Prince Harry in Afghanistan

The Royal Wedding

As billions of people around the world watched on, Prince Harry of Wales; The Duke of Sussex, 33, tied the knot with his beautiful bride Ms. Meghan Markle, 36, who is now Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.

The marriage ceremony took place in Windsor, it was one that did not disappoint, with a beautiful entrance from Meghan, the joyful tears from Harry at the sight of his bride, the well planned speech by the bishop and the music. It was a perfect fairy-tale royal wedding.

Shortly after the vows and rings were exchanged, Prince Harry and Meghan made their way out of the church to announce their accomplished wedding to the world with their first kiss as a married couple.

Thousands of people watched on anticipating the newlyweds to pass by during the Carriage Procession route, which travelled through Windsor with waves and smiles from both, Harry and Meghan to the excited well-wishers cheering them on.

This was a special and historical moment for the world. Particularly since it was an interracial and multicultural marriage, approving of all people despite their race, background or culture.

The wedding was a perfect example of life in England and the fact that the British people are tolerant of each others differences without passing judgement.

One of the highlights of the wedding ceremony for me was Michael Curry’s speech; In particular, the part where he said:

“There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalise it. There’s power, power in love”

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Prince Harry and his career

The Royal wedding was a moment to realise that the Prince had come a very long way.

While I was watching the wedding on TV, a lot about his career in Afghanistan was mentioned, it gave me the idea to write further on the topic of Prince Harry’s career; looking back at what he did in Afghanistan.

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Prince Harry joined the Blues and Royals in April 2006 after the Sandhurst training. His Unit was to be situated to Iraq. But, there were interrogations on whether the prince would be joining the front line. Ultimately it was declared that he would not join the front line due to security risks. Harry was apparently, dissatisfied in the decision but he stood by it and stayed out of the front line as instructed.

In 2008, it was established by the MoD that Harry had been covertly deployed to Afghanistan, Helmand province.  During his career in the military, he performed two tours in Afghanistan.

Through his time in Afghanistan, Prince Harry helped the Ghurkha troops prevent an attack from the Taliban rebels, undertaking patrol.

Together with the many medals that he received from his military career,  he was given an Afghanistan Operational Service Medal in 2008 to mark his service at the frontline in Helmand province.

He has spoken of his time based at the Camp Bastion in Helmand province. In some of his interviews, he has revealed the trouble he faced settling in the different roles he had in his life. He spoke about the “three mes”. “One in the army, one socially in my own private time, and then one with the family and stuff like that. So there is a switch and I flick it when necessary.”

In one of his interviews, he was asked about his career and whether he felt more comfortable being Captain Wales rather than Prince Harry, and he responded “Definitely. I’ve always been like that. My father’s always trying to remind me about who I am and stuff like that. But it’s very easy to forget about who I am when I am in the army. Everyone’s wearing the same uniform and doing the same kind of thing. I get on well with the lads and I enjoy my job. It really is as simple as that.”

How I felt about the Royal Wedding

As an Afghan raised and living in England, I could never find myself fully connected to the British. But while I was watching the Royal wedding ceremony, in the comfort of my own home, I connected for the first time in the twenty years that I have been a British citizen.

The wedding took me back to my roots, I thought of the prince wandering around the same streets of Afghanistan that I had wandered around. I linked myself to him because he has seen what I have seen in Afghanistan, something that not everyone could relate to. I feel the wedding had a lot to offer everyone around the world. Those who watched the wedding or were present in Windsor on this historical day could only look back and see a new world and appreciate being a part of it.

I connected because of the fact that it was a multicultural wedding, it made me comprehend that people’s differentiations are starting to be recognized and accepted. I felt like a part of history for existing in such a time like this; a time of change.

Prince Harry in Afghanistan

 

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Kabul Catwalks

In a private Kabul villa, young Afghans build the courage to finally follow their dreams and take part in the careers they’ve always wanted to pursue since the fall of the Taliban. They walked down the catwalk, exhibiting Afghan traditional clothes and costumes, watched by an audience of 100 men and women.

Ajmal Haqiqi is the guy behind the idea of introducing Afghanistan to the world of Fashion after so many years of a complete ban of the promotion of fashion. He told the Daily Mail that putting on the show in the private Kabul villa was worth the risk despite the daily threats of possible attacks on him. He told The Associated Press, “I told myself, if a suicide bomber attacks us, even if I lose my hands and feet, I will continue on the way that I have chosen.”

