A Thousand Splendid Suns

Carnet Hebdo

By Nita Chicooree

After three decades of armed conflicts and war, Afghanistan is contracting strategic partnerships with several countries to rebuild its economic and social fabric, and brace itself to face daunting challenges after the NATO troops withdraw in 2014.

The Afghan people have lived in perpetual suffering ever since the 1973 military coup that toppled the king, which was followed by another bloody coup engineered with Moscow’s support in 1978. The tragic cycle of destruction and oppression went on in the civil war involving rival political and ethnic clans after Soviet withdrawal in 1989 following insurgency staged by Mujahideens. In reaction to anarchy and warlordism, the Taliban rise to power in the mid-1990s plunged the country in further chaos. Educated in Pakistani madrassas, the Talibans applied an extreme interpretation of Islam based upon rural Pashtun tribal customs. The Afghan people’s condition of growing and surviving in a disintegrated world is skillfully depicted in Khaled Hosseini’s novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, a title taken from a Persian poem.

Past mistakes of the US and its allies abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviet pull-out and leaving the people at the mercy of warring local factions are not going to be repeated. The Bonn Conference provided political support to Afghanistan while the forthcoming Chicago Summit is due to bring in investments of $ 4 billion by NATO countries and mostly by the US, a good part of it by providing training and equipment to the national security forces. Funds will also be made available by the US every year for development projects and as budgetary support. The upcoming Tokyo Conference is going to focus on how to use foreign aid efficiently. Agreements have been signed with the UK, France and Italy, and soon with Germany, the EU and NATO members.

For shared historical, geographical and social reasons, India remains by far a major regional partner in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Besides training the Afghan police force, it has already donated $ 2 billion to be spent on projects which will be of direct benefit to the people. Long-term investment in the area of education is bearing fruits: for the first time, after three decades of war, a high number of children, including girls, are going back to school. Indian scholarships are going to create a knowledge pool among Afghan students who are studying Science and Technology in India. They are doing so in a democratic environment and are expected to help foster a similar democratic culture once back in Afghanistan.

The construction of a strategic road on the Afghan border with Iran has been undertaken by Indian firms. Heavy investment is being undertaken in Afghan agriculture. This is a most promising area in the Afghan economy and India is expected to import 100% of its fruits and agricultural products. A major iron ore project is under way. Small and medium Indian enterprises are being invited to set up business in Afghanistan.

Improvement in Indo-Pak relations as well as Pakistan’s cooperation are essential components for promoting peace in the region and for fighting terrorism along the Afghan-Pak border. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are likely to act as mediators to pacify Talibans and for co-opting them into the political process on condition that they sever links with terrorist groups, recognize and accept the Constitution, preserve human rights as well as women’s rights and the freedom of the press.

Had a charismatic leader like General Massoud lived, Afghanistan would probably have known a different fate. The country is a bridge between Southern and Central Asia and the Middle East, and the government is definitely reasoning in terms of progress and self-reliance. Government officials are saying: other parts of the world are booming, why not us? ‘Us’ includes all the regional countries eventually acting as a common bloc, something along the lines of the European Union.

Right now, we may pay tribute to the boundless courage and resilience of the people, to their individual stories and stoical endurance in the face of the daily traumas and serial adversities in a war-torn country. One can only hope that, under an unwavering government’s determination and efforts to set the country on the road of steady progress and peace, a thousand splendid suns will really shine in a not too distant future on Afghanistan.

* * *

Two years ago, a French gynecologist working in Pointe aux Cannoniers committed suicide when her work contract was not renewed. Besides, she was already in a vulnerable state as she had just divorced. It happened that the doctor was appreciated by lots of people living in the north, and no clear explanation was given as to the reason for non-renewal of her work permit. Transparency and ethics are not always part of the culture of work and politics in the island. Word went around that a few Mauritian fellows in the medical profession lobbied against the French doctor, which is what would have led to that situation.

There are allegations also that a foreigner pharmacist would have earned a reputation for fleecing people and thus making them overspend on medical care. It appears that the pharmacist fits better in the local landscape than the late gynaecologist. That may not be a stray example of how things do not proceed on course. There is also a view commonly held that a doctor working in the northern part of the island having retired years ago, would be making unsuitable medical prescriptions. In such a case, in politics, just as well as in the liberal professions, some people would be getting away by parading as semi-gods whether or not they are in full possession of their faculties.

A Frenchman opened a high style hairdressing salon in the northern coastal region. Well-off people, tourists and locals became regular customers. The Parisian hairdresser loved the island and had been dreaming of living here for years. The French touch, of course, implied high price. So what? It was all done legally just as restaurants and hotels legally and freely charge high prices, but no one is compelled to consume there. Some Mauritian fellows decided that he should close down his business. He was constantly harassed and dragged to court. The shock and trauma that affected him psychologically as a result led to a partial paralysis of his face but he carried on working nevertheless. He spent more than 10 000 euros to defend his case in court. The salon was decorated in an inimitable French style that is non-existent in the country. He lost his case and had to leave the island.

The fierce lobbying against him was conducted by a few fellows who are said to have had a favourable hearing at the concerned authorities. Conclusions like this are seemingly being driven by certain people who can blow hot and cold, grant or withdraw work contracts in this country. The irony is that those who have recourse to such methods happen to be the same people who complain frequently about discrimination against minorities. It appears some will not stop before anything when it comes to jealousy or rivalry in business. Had this sort of thing happened to Mauritians living in France, our locals would have felt outraged at the unfair treatment of their fellows over there.

Today, the Mauras College of Dentistry located at Arsenal is facing impending closure. It has rendered considerable service to locals by providing excellent dental care at a very affordable price. A real boon for everyone. The north cannot boast about having any high standard academic institution, local university or a modern public library. It will be deprived of this institution if things go in this direction. No one is thinking of addressing the urban bias which endows towns with all the amenities, leaving the others to fend for themselves. But unwelcome businesses such as casinos have mushroomed everywhere and villages are not spared. Anyway, it seems that the main thing that matters is the key role of villagers as a vote bank every five years.

* Published in print edition on 11 May 2012

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