Letter from Kabul

War, peace and IPL: What my meeting with Rula Ghani, the First Lady of Afghanistan, was made of

Rula Ghani says she does things differently, in her own way. A tête-à-tête later, we wouldn't disagree.

 |  Letter from Kabul  |  3-minute read |   26-04-2019
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The Presidential Palace in Kabul is a vast and imposing fortress and visitors are always well-advised to allow plenty of time for security checks. It took some time for me to get through them all, but what a welcome Rula Ghani — the First Lady of Afghanistan — gave me when I was finally admitted into her inner sanctum.

Mrs Ghani is passionate about empowering youth in my country and she wanted to talk to me and my fellow co-workers about the Model United Nations conferences we hold regularly in the city and around the world. She made it a point to shake hands with each one of us and was kind and gracious about what we had achieved so far and said she wanted to help us do still more.

first-lady-office_042419071138.jpgWhat a welcome Rula Ghani — the First Lady of Afghanistan — gave us when we met her. (Source: Author)

This is a deeply unsettling time in Afghanistan — with the country's future now being decided in faraway Qatar, where peace talks are being held between the Americans and the Taliban, which could lead to a phased withdrawal of US troops from the country.

President Ghani’s wife was, however, determined to put out a message that normal life goes on in Kabul — no matter what.

Mention was inevitably made of the peace talks, but she didn’t want them to dominate our meeting. She seemed very hopeful about the future of Afghanistan, and, like all of us, she desires very much to see real and long-term peace secured for Afghanistan.

Her only advice was that, no matter what transpires, we all had to stay positive. The people of no country ever improve their lot in life without first having hope and little, if ever, is achieved by bloodshed.

Given the history and current conditions of my country, this is no banal message at all.

“We must choose discussion over war because only discussion can solve the challenges that we face,” she also told us. “There is never any point complaining when we do not like things. We must talk about how to put them right.”

rula-ghani_042419072830.jpgThe First Lady with Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, has a reputation for getting things done. (Source: Reuters)

Characteristically, she was much more interested in what we had to say — rather than listening to the sound of her own voice. The First Lady is — in a very real sense — a symbol of hope for all in the country, but especially so for its youth and its women. She recognises that she is not a politician herself, but in her quiet, understated way, she has a reputation in the country for getting things done.

An ambition of hers is to see more women become actively involved in politics.

She has lately started meeting on a national level with groups of women across the country — women’s rights in Afghanistan have been neglected during decades of war and there is no question that a great many women in Afghanistan have suffered a great deal. The First Lady has put them high on her agenda. She has made women here feel that they matter.

She knows that if peace can finally come to Afghanistan, more attention must be given to increasing educational opportunities for all, and that is — as she sees it — is the best way to empower women.

ipl_042419072304.jpgMujeeb Zadran, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan: When Afghanistan and India bond over cricket. (Source: Reuters. Collage: DailyO)

The First Lady is pleased that, for all the problems Afghanistan is now working its way through, its people are getting on with life and trying to make the best of things. They are looking not inwards but outwards. She is well aware that hundreds of thousands of people across the country are currently watching the Indian Premier League (IPL) in Afghanistan — the most trending teams are Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab.

Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran in this season of IPL have united the people of Afghanistan and India in admiration of their brilliant performances — and Afghans appreciate the chance that India has given to our players to play at this prestigious event.

Seldom, if ever, have I sensed the huge potential of Afghanistan more than I have these days. I could see that the First Lady feels it, too.

The overwhelming majority of my people share her fervent prayers that the peace talks do indeed end in peace.

We in Afghanistan choose life and hope over death and hatred.

Also read: Afghanistan has many superwomen. No, their dreams are not borrowed from the US or Taliban


Mohammad Anil Qasemi Mohammad Anil Qasemi @mohammadanil

The writer is an entrepreneur, youth activist and a survivor of the terror attack in Kabul university.

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