Originally published on July 2, 2018 , Diplomatic Square



We may be slow but we are steady

“We will shine in every sphere of life – from science and technology to sports to social justice. We are a Nation with 5000 years of History” – Ambassador Shaida Abdali

In an emotionally charged talk with Diplomatic Square, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India, Dr Shaida Abdali reflects on the fantastic performance of Afghan cricket Rashid Khan at the IPL adding that Rashid Khan represents the aspirations, the potential of the Afghan youth to excel and to move forward in life. Today’s newspaper reported the death of nearly 19 Afghan Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in Jalalabad following a bomb blast – however, it will not even scratch the surface of the indomitable Afghan courage, articulated so fearlessly by an elderly Afghan gentleman from Helmand region, who when once asked what emboldened him to send his daughters to school despite the acid threats, the abduction and murder by Taliban, replied: “I would rather see my daughters die than see them uneducated”.

Diplomatic Square:  On Rashid Khan – the new phenomenon in international cricket

Ambassador: Tendulkar is known as the God of Cricket in India – and on reading his tweet, I retweeted, ‘it is from the horse’s mouth about Rashid Khan”. It matters so much for Afghan cricket because he himself has been one of the greatest cricketer. Rashid Khan symbolizes Afghanistan, the youth of Afghanistan, he speaks for the resilience of Afghanistan, the potential what Afghanistan can do if given an opportunity It’s important because many people, not all, talk about Afghanistan, what they see on the surface, the war, the divisions – in most cases they are fabricated and staged because they do not want the Nation to be represented as Rashid Khan did because that is the true potential of this great Nation which come people will not like to see.

Rashid Khan, if you would know, played in Afghanistan where not much infrastructure exists and there are so many limitations and this boy, coming from a not prosperous background, in what is available in Afghanistan to the world-stage and outshining the greatest players. This is what Afghanistan can show, not just in cricket but in every field, every walk of life – be it politics, be it sports be it education or other services that Afghans deliver to build the Nation today. So Rashid Khan is a great story because he symbolizes what Afghans are and what they can become in the future – peaceful and prosperous.

I myself flew for him to see him in the last match because he overwhelmed all of us and I am so grateful for the love that India extended to him and it was this environmental that encouraged him to offer his best.

It’s all good news in the midst of what all that one hears about Afghanistan – insecurity and fear – this gives us the hope that Afghanistan has turned the corner on the point of no return. Afghanistan is a young nation whom Rashid Khan represents. They are the prospects of the future and they show the path that we must all strive and outshine anyone in the world.

Diplomatic Square: There is a new generation that is taking over Afghanistan – they are witness to many difficulties and yet are striving hard to ensure that Afghanistan bounces back. What other sports are the Afghan youngsters involved in today?

Ambassador: We have all kind of sport activities in Afghanistan; football – champions of Asian tournament recently, taekwondo, boxing, body building, hockey, badminton – you name it – our teams keep coming to India and they win gold medals in most cases, including girl’s teams. There is no sport that I know of that does not exist in Afghanistan.

The Youth is a great story in Afghanistan: what they have delivered in the last 16 years is with very minimal opportunities given. It’s remarkable! I believe that as far as I gather is the 2nd youngest nation after Uganda with 60 percent (of the population) below 25 years age. This means that Afghanistan is in youth’s hand and they are going to deliver the future of Afghanistan. In patriotism, they give us an assurance that Afghanistan will be in the place which we all desire to see: that is a country where there will all be stability and prosperity.

We have around 16,000 Afghan students in India each time that we gather the figures. Some come with self-financing and thankfully the Indian government is providing 1000 scholarships to Afghan students. So it’s a great story on Afghanistan that we witness on daily basis and we see that Afghanistan is pushing forward. We may be slow, but we will be steady. Slow because of the threats we face – suicide bombers and all kind of self destructive activities – they (enemies of Afghanistan) fear the rise of Afghanistan, the talent that Rashid Khan showed.

Diplomatic Square:  But traditionally, Afghans do not have many enemies. They are generally known to be large-hearted and friendly people…

Ambassador: We are! In today’s world unfortunately honesty, friendliness, principles are hated by some, unfortunately around us. Therefore, countries that love peace, prosperity, development are confronted with phenomenon like terrorism. Afghanistan is being stopped by the use of terrorism because our enemies want Afghanistan to be undeveloped, instable, insecure so that Afghans cannot educate their children. You are right, Afghans are known to be friendly and honest people historically but unfortunately today’s world principles do not prevail – double standards, threats, intimidation are the rules of the game. But I must tell you, the Afghanistan mission may be delayed but not stopped.

Diplomatic Square: The rise of the Afghan youth – is it the fruits of Afghan government’s efforts or is it a result of individual initiative?

Ambassador: I always give the analogy that when water flows it fills up dried basins. Afghanistan is not a country that is 60 or 70 years old. We are a country that is 5000 years old. There are a lot of values, a lot history that we cherish. There is emotion, there is struggle in each Afghan’s blood and there is greatness!  It is a 5000 years old country based on democracy, values and freedom, so they know this a short story (what’s been happening in recent history).

The Presidential Decree was issued to honour the tireless efforts and dedication of the Afghan Ambassador in strengthening, deepening and expanding bilateral relations between Afghanistan and India in political, economic, security and cultural spheres. Ambassador Shaida Abdali receiving the Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan Award from then President Hamid Karzai.

