By Mohammad Asif Rahimi
After 30 years of war, what can Peace Day mean to Afghans too young to remember peace? Possibly a lot.
In most countries, people assume that peace is the ‘default position’ or the natural order of things. Peace just happens, they think, and war is a freak occurrence. We Afghans disagree.
Thirty years of war has made us experts on what makes peace, and maybe our youth are the wisest of us all.
One of the biggest unreported news stories here is the Reverse Diaspora. Bright, talented young Afghans are flocking back from overseas with new, university degrees from America and India. Youth who never left Afghanistan are struggling – not to go abroad but to work in government. They want to make a difference. This has gone unnoticed by people who earn a living peddling bad news.
The vast majority have one thing in common. It’s not foreign education -- some of our best and brightest studied here. Nor is it working in comfortable Kabul offices. We recently recruited more than 400 young, Afghan-educated agriculturalists, part of one thousand to be trained and sent straight to the rural districts as extension workers and researchers. When I warned them that there would be no fancy air conditioners and that they would sit on the ground and live and work with farmers, they rose to their feet and cheered. The experience moved me.
No, what the vast majority have in common is purple fingernails, at least on the index fingers of their right hands. They voted. Their fingers were dyed at the polling stations.
Afghanistan is blessed with lots of foreign friends, and in their home countries plenty of their citizens do not bother to vote. They give unimpressive excuses – they had a headache, or their kids needed a ride to soccer practice or it was raining. Once more, significant numbers of Afghans voted even though it sometimes meant risking their lives.
Another point may be more important than which candidate won. Even discounting the challenged results, a southwestern Pushtoon candidate won many districts in the north and west, while the challenger associated with the north ran strong, effective campaigns in the largely Pushtoon east and south. Each candidate had a national following that transcended geography and ethnicity.
All those foreign so-called experts, who told us for thirty years that Afghanistan was a kind of buffer-zone state, nothing more than a bunch of squabbling ethnic groups forced together by surrounding empires, were proven wrong.
Now they are eating their words thanks to Pushtoons who voted for Dr Abdullah, northern ethnics who voted for President Karzai, Hazara women who voted in droves, and all the other members of the Purple Finger Revolution.
Another key national agreement is people want peace and they agree on how to get it.
Today, with no jobs available off farms too small to feed a family, young rural Afghans carry guns in order to be fed and over time they are radicalised. Farmers everywhere say the same thing: give us water, power and credit and we can do the rest ourselves.
This year’s abundant rainfall gives us the best harvest in 32 years, but repeating this success demands irrigation. It will take 5-10 years and $3-4 billion dollars to build – two big dams, medium-scale irrigation in every province, and smaller efforts in every district such as check dams to catch water, repaired canals and on-farm drip irrigation to use water wisely. Donors promise to provide the financing.
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 Rural Electrification Act taught us Afghans the power of power. Over only 14 years, rural America grew from being 10% electrified to 90%. Literacy surged, especially among women, then family health and school attendance increased. Small businesses created jobs near farms too small to support a family. Dirt-poor, rural America became middle class America.
Farmers ask for credit and every developed agriculture sector, worldwide, offers it in some form or another. An Afghan farmer can only get credit by borrowing from poor relatives, loan sharks or drug barons. The power to borrow is the power to grow.
If agricultural extension training, farm credit and irrigation make family farms more profitable – and if electricity boosts literacy, new agribusiness and off-farm jobs – we remove the incentive for youth to take up guns and provide a path to peace and prosperity.
Every Afghan farmer knows it. Donors have finally agreed to the plan. Eager to make it happen, our best young people throng to our ministries.
I think we can do it. Then we Afghans can celebrate Peace Day all the year long.
Mohammad Asif Rahimi is Afghanistan’s Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL)
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