Friday, 7 April 2017

Coming all together to rebuild Afghanistan

It is winter in Afghanistan. The snow covers in white the glorious peaks of the country’s mountains and plains, but the smoke from wooden stoves pushes up, joining the clouds that are limiting the beauty of the view. To Afghans, their future is subjected to the same obstructions - a feeling that better and brighter days are coming is there, but daily struggles make them too difficult to truly envision.
An existence guided by peace, stability and prosperity has always been a hope for Afghans, but it is only lately that the idea has acquired a concrete foundation. The positioning and engagement of youth in government, the notable reduction in corruption, a significant increase in the number of children attending school, the fall of maternal mortality rate and the steady but constant economic growth have certainly contributed to vivifying this hope.
A number of initiatives, including Afghanistan’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the opening of the Chahbahar port in Iran, are now offering many potential trade opportunities.

A COMMON HISTORY
Afghans have historically dedicated and sacrificed their lives to their rich and beautiful country. Nevertheless, Afghanistan has suffered countless political upheavals, from Alexander the Great to this very day. For centuries, this fearless nation has fought and maintained independence with the high price of blood and devotion from countrymen and countrywomen alike.
It is not the sole glory of one person, clan or ethnic group. The pride belongs to all those Afghans who were involved directly or indirectly through their tangible or intangible contributions.
Those engaged directly in the fight have normally taken most credit for their dedication and heroic actions in resisting foreign occupation. For Afghans, they are the ones who are highly esteemed, and history will continue to praise their remarkable service in the name of their country.
Afghans have many to remember from the pages of history, such as Malalai of Maiwand, a 19-year-old girl from Maiwand, Kandahar, who reunified local fighters against the British troops at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand. She fought alongside Ghazi Mohammad Ayub Khan, emir of Afghanistan, and is a national hero of Afghanistan, her history is being thaught in Afghan schoolbooks, and many schools, hospitals and other institutions named after her across the country.

Another memorable event is the 1979 Herat Uprising against the Soviet-sponsored regime—the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA)—after it declared new socialist reform that contradicted traditions and values of Islam. People stood against the government and were joined by Afghan army troops. They held the city for about a week, but the regime recaptured the city with the support of Soviet air support. According to estimates, some 25,000 died in this uprising. This day has been continuously celebrated for years by the people in different part of the country, particularly in Herat.
Many of those fighters were the so-called mujahedeen, leading the resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and gaining a lot of support across the Muslim world for their jihad.

THE DIASPORA
But it was always patriotism that inspired the majority of these figures. A deep love for the motherland, the ultimate respect for their fellow countrymen and women who deserve a better future ahead. Until now, millions of Afghans living overseas have not lost this passion and remain strongly and emotionally connected to home. Majority of them might be blue-collar workers, but they support the families and friends that have remained attached to the land. They wear Afghan clothes on Fridays, Nowroz and Eid, respect the famous Afghan tradition of hospitality, and contribute to educating the world about the social and cultural values that make all Afghans so proud.
They are also active in the political life of Afghanistan, engaging in debate on social media and other platforms. “Every Afghan child is a politician,” said President Ashraf Ghani during his election campaign, and no sentence can describe better the deep passion that all Afghans have for their nation. This enthusiasm, however, sometimes leads to political frustrations.
Due to the lack of extensive media coverage and the difficulty of accessing credible information, many Afghans limit their understanding to the news feeds on social media, which are rarely accurate. Any discussion with the absence of facts and figures leads to misunderstanding, sometimes resulting in heated exchanges of words. Very sensitive posts and comments made by friends often end in strong debates, mostly due to misunderstandings and lack of credible arguments and information used to sustain a point.
In one instance the social media became abuzz with the news of the death of Sadiq Fitrat Nashnas, a prominent and much loved Afghan singer. Despite refutation by many people, including the singer himself, this fake news remained a topic of heated arguments for many days. In another instance, the Afghan government executed a number notorious criminals after a legal process. A section of Afghans, including the diaspora, started lionizing these characters on social media, based on mere hearsay. These two incidents further exhibited the difference of views between the resident and not resident Afghans.
The most common altercations, however, happen when the expectations between Afghans abroad and those in the country clash. The Afghan diaspora sees the developments, standards, rules and regulations in the West and wants that change for Afghanistan at a snap of its fingers. That is not realistic.

