Until six weeks ago, Omar Samad ran a Web-based radio show for Afghans in Northern Virginia. Now, he’s a government spokesman in his native Afghanistan.
Some Afghan exiles didn’t have to wait for an appeal by Hamid Karzai, the country’s interim leader, who used his historic U.S. visit to urge them to return home. Many had already decided on their own to give up comfortable lives in America for top posts in his new government.
But personal and professional commitments, and the love that many feel for the country that adopted them, in some cases decades ago, may keep many Afghan exiles here longer.
“We have two countries now,” says Rahima Khairzada, who has fond memories of living “like a princess” in Afghanistan. She and husband Ebrahim, then a corporate vice president, had a 21-room house in Kabul that was “like a White House,” with cooks, nannies and other servants.
Both want to go back she, to open a day care center; he, to work on transportation projects. A permanent move is unlikely at this time, however, given their jobs, home and 7-year-old daughter.
Others worry about security and stability in the country.
“They don’t want to go there and be killed or robbed,” says Ghulam Dastgeer of Goshen, Mass., founder of the Afghan Physicians Association.
Mr. Karzai says Afghanistan cannot recover without the talents of those who left.
“Without your cooperation, we’re not going to make it,” the interim leader told a Washington audience of expatriates. “You are the future of our country.
“Study hard, work hard, make money and bring it to Afghanistan.”
Some already are there.
Mr. Samad, 40, said he decided, en route from talks in Bonn on the composition of a post-Taliban government, that he needed to make up his mind about returning. In mid-December, he arrived in Kabul, where he was born, and was asked to become spokesman for Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
After 17 years in the United States, Sharif Faez, 56, gave up the translation business he ran from his Ashburn, Va., home to become Mr. Karzai’s higher-education minister.
Raheen Makhdoom, a hotel manager and chairman of the Washington-based Association for Peace and Democracy in Afghanistan, left his wife and two children behind in Annandale and became minister of information and culture in Kabul.
Most of the 250,000 Afghans who live in the United States arrived after the 1979 Soviet invasion, long before the Taliban’s rise and fall.
They include some of the country’s best and brightest, largely professionals. In the Washington area, where many settled, and elsewhere in the United States, they took up jobs as taxi drivers and nannies. Mrs. Khairzada baby-sat in private homes. She now is an assistant director and teacher at the day care center where she has worked for 15 years.
After decades in America, many find themselves deeply invested in the country.
“My life is here. I’m very happy,” says Habib Mayar, of Old Bethpage, N.Y., who has lived almost 30 years in the United States and owns a landscaping business.
Najib Mojaddidi, 33, is president of Afghans for Tomorrow, which is trying to interest Afghan professionals in returning to help rebuild. But even he has yet to commit to an eventual move back to Kabul, although he admits feeling a strong pull.
“Home is home,” he says.