With one foot planted in the caravan routes of his ancestral
country and the other in modern commerce in his adopted country,
Sadiq Tawfiq takes the contrasting cultures of Afghanistan and
America in stride.
The successful Laguna Beach businessman, owner of The Khyber Pass
since 1980, believes that art can bridge the cultural divide and help
Afghanistan recover from decades of war. The other bridge is the
technology and business expertise that America can bring to the
“Americans need to realize that most of the Afghan people weren’t
even aware of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks on the U.S.,” he said.
“Most of them cannot read. And under the Taliban, TV and radio news
broadcasts were severely controlled.”
Tawfiq supports the American War against the Taliban, which
cruelly ruled his native county and attacked his adopted one. He
wants the Americans to stay and believes most Afghans agree.
“The U.S. should try to create a business plan for the country and
it should provide training for the army, which was depleted by the
Taliban,” he said.
Tawfiq recently visited Afghan villages and refugee camps in Iran
and Pakistan where he supervised the distribution of much-needed
blankets, medicine and food staples to hundreds of families displaced
by the war.
“If you are not careful, donated supplies can be quickly impounded
by authorities in the Pakistan-controlled border area,” he said.
Tawfiq estimates that 25% of the Afghan population now lives in
refugee camps. One Afghan child out of every three is an orphan, he
On a trip in July to the Afghanistan border area, Tawfiq saw
thousands of refugees moving through the legendary Khyber Pass, for
which he named his store.
“The U.N. had plans to move 500,000 or 600,000 back to their homes
by the end of this year, but a million or more didn’t want to wait,”
Tawfiq said. “Half of the housing in Kabul is ruined, the price of
what’s left is sky high. There is enough food, but it is very
Members of American International Development arrived in July to
take a survey of what is needed.
“This group built dams and roads before the Russian invasion,”
Above all, he doesn’t want to see America take the same action it
did after helping Afghanistan turn back the Russian invasion.
“When Russia left, the Americans left,” Tawfiq said. “The
Americans had equipped Bin Ladin and the warlords because they had a
joint interest in defeating communism. But when the Americans left,
there was no one to clean up the mess of the war lords, the weapons
and the land mines, disguised by the Russians as toys.”
The people fled. Chaos reigned. Pleas for assistance to the
community of nations were ignored, Tawfiq said.
Also to be remembered: Afghanistan is a nation rich in minerals,
precious stones, oil, natural gas and uranium and centuries of an
artistic tradition that enriches the Afghan culture and bridges the
gap with more technologically advanced countries.
“Through art, many Americans are learning to understand and
appreciate tribal culture,” Tawfiq said.
Cultural misunderstanding is a battle Tawfiq feels must be fought
daily. An accepted expert on Afghan art, Tawfiq lectures at schools
and universities. He has served as technical advisor on movies such
as “Rambo III” and “Three Kings.”
Tawfiq is passionate about sharing his knowledge with students and
the general public. Many rugs and other works of art from his
collection were featured at Cerritos College Art Gallery’s exhibit
“Woven -- The Weaving of Social Commentary in Afghanistan and
Peruvian Rugs” in January. Tawfiq, who was born in Herat,
Afghanistan, and educated at the University of Kabul, came to America
in 1979 as a student.
“I had a scholarship through United Nations assistance to an
American school to get my master’s degree,” he said.
Two weeks after Tawfiq arrived in America, the Russians invaded
his homeland. He was 24. It would be 22 years before he saw his
“We were advised not to go back,” he said. “I didn’t know what to
do; so I decided to start a family business in Laguna Beach because
it is a very artistic city and my city of Heart was artistic. I
started Khyber Pass as a labor of love.”
Tawfiq is organizing Crossroads, a nonprofit group meant to
restore the art and culture of Afghanistan, through sales and trade
“We need to encourage the artisans and crafts people there to
create and export their work,” he said.
For more information about the Crossroads organization or other
ways to help the Afghan people, call (949) 494-8294.
* BARBARA DIAMOND is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.