During the Taliban time, history had been banned to be taught in schools. We came across a 12th grade pass – sometimes in early 2002 – this boy was asked if he knew about Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan, he is the hero who fought the British. He was the greatest, the bravest and in his name is the second highest medal conferred upon Afghans. The highest civilian honour is named Amir Amanullah Khan Award – he was the one who wrenched freedom from the British in the Indo-Afghan war. The next civilian honour is named Wazir Mohammed Akbar Khan medal.

Now, this student did not know who Akbar Khan was – when we pushed him, he said that he did not know because he did not read history as it was banned. So they could ban us from reading history for a few years. The glorious history of Afghanistan, always freedom loving nation – yes, we have gone through our difficulties but if anything touches our pride or patriotism, our values surface and we bounce back to make our Nation regain.

Diplomatic Square: During the Taliban movement, there used to be a lot of gender discrimination. Today, the country has changed but the negative image persists. Comments?

Ambassador: That, in fact, needs to be looked into. Taliban was an imposed rule. When they banned history, what did it mean?  They (Taliban) were an alien force and they came just in the name of the Afghans and you the consequence of this phenomenon. They were not an Afghan force. They came to discriminate, to divide and suppress us and to deprive us with all that we have, or had – therefore Afghanistan should not be studied from the prism of Taliban. Afghanistan should be studied from the prism of what Afghanistan is today, a country where there is no discrimination where boys and girls have equal right to educate, work, to be in politics and all other walks of life.

Our Constitution gives equal rights to men and women and let me take you back to over 100 years back when the Afghanistan Constitution of 1919 had given equal rights to men and women.  You wouldn’t see any Constitution in our part of the world that gave equal rights to men and women. But we had given it a100 years ago. The era of Afghanistan was a100 years ago but today, women may have more challenges due to the extremism, the terrorism that is being used against our men and women.

Acids were thrown on the faces of our women when they went out to work, it meant a challenge. Now, girls constitute about 32 percent among the 10 million students that go to school. It’s a free choice whether you want to send your girls to school. Some dare to send. I can give a marvellous example:

In the Helmand province, which was very insecure, we asked an elderly gentleman who was sending his girls to school that what emboldened him to send his children to school for which they had to walk 2 hours every day. He replied that, ‘I would prefer my children die rather than be uneducated’. That is the spirit – Afghan people defy all threats to send their children to school to educate.

That is what makes Rashid Khan rise to the challenges – it is defiance, a commitment, that regardless of what happens, we move on.

Just sometimes back, the Amity International held an event where there were about 58 or more Afghan* children along with those from India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other surrounding countries. Awards were being given for competing in a Quiz and 12 Afghan children (high school grade) had won the gold medal and around 16 or so were awarded the silver with an equal number receiving the bronze. So irrespective of what happens, Afghan students excel in Physics, Maths, Biology and other subjects and go back to Afghanistan. (*There are about 200 students but on that particular day, Afghanistan was represented by 58 students)

Recently, a few Afghan musicians were here and performed at JNU: They travelled all over the world – the musicians were girls and boys in equal number. Whether it is cricket, orchestra or studies – Afghans excel. 27 percent of our parliament is represented by our women. I don’t have any example in the world where the Parliament is represented by 27 percent women. There is a full, free platform for women to exercise their power, their freedom, and follow their aspirations but in the last 4 decades, men and more women, have been deprived of education.

It’s been a dark period in the contemporary history of Afghanistan.
Yes, consistently since 1979, there has been instability, civil war has marked Afghanistan.

Diplomatic Square: Is the new Afghan generation tending to agriculture, the mainstay of Afghanistan

Ambassador: Sure, Afghanistan has been an Agriculture based economy. Today, it’s (younger generation) not so much as it has been traditionally because it’s a modern world. People focus on technology, business and the kind but certainly in the countryside, people continue with Agriculture. India has set up the National Agricultural University in Qandhahar where Afghans can learn from India’s experience with the Green Revolution. More that 60 percent (of the economy) is based on agriculture and we are working on modern technology so that value additions and others become a norm in the country. Fruits are coming through an air corridor – it is still the best and we would like to build on it and exports.

Our fruits are matchless because we do not use chemicals and we use organic manure. We are trying to build on that.

I see the Afghan youth very adaptive. The progress you see in IT, telecommunication – the use of mobiles, the internet. When we came to power in 2001, Afghanistan had no mobile phones, we had the land lines. Surprisingly, I was the first one to get a mobile phone from a guest – Kofi Annan (former Secretary General, United Nations and winner of Nobel Peace Prize) when he had come. I had it placed in the museum. Today, we have 20 million mobile users, it’s an example how adaptive we are, particularly the youth.

I believe that Afghanistan will not be going back. We are party to the SAARC satellite. The potential that we see in our youth, their ability to adapt, I have every reason to believe that Afghanistan will outshine in science and technology and every walk of life, just like cricket.

We hope that those who do not want us to be a normal country, to move ahead and progress, they will turn back and rethink, because Afghanistan’s courage can never be put down. No matter how many of us die, we will continue with our lives. We hope that the politics of the region would change.

I must add about the India – Afghanistan collaborations, we are grateful for the opportunities. We hope we will work together for Afghanistan’s and India’s destinies are shared. We should not forget, we are organs of the same body, even if a finger is injured, it hurts the whole body. Therefore, must assume or presume that we are in the same boat sailing towards a shared destiny.

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