His products have now reached different parts of the world like Europe and America. He stated in an interview with TOLO News, “I started my work six years ago with the aim of reviving the Afghan Culture and introduce it to the world,” adding that his products are ordered from Europe and America for weddings and various events.

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The show was the first, after many years, for all-Afghan audiences by all- Afghan models wearing the Afghan traditional clothes.

The most exciting and courageous part of the show was the fact, despite Afghan women working as models being seen as taboo in Afghanistan, there were still Afghan women models who took part in the show.

Women in Afghanistan are now building the courage to work towards their careers and working but there are still women in the country who stay at home and avoid going outside without the blue burqas on, which cover them from head to toe, that was once forced upon them by the Taliban.

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Ajmal Haqiqi

The Haqiqi Modeling Agency is new and one of the first to expose the fashion world to its people and everyone interested. They have appeared on many talk shows on the TOLO TV and have discussed the purpose of the agency as well as showcasing some of their work.

Kabul has been attacked by suicide bombers continuously the last few months. One of the attacks took place in the Western neighbourhood where one of Haqiqi’s shows took place. The area was a target as there are many private schools and politicians that are based there.

One of the female models for Haqiqi, Husna Sadat, told the Daily Mail, “If we can change the mentality of our people from all these years of fighting, then I am sure the people can be ready for a better future.”

Atefa Fasihi, who joined Haqiqi at the age of 21, said, “Everybody is scared, but … we are working to promote our Afghan culture, so I foresee a good future.”

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What is Nowruz?

Nowruz is a traditional festival of spring celebrated by Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia which marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar.

The festival has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. Every year the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes, night and day is calculated. This is when families gather together and observe the Nowruz rituals. Usually this is the 21st of March or the previous/following day.

In Afghanistan, Nowruz is celebrated widely. The festival is also known as Farmers Day, which usually lasts two weeks, ending on the first day of the Afghan New Year. People in Afghanistan like to start the Nowruz preparations several days beforehand, usually starting from the last Wednesday before the New Year.

For Nawruz, Afghan families prepare traditional meals such as Qabuli Pilau; a rice dish mixed with caramelised raisins and carrots, with haft-mewa; the sweet Nawruz dessert that is made with seven symbolic dried fruits, mixed in water.

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During the Taliban rule, Nowruz was banned in Afghanistan but despite this, it continued to be celebrated by Afghans, secretly, in their homes.

Samanak

Another special Nowruz dish is Samanak, which is a sweet paste made of wheat flour. Samanak requires several weeks of preparation. Women gather, which is essentially a “girls night in” in which they prepare the dish from late in the evening until daylight, while singing special songs.

How are engaged couples celebrating Nowruz in Afghanistan?

Engaged couple in Afghanistan look forward to Nowruz most. The man who is to marry the girl, his fiancée, is expected to take fresh fish, Afghan sweets (Jelabi), dried fruits with flowers and presents to the girls home with his family. The families then gather together and sing, read poems and dance after a traditional Afghan meal together. Afghan couples in Europe and around the world also celebrate Nowruz as they would have if they were in Afghanistan.

 

Peace from Indonesia

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After having spent a week in Indonesia, visiting its largest city Jakarta, and one of its treasured islands Bali, I found that Indonesia is probably one of the most peaceful countries in the World.

Jakarta seemed to be the capital of everything and the future of Indonesia with its skyscrapers and massive malls. The city is populated by Muslims and Christians with churches, Mosques and Temples spread around the city, peacefully, alongside one another.

The Grand Istiqlal Mosque and the Cathedral, known as the Katedral, in central Jakarta are one of the many symbols in the city that are the first signs of acceptance, witnessed by those visiting the Indonesian capital. The mosque shares the same parking and is located across the Cathedral.

Both, the Church and the Mosque management teams work closely together when preparations are made for Eid prayers for the Muslims. The Mosque returns the favour and works closely with the Cathedral team by opening its gates during Christmas, Easter or any other big events at the church.

Bali held a special place in my heart, with its beautiful fresh green rice fields and its simple lifestyle. local men and women dressed in traditional, colourful attire on a daily basis embracing their identity, traditions and cultures.

In the early hours of the morning women were busy placing offerings in the streets known as Canning Sari, one of the daily offerings made by the Balinese Hindu women. Canning Sari represents peace and new beginnings, spotted in the temples around Bali, in small shrines, houses, restaurants and mainly on the ground alongside pavements. The offerings were laid out twice a day, in the morning and in the evenings before sunset.

