This month marks one hundred years since the signing of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, a monumental time in Afghanistan’s history where the UK formally recognised the country’s independence. Although this should be a time to celebrate, we are horribly reminded of the ongoing desire to be truly independent of extremism following the recent bombings in Kabul. While the grip of extremism does continue to stand in the way of Afghanistan’s prosperity, we should be proud of the country’s development and progression to date despite these challenges.
As Eric Lawrie, British CouncilDirector in Afghanistan said: “a nation stays alive when its culture stays alive” and with Taliban peace talks and upcoming presidential elections currently on the agenda, I want to look back on Afghanistan’s last century in celebration of where throughout times of uncertainty, Afghanistan’s culture has always flourished.
As a truce in 1919, the UK agreed to not invade Afghanistan and to give back control over their foreign affairs allowing the country to prosper on its own. Afghanistan during the early 20th century was thriving through oil and mineral trade, attracting visitors from around the world, women were eligible to vote shortly after the treaty was signed and infrastructure was becoming increasingly modernised. Afghanistan were heading towards a more open, flourishing society, however progress was soon frozen.
Afghanistan and the UK
Since then, Afghanistan has battled with Soviet invasion, Taliban rein and other extremist groups that have caused trauma and chaos. However, what has remained is the UK and Afghanistan’s strong connection, with both recognising that their long-term security depends on building a strong, supportive relationship. I believe my heritage has much to thank the UK for as it celebrates 100 years of independence.
During the 1990s when the Taliban came to power, the UK promised to keep Afghanistan a priority in foreign affairs as they sought to end violent extremism. The UK has kept to their promise and when the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, leaving no functioning government or civil service, they and international partners helped Afghanistan to rebuild. This included a parliamentary democracy, anti-corruption laws and an invested £4.5 million to increase women’s participation in elections. UK efforts have also helped nearly 6 million children now attend school, nearly 40% of them being girls, and access to primary health care has increased from 9% in 2003 to over half of the population with life expectancy at its highest ever.
This is particularly close to my heart, as the ACAA (Afghanistan and Central Asian Association) has had funding for two Citizen’s Advice Centres in Kabul and Pul-e-Khumri by the UK government (DFID) from 2013-2016. The centres opened in September 2013 giving free, impartial legal and other advice to the most vulnerable people of Afghanistan society to help them access their rights and help them escape poverty. Over the three years over 7,500 people used the centre’s services including 2,000 people who received individual legal advice. I believe that only by giving people the tools to take charge of their lives again can Afghanistan reap the benefits of societal change. This is where the UK has been a pivotal influence in Afghanistan.
The ACAA replicate this mantra and is something we implement within our services for the refugee diaspora community as we provide skills, support, and knowledge to live and prosper within the UK.
Despite torment and instability, Afghanistan’s culture has continued to prevail and it is what I think has maintained their strength to get through the past half a century. I respect and agree with Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan Ambassador to the UK who is keen to get the message out that normal life goes on in Afghanistan: “nobody ever reports on, for example, the skiing competitions we have or how well our national cricket team are doing on the global stage. Our All-Women Orchestra just received the Polar Music Award in Sweden, and it is my hope to bring them to the UK as soon as possible”. It brings my family and I joy that the culture in Afghanistan still remains as a part of society as it is a culture I have been brought up with moving to the UK when I was five.
A relationship that will continue to prosper
In more recent times the UK has shown support to Afghanistan through the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, currently in the ninth round of discussions. The UK has openly said that we will support an eventual settlement that is representative, upholds human rights and the rule of law and reflects Afghanistan’s strong and incessant culture.
The world is changing and Afghanistan is not alone in having to adapt to new realities but the UK’s involvement with the international community has helped lay the foundations for a more secure and prosperous Afghanistan which people can build upon. The future of the relationship with the UK will depend on the outcome of Taliban peace talks and upcoming presidential elections. Risks still lie ahead, but without the commitment, support and aid that Afghanistan has received since 2001, my home country would now be unimaginably worse.
Afghanistan has made huge strides in their economic growth, security and human rights over the last half a century which is something I think is important to celebrate despite their challenges. I’m confident that the next 100 years will be more prosperous with long-term peace.
Rabia Nasimi, StrategicDevelopment Manager at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) now a PHD student at the University of Cambridge is a firm believer that the people of Afghanistan will continue to progress. Rabia will be celebrating 100 years of Afghanistan independence proudly in the UK with her family.
For more information aboutRabia Nasimi and the work of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, please visit: https://acaa.org.uk/
*Photo Credit to ARG, RTA Afghanistan and AWN Kabul