Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dialogue between Indian and Afghan Students

بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرندکه در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگاردگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمینشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

Humans are parts of each other, one
All humans in creation share one origin
If a member allots pangs and pains
No ease for other member then remains
If you are unaware of others’ grief then
Thou are not worthy of name of man

This verse by the great Persian poet Saadi (circa 1184-1292 CE) was recited by an Afghan student at a workshop titled “Perspectives on Personal & Political Themes” organised by Open Space as part of its series Diversity Dialogue at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lucknow on Thursday, 4th September 2008, at which fifteen of the forty-two Afghan students enrolled at the University of Lucknow indulged in an inter-cultural dialogue with the Indian students of the university, belonging to different departments. Some of the interesting responses to the many questions asked were as follows:

Were you ever taught about Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic history?
Of course, Afghanistan was called Ariana or Bakhtar (according to Will Durant), which was one of the seven very first civilisations of the East. Zartosht (Zoroastrianism) as a religion, founded by its prophet in the city of Balkh, which is believed to be the place to later have the first Zartoshti (Zoroastrian) government with King Goshtaasb. Also it is said to be the first ever government with a strong control over the whole wide region of Ariana. Later, we had the first ever Buddhist government in Taksila, which had control over the whole territory of modern Afghanistan. The tall Buddha statues in Bamiyan were memorials of that age. The Buddhist phase was a golden age for Afghanistan, when the Chinese monks and scholars used to come to Bamiyan to pursue their studies. According to my Indian history teacher, the first ever university of the world was established in Baluchistan – Afghanistan.
Why has peace eluded Afghanistan for so long?
There are many reasons behind it, from my point of view. The very first is that the Afghans are not united, and this disunity comes from the intrusions of foreign powers like the USA, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and maybe some others. These intruders fund their groups in Afghanistan and every single one of them seeks benefits out of conflicts. For example, Iran doesn’t want the Salma Dam to be built so that it does not curtail the supply of water from Afghanistan to Iran.

Are you happy with India’s role in the development of post-war Afghanistan?
India is one of the largest countries helping and supporting Afghanistan in the post-war period. India is active in the development and reconstruction of my country. India has done many projects in the past and still doing many, such as building of roads, dams, construction of government buildings, and educational projects. We are happy with India’s role in Afghanistan.

Is your opinion of Indians now, after having stayed here as student, any different from what you had before you came to India?
I did not know much about Indians. And when I came to India I met different people, who were all so kind and honest. And I made a number of good friends, helped by the close relationship Indians and Afghans enjoy.

Do you consider India to be a friend of Afghanistan?
The answer to this question could simply be positive. The course of history answers this question very clearly. India and Afghanistan have enjoyed a very friendly relationship for a long time, except the short period of Taliban: 1996-2001. There are numerous reasons for this close and friendly relationship, viz., political, economical, cultural and many more.
Political: Considering the Indo-Pak disputes, India’s needs to have a close relationship with Afghanistan, who is a neighbour to Pakistan.
Economical: Afghanistan has attracted India’s attention because of its strategic location, testified by the great importance the country has enjoyed as a destination on the famous Silk Route in history.
Cultural: During the course of history, for a long time, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were united as one. If you look at the recent history, large parts of today’s northern India, including Kashmir and Pakistan were ruled by Afghanistan and were parts of Afghanistan. Relations between the two countries have left cultural commonalities between the two, testified by some historical monuments left by Afghans in India and also by India’s interest in Afghanistan today.

Are you aware of the age-old Indo-Afghan ties?
Of course yes. Most of the time the relationship was very cohesive, cooperative and integrative type in nature, but some fundamentalist forces want to spoil this relationship, which is just contrary to the real feelings of Indians and Afghans for each other. Old Indo-Afghan ties were basically based on the spread of Buddhism which finally led to a secular relationship between the two countries.

What opinion do you have of Taliban?
Taliban are enemies of Afghanistan. Taliban were created by the CIA to fight against the former USSR. After the disintegration of the USSR, Afghans became the victims of the fundamentalist Taliban. We are still suffering from the wrong policies of the world powers – I mean the Big Brothers!!!

Would you like the Pashtun inhabited Federally Administered Tribal Areas of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan to:
Merge with Afghanistan
Emerge as an independent Pashtunistan
Remain with Pakistan
Although this question is a very big issue in today’s Afghanistan’s policy, yet what I think is that Pashtuns living in Pakistan should be given the right to decide whether they want independence or want to be part of Pakistan. As a neighbour to Afghanistan, we want them in peace with stability, since their instability effects Afghanistan to a great extent.

Do you think Pashtuns have dominated Afghanistan for far too long and it is high time they took a backseat?
This is a very tough question to answer. I think there is no ethnic discrimination in my mind. The president of Afghanistan can belong to any of the Afghan ethnicities; what really matters is the personality, not the ethnicity. What matters is the way he works. Does he work for the welfare of the people of the country or not? This is the question which really matters for me.

Do you find any discrimination against non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan?
No, there is no discrimination against non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan, because both, Pashtuns as well as non-Pashtuns are Afghanis. In Afghanistan there are two great nations – Pashtuns and Tajiks. And they live together in one home (Afghanistan) with peace and unity.

Do you think the foreign military presence in Afghanistan is justified?
This is a difficult question. I honestly can’t answer this without analysis. But today due to some reasons Afghanistan needs the international forces.

How do you perceive Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan?
Pakistan is playing a double game with Afghanistan. It has always tried to instigate conflicts by taking the side of one group or the other. Pakistan does so because of the area called Pashtunistan, which receives donations from the international community, fear of Indian friendship with Afghanistan and of peaceful Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan that is going on now is completely supported by Pakistan. They always support the terrorists oming to Afghanistan from their borders.

Are you aware of the fact that the pre-Islamic Afghanistan was largely Buddhist?
Yes, Afghanistan was a Buddhist country before Islam came. Ashoka was a Buddhist king who established the first Buddhist government in Afghanistan. He chose Taxila (now in Pakistan) as the capital of his Buddhist government.

Which cinema do you enjoy the most: Hollywood, Bollywood or Irani, and why?
Hollywood. The good thing about Hollywood is that they make realistic movies.

How do you respond to Afghan students?
I personally know most of the Afghan students since a year, and my experience with them has been better than my experience with most of my Indian friends. They are very hospitable and co-operative, and whatever prejudice I had about Afghans was counteracted.

What do you think of Miss Afghanistan Vida Samadzai?
Actually she doesn’t represent Afghanistan because she is a British citizen and in Afghanistan we don’t have such contests; so how could she represent Afghanistan?

Which of your traditions do you like the most?
In my point of view the most favourite tradition is our hospitality. The way an Afghan treats his or her guests is really great.

Would you like Afghanistan to remain an Islamic State or would you like it to become Secularist?
A lot of people think religiously, but I personally vote for a secular Afghanistan!

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