, but now we wouldn’t have to lose any more. I couldn’t sleep properly last night. I felt like I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.
Last week I was daydreaming about my childhood. I was there in our village with my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I was about 5. The walls around our house were really high.
Like now, everybody was sick of war then, the country was ruled by criminals, and the Taliban had just come on the scene and everyone thought they were good people and would be different.
Then my great-grandfather pointed at me and said, “I hope he will be the first in our family to finally know peace.” My great-grandfather lived to 105, but he died before peace returned.
Last week I kept thinking that maybe his hope for me would come true. This week I’m not so sure.