Bridging the cultural gap

Barbara Diamond

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

devastated country.

“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,”

Tawfiq said.

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

family again.

“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.