International Peace Day may be just an ordinary day to most countries in the world, but in Afghanistan it is treated very seriously. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) declared September 21 as Peace Day in Afghanistan since July this year. This date, the one day of peace in Afghanistan, is the day without violence, one day of peace to start a peace era in the war-torn country.
A series of activities were conducted to promote the peace day campaign extensively since the previous week. Yesterday, more than one hundred street children were collected to fly kites together from top of a hill. This, with media collaboration, became headlines in newspapers and brought the peace message through the TVs and radio. A day before, the Kabul Municipality inaugurated a Peace Junction: a simple junction transformed to be a pleasant green park. UNAMA also conducted an exhibition of 18 photos of an Afghan female photographer, Freshta Dunya, in the restored fabled garden of Babur. The number of 18 in such a big place of exhibition is considerably modest. But UNAMA made it big anyway, by inviting numerous TV cameramen to cover the event.
Bo Aspluund, the deputy special representative to secretary-general of UN, inaugurated the photo exhibition. He said, “To save even a single life is a success,” then it is duty of the entire community, every woman, man, and child, to support a real Peace Day in Afghanistan. Why it’s only for one day? Is one day peace enough for Afghanistan? Remember that a year of peace is started by a single day of peace.
Media also has the commitment to support the International Peace Day, by socializing the importance of the long-awaited peace in Afghanistan and the commemoration of International Peace Day, a day when all kinds of violence are halted. Sometimes I felt that some events have heavier propaganda atmosphere.
The peak of all of the celebration is today, September 21, the very International Peace Day. The main celebration is centered in Esteqlal High School. Banners about this event have been spread all over the city. September 21: ‘The day of Peace in Afghanistan’, is going to be celebrated in Esteqlal with support of UNAMA, the German Embassy, GTZ, and other international and local NGOs.
Esteqlal High School is one of the best schools in Kabul, funded by the French government and also teaches French as one of the compulsory foreign languages. Today, orphaned and street children of a renowned local NGO, Aschiana, dressed in traditional costumes made a simple performance on the podium. Hundreds of audience arrived and sit in tent-covered space. Media coverage also plays important role in this ‘campaign’ program. Even international media like the AFP, Turkish, and Arab television stations send their crew here.
The corridor is decorated with about a hundred drawings of the school children, all with same topic: peace. I see pictures of doves, a harmony in a family eating on a dining table, a peaceful house, a green garden, etc. Peace, obviously, is a long awaited luxury in Afghanistan. Peace, in a country with more than 30 years history of unrest, is a precious miracle still not yet come.
And the hundreds of people under the tent are waiting for it.
After the children singing, speech session starts. One by one orator talks in the podium. One man talks by himself, another man reads a short message from the absent head of the lower house of the parliament. I start to feel bored, actually, because I don’t really understand what they are saying.
I was not alone.
“This program is nothing,” said the AFP photographer, “there is nothing important at all.” He seemed very upset after an annoyed VIP asked him to find another place to stand. The space provided to media people is a small crowded place and we hardly stood there to take good angle.
“It’s really nothing,” said another cameraman from a Turkish news agency.
I have counted, there are already 4 different speakers with completely unintelligible speech (most in Pashtun language), and it seems there are no other program but talk show.
I am thinking it would be just another ‘campaign’ program. But before I ask for confirmation, I see Massoud, the AFP photographer, receives a phone call. He talks for a while, and then whispers to me, “There is a bomb blast!”, then he rushes away.
Bomb blast in Peace Day? The reporter from my news agency, among the noisy crowd of cameramen shooting for formal speakers talking about the meaning of peace, confirmed the news. Yes, there is a suicide bomb and there is already a reporter going to the spot. Do we need photographer? He said, no, because we already have archive of suicide blast photos. We don’t need photographer to cover the bomb blast and he wants me to stay in the ceremony.
Peace is yet to come in Afghanistan
But my instinct doesn’t allow me to remain in this speech program. I think this peace campaign program will go nowhere but some people talking for the whole day on the podium. The place of the blast is quite far from Esteqlal High School, but I managed to hitch the Turkish news agency and Arab news agency reporters who just called a taxi.
“Bomb in Peace Day. Interesting!” said the Turkish cameraman.
I still see the banners saying “Peace Day in Afghanistan” on roadside.
The place of the blast is ‘Company’ area, at southwestern part of the cit, and is the main transport hub to southbound destination in the country. Buses to Kandahar, Ghazni, and Helmand depart from here. It is quite far from the city center, about half an hour drive.
Getting closer to the area, I see a very busy bazaar. Dust fills the air. Women covered by blue burqa carry a sack of flour on their heads and men carry pairs of goats. Street children sell plastic bags among the busy adults. Don’t they know there was a bomb nearby?
“Of course, they do,” say the Turkish cameraman, “but Afghan people are used to bombs and all other similar things. It is not something extraordinary.”
It is already a place where everything is expensive but human life is cheap.
We climb to an unfinished bridge and the site of the blast is just down there. Earlier my reporter friend rang me, “there is no need to come here because the area is already surrounded by American soldiers and they don’t allow us to get near.” But then I think the journalists who come earlier already found this bridge to allow them to cover higher angle.
There were no American soldiers actually, but French NATO soldiers. A suicide car bomber blasted himself to a French NATO soldier convoy. A French soldier is killed, dozens of Afghan civilians are injured and six among them are severely injured. As this is on the main way to Kandahar, a passenger bus is also destroyed. I cannot get confirmation whether the bus was full of passengers or was an empty bus.
By the way, just next to the site is a big animal market. Hundreds of cows are stranded inside the huge fenced area. They look calm. As calm as their owners. The bomb, which is not more than 100 m away from them, did not interrupt the trading business at all. Meanwhile, people from surrounding areas also come to see the blast, but they cannot get closer as the NATO soldiers and Afghan police tried hard to secure the area. With sturdy tanks and flying-around helicopters, the foreign soldiers have the full authority here.
I remember Bo Asplund, in the inauguration of photo exhibition in Babur Garden, raised a question, what is the need of peace if it’s only for one day. He answered his own question, that a year of peace is started by a day.
But the bomb blast in Kabul, on the very day of International Peace Day, proves that even a single day of peace is not easy to start in Afghanistan.