People were waiting with anxiety yesterday: whether they had finished their Ramadan fasting or they had to keep fasting one another day. Not until 10 p.m. Kabul time the decision was announced: Eid to be on Friday.
President Hamid Karzai offers his Eid prayers in the mosque inside presidential palace compound. These years, as the security situation in Kabul is worsened, it is not wise if the President prays in public place. Two years ago the President still had his Eid prayers in Pul-i Khisthi mosque together with his people. But now any ceremony attended by the President will mean the arrival of armed bodyguards, area sterilization with the security dogs (it was introduced by the Americans to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), some helicopters patrolling around, and tightened security on all main roads. Letting the President to pray in public mosque under current situation is too much risky. This resource and energy wasting, image gambling, and non-beneficial idea is a no-way choice.
The cameramen and photographers are requested to arrive in the Palace at 7:15 a.m. for security clearance. It seems that the program is not so much attractive to photographers. There are less than 10 cameramen and only 1 photographer, most of which come from local media only. First a trained anti-terror dog sneezes around all the equipments. Then the equipments are passed through X-ray machine and the owners are body-searched manually by the officers.
The Presidential Palace now is guarded mostly by the Afghans. It used to be task of the American guards, who then trained the Afghan counterparts to follow the strict security procedures to guard the President. Entering the palace, we will see several security check posts from the outer gate until the big gate of the citadel. Outsiders are not allowed to walk around. There are shuttle buses to carry the visitors from gate to gate.
The bus takes us to a yard in front of the Palace Mosque. It is a colorful little mosque: yellow wall and blue domes. This is the place where the President, Afghan political leaders, and Muslim foreign dignitaries are going to offer their Eid prayers today.
One by one this VIP arrives. The heads of the parliament, the ministers, and ambassadors. The latest to arrive is of course the host of the program, the President himself. Two hours, that is the minimum waiting time for any Presidential ceremonies.
The Afghan national anthem is played by troops of musicians and guards of honor. The President walks on the red carpet inspecting the troops, says some words, and walks directly to the mosque. Then the Eid prayers start.
After the prayers, the President has a press conference. He congratulates all Afghans and all Muslims in the world, but at the same time he condemns the terrorism attacks in Afghanistan during the month of Ramadan. He accuses that the attacks in Afghanistan are done by foreign powers who don’t want stability in the country. He also announces the death of Mullah Nahibullah, a great Mujahid fighter, the night before. Finishing his short speech, the President wishes for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The President and the VIP exchange Eid greetings. In this special occasion, it’s also the first time I feel very close to the President. As the security is worsening, President’s safety is always on the priority. The security procedures always separate the President from the journalists by a big distance. We need to remember that Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by suicide bombers posing as journalists and the former king Zahir Shah was almost attacked by fake journalist. But today, the President talks in less than 2-m of distance from the cameramen and photographer.
Leaving the Presidential Palace, I see the main roads are very much deserted. Even the big Eid Gah Mosque is quiet. I thought that Eid Gah should be the center of Eid Prayers in the city, where you might see thousands of people praying on the ground. But it was not the scene. Centralized mass prayers are not recommended due to security situation and people were requested to pray only in their local mosques.
The Eid is celebrated quite peacefully in Kabul. But blood still colors the Holy Day. Taliban fired rockets to towns in Kunar and Helmand. In Herat, five unknown gunmen opened fire to government officials when they were celebrating Eid in the governor’s office. One of the militia was killed, two were injured, and two others escaped.
Karzai’s wish of peace and stability in Afghanistan sounds still a long way to go.