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FOCUS: AFGHANISTAN
Afghans reflect on 'Peace Day'
Many say foreign influence in Afghanistan is hindering chances for an end to violence.
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2008 06:19 GMT

On September 21, Afghanistan marked Peace Day, a UN-sponsored event whereby all fighting parties (Nato, Taliban, and the Afghan military) agreed to cease hostilities for one day.

Al Jazeera asked ordinary Afghans what they believe will bring peace to their war-torn country.

Kandigul Durrani, works as a house cleaner for a foreign family [Mojumdar]

For Kandigul Diljan Durrani, Peace Day in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was almost like any other day.

Almost.

She said she was irritated by all the road closures due to the city-wide events held to commemorate the day.

"It took me much longer to come to work. The streets were so crowded, the vehicles could not find a way through and people were fighting with each other. What kind of a peace day is this?"

Durrani is 40 but looks much older. The years of constant warfare and bloodletting have taken their toll as she and her family moved from province to province in search of safety; they were too poor to flee to neighbouring Pakistan.

Her house in the Kart-e-Naw area of Kabul was bombarded by artillery in the fighting which rocked the capital when rival factions fought for power in the mid-1990s.

Her husband was beaten senseless by one of the militias and is today disabled.

His arms hang limply by his side, and he is unable to do any work or earn a living. Durrani became responsible for feeding, clothing and sheltering her family of nine children.

Her oldest boy, wants to go to Iran and find work because there are no jobs for him in Kabul.

"If there was peace, we could both have found work in the same place. It would be easier to get jobs and we would be able to lead good lives," she said.

Asked who she holds responsible, Durrani said: "God is responsible for this."

"And our leaders. The only way peace can return is if the people sit together and talk; surrender their weapons."

Video shop destroyed

Mohammed Zabi works as an office manager [Mojumdar]

Mohammed (Zabi) Zabiullah remembers the good life he once led.

The family shop which filmed weddings and other events in Shar-e-Naw, the centre of the city, made enough money to house, clothe and feed them as well as send the children to school.

When the Taliban came, with their edicts against videos and TV, they destroyed the shop and beat his elder brother who was running the place.

The family fled the country in fear, living as refugees in the city of Peshawar, in Pakistan. They survived on handouts and loans.

Zabi, who had just finished high school when the Taliban took power saw his dreams of a higher education and a god job fade away. "I think I could have been a doctor today had the conflict not interrupted our lives. I had good marks in school," he told Al Jazeera.

Earlier this year Zabi's father died, burdening him with even more responsibility as the only wage-earner for the family. "Now there is no chance. I have to support my family."

Zabi feels Afghanistan's political leaders are to blame for the lack of change.

"No one is working honestly. Everyone wants to fill their own pocket. If they help the country develop economically they could make a real difference. What does Peace Day mean now? Only those people with a TV and electricity to watch it will have heard about it."

Blaming foreigner influence

Wahid Frogh, a student at Kabul University, feels foreign influence is the cause of the violence in his country.

Fact file

In 2002, the United nations General Assembly declared September 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace.

However, the day was unofficially marked as early as September 1982.

By creating the International Day of Peace, the UN "devoted itself to worldwide peace and encouraged all of mankind to work in cooperation for this goal".

"It is the interference of the international and regional powers that have brought this violence. If they left Afghanistan alone we could stand on our own," he said.

"I know politicians say that the location of this country is very fortunate because of its geo-strategic importance. But I think it is our misfortune. Because that is the reason for the interference by superpowers."

Frogh does not advocate an immediate pullout of international troops since that would make the situation worse, but feels initiatives like Peace Day "need to start with the people not the government".

"Our government is not accountable to its own people. I would not like to participate in such an occasion because it is like cheating, a political manoeuvre."

Frogh feels even the Taliban's acceptance of Peace Day is a gambit. "There are many groups within the Taliban. How can they accept Peace Day which has been announced by the Western countries. I think the Taliban wanted to make a show as well."

Frogh knows the travails of war despite his young age. Losing his father during the years of conflict, he saw his mother struggle as a seamstress to raise him and his siblings.

While in school Frogh had to work part time as a waiter to help his family and even today is searching for support that would enable him to complete his studies.

More to be done

Bahman Hares, who works with an international NGO, feels that initiatives such as Peace Day are meaningful but do not go far enough in addressing the lack of security in the country.

"The root causes of the problem have to be addressed. Unless that happens one day such as this makes no difference. It is just about speeches and the media. After 26 years of war and continuing violence this country needs more than that to bring peace.

"Look at the economic problems - the number of people below the poverty line, the economic migration due to drought. There is much injustice and corruption."

Hares and his family returned to Afghanistan after 10 years as refugees in different cities of Pakistan, and hoped they would find stability and security.

"But peace has not been restored, we are witnessing violations. I am not hopeful about this. The current policies of the government and the internationals cannot bring the change needed in Afghanistan."

Scathing criticism

Borhan Younus says foreign powers are not doing what is needed for peace
Borhan Younus, a journalist and writer, is very critical of Peace Day in Afghanistan.

"This is a show produced by the UN, a waste of money. Peace is not a slogan to be chanted. It is not a flag to be given to somebody," he said.

"It is a condition to be created. The big players, the US and the foreign forces are not paying heed to what is necessary to bring peace."

Younus believes only Afghan initiatives, planned and executed by Afghans can bring about the necessary change to allow peace to flourish.

"It should not be at the behest of one side in the conflict. The UN cannot even move out of Kabul."

Younus also sees signs that the Taliban are adopting different strategies and even using diplomacy to achieve their goals.

"They are emerging as a more responsible force. They have always had a bit of respect for the UN, even when they were in power."

He says the fact that the Taliban agreed to suspend offensive operations for one day indicates their growing strength.

Nevertheless, he holds both sides equally responsible for the violence. 

"The occupation forces who sometimes trigger violence and the Taliban who do not heed calls for reconciliation are both to blame," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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