SHARED GOALS
The changes that have taken place did not happen overnight. Afghans started from scratch not just once, but many times over. The unrest initiated as result of the revolution in 1978, the subsequent deployment of Soviet troops and the mujahedeen resistance culminated in the establishment of hardline Taliban regime in 1996, followed by the war efforts by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that dislodged the Taliban in 2001. More than 30 years of war have affected our society deeply. It should be obvious that it would take a long while for opportunities present in developed countries to become a reality.
Afghans at home also understand and feel the absence of standard schools, standard health services and jobs. According to the latest reports, almost a third of all children across the country are unable to go to school, and unemployment rate is above 40%. The majority of our students are still studying under the burning sun without furniture or blackboards, mothers do not have access to reproductive health facilities. They have more realistic expectations about the timeline for change.
Long debates on how to reach the best result are pointless if we don’t understand that our struggles are aimed at shared goals. We have to join the forces to prove that changes can come, and lost reputation can be regained.
The recent developments show that we are on the right track. Those who used to wait to invest in construction and logistics projects are now thinking of production lines and long-term investments. According to the World Bank’s Afghanistan Development Update, the domestic revenues increased from 8.7% of GDP in 2014 to 10.4% of GDP in 2015. This will create jobs and other employment opportunities.
The representatives of young people and women are more visible in the media and official discussions, showing the emergence of new ideas. The recent Transparency International report shows that Afghanistan is not on the list of top three corrupt countries anymore.
This is a notable achievement, reached in part because of initiatives such as the first-ever anti-corruption commission sponsored by the President Ashraf Ghani and inaugurated last July.
The Afghan diaspora has done an excellent job in serving the country and contributing to these achievements, particularly when the country needed them most. According to the one estimate by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the remittances accounted for around 30% of GDP in 2006. But now, with access to education, jobs and new technologies, the disapora’s help is even more valuable. Afghanistan needs our love and patriotism, and each of us should contribute to this rebuilding phase without giving up.

MAKING UP FOR SHORTAGES
Even a positive and motivational word can bring a notable change in someone’s life. Afghans abroad should avoid never-ending debates that only keeps the country divided. We need a hand in any way possible to not let these divisions happen again. It can be financial support, standardization of education, mobilizing funds, assisting and connecting Afghan students to international universities, filing their applications for scholarships, advocating for gender rights, translating books-including books for children-or visiting Afghanistan during the holidays to contribute directly to the population.
We have many shortages within the country and any type of contribution by our family members, friends and sympathizers abroad is fundamental. One example of this is Mahir Momand and his Moska Mobile Library. Momand is an Afghan who lives in Australia and in 2016 created the very first mobile library for the children of Afghanistan. A full-time librarian distributes books on a daily basis, traveling throughout the most remote areas and villages of the country. Since the project started, 35,000 children have received not only colorful storybooks, but also educational material on co-existence and peace.
Another remarkable man is Baaz Mohammad, the head of Baaz Welfare Association in Nangarhar province. This association distributes wheelchairs and artificial hands to disabled Afghans. He mobilizes support for this project mainly via his Facebook page and his social media connections. He posts financial updates, reports and field pictures on his timeline to ensure transparency and accountability on his project. According to his last report, 494 wheelchairs and 70 artificial hands have been distributed in Kabul, Nangarhar and Laghman provinces—20% going to disabled women.
Similarly, Ghousdin Ferotan, The CEO of first Afghan magazine for children, AKO BAKO, recently released the first copy of the magazine thanks to the technical and script support of members of the Afghan diaspora.
There are many other lesser-known initiatives out there, including many efforts made by Afghans in sending money to family members or people in need at home. The generosity of our community would never stop to surprise, and I am confident that it contributes significantly to the wellbeing of people back home.
This is why there should not be competition between those who have remained and those who have left. We all share an emotional and deep attachment to our roots. If you cannot contribute to the unity, you should certainly not contribute to disunity. Our divisions have blocked our rich culture for too long and contributed to the misunderstandings about our nation around the world.
Inspired by the works and efforts of Afghans abroad and home, this attempt is to make my contribution by engaging in a call for patriotism and love. We Afghans have to remain united, even when far away from home. A positive journey toward a modern Afghanistan is in place, and it is incumbent upon us to at least maintain at present pace.
Let us focus on the way forward where everyone will benefit. It could start by contributing to our economy. The open market is ours: Instead of investing in other countries, invest in Afghanistan—to prove to foreigners that we ourselves believe in the change.

Modern times need modern heroes. You and I, and all of us, are the heroes of our change.
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