On the occasion of her official visit to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, met President Hamid Karzai on 18 May 2013 at the Presidential Palace in Kabul.
President Hamid Karzai thanked the Director-General for UNESCO’s contribution to Afghanistan, notably in the fields of education and culture. “I congratulate you for your leadership to stand up for girls’ education. Through your initiative for Malala, I hope you will continue to speak up for the education of girls of Afghanistan and Pakistan”, which he defined as most challenging.
Affirming that gender equality is the big issue of the 21st century, the Director-General commended President Karzai on the considerable progress achieved in enhancing literacy and girls’ education, and assured him of UNESCO’s continued support and engagement in Afghanistan up to the elections in April 2014 and beyond. “Providing education to girls and women is not against religious beliefs. It enhances their opportunities to contribute to the development of their societies, to feel an integral part of them, and to benefit their families.”
President Karzai acknowledged progress in achieving education and literacy in the country but stressed it still represented a “drop in the ocean” as the great majority of girls are uneducated “staying behind the walls of their homes.”
“Education is the only way forward, there is no shortcut, if we do it properly it will get us back on time”.
President Karzai went on recalling that Afghanistan had been a pioneer for women’s rights in the Muslim world, referring to the first Queen of Afghanistan, Princess Suraya, who used to show herself unveiled in 1920. Conservatism was promoted in resistance to the Western influence.
The Director-General voiced the concern expressed earlier during the day by women Parliamentarians and by the Women’s Media Association over possible setbacks for women after the 2014 elections, and she emphasized that women need to be given self-assurance as full members of their communities and societies. She further stressed the challenges in changing mindsets and traditions.
Turning to the rich cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Irina Bokova noted that “Afghanistan embeds an Eldorado of archaeological assets” and appealed to President Karzai to preserve the millenary cultural heritage from destruction in the name of the modernization of the country. “Countries across the world strive to reconcile modernity and preservation of their cultural heritage assets”.
“The cultural heritage of Afghanistan will be the future economic and social asset of your country, it will provide self-confidence and pride to the people of Afghanistan”, declared Irina Bokova.
President Karzai expressed great appreciation for the planned visit to the World Heritage site of Bamiyan by the Director-General the day after, referring to the “magnificence of this iconic site still very much inhabited by the presence of the two giant Buddhas despite their having been destroyed by the Taliban Regime in 2001.”
“We are a place of 3 religions, the Greek, the Buddhist, and the Islamic. We are at the crossroads of several civilizations. This country has – when and if peace will come – a great deal to offer to the world’s culture through the exploration of former civilizations”.
“Afghanistan has paid a heavy high price during the last three decades in losing great parts of its cultural heritage due to the long internal conflict. We want to make this country visible again through its culture by regaining the pride towards our own past and our culture”. He further emphasized the need to re-educate the people of Afghanistan towards a greater appreciation of its culture and deplored the size of the Afghan diaspora and the negative image of Afghanistan depicted by certain foreign media featuring war-related images to the detriment of showing “the positive works of the history of Afghanistan. Media do not show the culture and history of Afghanistan but what Afghanistan is not. They show our suffering as our culture”. In this context, President Karzai invited the Director-General to return to the country on the occasion of the celebrations of the birth of Nowruz in Afghanistan, in 2014.
“Afghanistan does not want to be a burden to the international community, it has to take its future in its own hands and start looking after himself” concluded President Hamid Karzai referring to the post-elections time.