A school inauguration in Kabul is attended by the President Hamid Karzai. In the situation when suicide bombing is rampant in the capital, violent attacks are getting common on Kabul streets, and foreigners are kidnapped, there should be something special that the Afghan President decide to inaugurate construction of a high school building.
The Ghazi High School was among the oldest, famous, and historical schools in Kabul in its time. The school was originally built in 1923, just 4 years after the independence of Afghanistan from the British control. The civil wars in Afghanistan destroyed the school. In 1994 the school turned to be ruins with empty hollows and walls scattered by bullet holes. The school, the alma mater of current Minister of Higher Education Dr. Dadfar, hibernated.
Today, American strip and stars flies proudly next to Afghan flag over a tablet written: “Ghazi High School – The foundation stone of Ghazi High School was laid by H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 21st August 2007. The school was constructed through the financial assistance of USAID.”
The costs of the reconstruction of the Ghazi School is millions of dollars (exact amount was not disclosed), and is covered by the government of the United States. Mr. Karzai, in his speech, thanked the United States and the international community, without which help and assistance Afghanistan would have never been able to build the infrastructure by themselves. The construction of the school will take about 2 years of time (compared to President’s estimation of 20 years if its build only by Afghanistan government effort), will occupy 13.5 acres of land and will have 72 classrooms and equipped by modern laboratories, library, mosque, and computer room.
Not only attended by the President himself, the stone foundation laying ceremony was attended by Afghan high officials, namely the Minister of Education Mr. Hanif Atmar, Upper House Speaker Sebghatullah Mojadedi (who even offered to teach in the school when construction finished), and the Afghan-origin former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr. Zamalzai Khalilzad (who was thanked specially by the President for his personal interests in building the school).
A ceremony like this, which was quite a routine in Indonesia especially under Soeharto regime, is not for Afghanistan. We remember we have special TV program right after “World in News” in our Indonesian State Television named “Special Coverage”, specially covering the daily president activity, from visiting farmers, fishing in river, cutting ribbons, etc. In Afghanistan, where security is tight and the president is under threat from many directions, a ceremony just to lay a stone and deliver a speech in a broken school is indeed a rare event.
The security around the school was tightened up. The road was closed. When the President went out from his vehicle, a group of Special Forces soldiers guarded him, which reminded me to the “Mission Impossible” actors’ speed. Journalists were requested to come 2 hours before the program, and all of them were “sterilized” by metal detector, dogs, and president’s armed bodyguards. I was especially overwhelmed by the presidential bodyguards, all wearing nice handsome suit, cool sunglasses, and with similarly handsome automatic black ripple.
Getting close to the President was very difficult. Even if photographers and cameramen were given special privilege, it was not that easy anyway to make good pictures. One cameraman from Samshad TV was warned by the bodyguards as he was picturing the image of the Presidential Special Forces standing on the ruined building of Ghazi School to guarantee the safety of the VVVVIP man of the country.
“What people always think of Afghanistan is only war,” said a cameraman from a local TV, “but this is also another side of our president, he comes out for education program.” I didn’t dare to tell him that our former president was even covered when fishing in pond and the current president was even became a model in a music video. Whether President Karzai is out to inaugurate all schools with millions dollars of value, or just this one supported by the American government, ends with a question mark for me. Mr. Karzai visit to the school, with all of his security procedures, caused road blocks for hours and traffic tensions for the city dwellers. The bodyguards’ modern American machine weapons among young school children participants was not an appropriate education for Afghan youths (or maybe they are just used to it?)
And once again the Star and Strips fly proudly over the grey sky of Afghanistan.