Most of the men worked tirelessly in its rice fields while others waited patiently in the busy Bali traffic, on their motorbikes, to start the day off and do their daily routines like getting to work or attending temples for prayers.

In the Ubud area, there were several places to eat, with its restaurants offering heavenly scenes and outstanding performances that required much energy to represent stories of the Balinese Gods and kings with beautiful women and men dancing to Balinese music.

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My observation of Indonesia was that it unites religious groups, the basis is not one religion. The Indonesian people love Indonesia first they embrace other cultures and faiths but keep their own close to heart.

My time in Indonesia allowed me to witness that history still lives, influencing its societies way of living in a modern era.

Indonesia in Afghanistan

Jokowi Widodo, the current president of Indonesia, is the first Indonesian President since the year 1961 to visit Afghanistan.

He visited just two days before a hidden bomb exploded in an ambulance in Kabul. The explosion left an estimate of 103 people dead and more than 200 injured.

The incident did not stop President Jokowi from visiting Afghanistan. Indonesian Cabinet Secretary, Pramono Anung tweetet, “the president has no fear.”

President Jokowi lead a prayer while in Afghanistan during which the Afghan President, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and others stood behind him.

Before payers, Jokowi and Ghani exchanged hats. Jokowi handed Ghani his Peci (Indonesian hat) while Ghani gave Jokowi his lungee (Afghan hat).

Shortly after the visit, President Jokowi stated in a conference that Indonesia will work with Afghanistan to help bring peace to its people. He said, “We will cooperate in the area of bringing peace and we will also increase our cooperation in other sectors until Afghanistan has peace.”

President Ghani voiced his appreciation to the Indonesian president for visiting Afghanistan in a difficult time. Jokowi publicized that Indonesia, will build an Islamic centre in Kabul and as part of the cultural and educational cooperation between both countries, scholarships for Afghan students will also be considered.

Is Indonesia an Islamic state?

The cultures in Indonesia are as diverse as its geography. Islam is the most followed religion in Indonesia, 87.2% of Indonesian population, approximately 225 million people are Muslims. It is identified as the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world.

Although Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, it is decorated with ancient Hindu temples, with six officially recognised religions.

The country has not considered itself an Islamic state, despite having the largest Muslim population because of the ‘Pancasila’ principle which was formulated by Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia.

Why was the ‘Pancasila’ principle introduced?

In 1945, the Indonesian government introduced the Pancasila theory as a standard of an independent Indonesian state. President Sukarno’s aim with the theory was to help solve the conflicting urgencies among Christians, Muslims and nationalists.

The first Sila, or rule, of the Pancasila was, “believe in one God and obligation for Muslims to live with Sharia laws”. The non-Muslims, mainly based in eastern Indonesia disagreed with this. The vice-president of Indonesia, Mohammad Hatta who fought along with Sukarno for the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch, was informed that the people from East Indonesia, North Sumatra and Bali preferred to separate from Indonesia if the first Sila was not changed.

The leaders wanted to unite the people so the first Sila was changed to, “Believe in one God”. This united people around the country and was one of the most important times in Indonesian history.

Is Indonesia a peaceful country?

Sir Azyumardi Azra, prominent Indonesian Muslim scholar, who is known for his moderate views has claimed that Indonesian Islam is different from elsewhere, including the Middle East. Stating, “Indonesian Islam is different from other places, including the Middle East. The absolute majority is moderate, and has been used to living with adherents of other religions peacefully for centuries without any bloodshed . . .

Of course, there are isolated cases of Islamic communal conflicts, but that is usually related to politics.”

Like most places around the world, Indonesia has faced many political issues, chiefly, terrorism from Islamofascists, such as the Bali bombings of 2005, targeting foreign tourists which killed 108 people.

Non-Sunni Muslims and minority religions have also been a target.  But, compared to other countries in the Muslim world, Indonesia has had the least number of religious conflicts within the country.

In his speech for the 4th Indonesian Diaspora Congress in Jakarta last year, the former president of America, Barack Obama, who has spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia in the capital city of Jakarta stated that; Indonesia, with its unity in Diversity principles, could be an inspiration to Muslim countries in promoting patience and moderation.

He said, “values have to be cultivated and nurtured. Young people have to embrace them. We have to fight for those values against those who promote intolerance. And that is important part of Indonesia’s future. . .

“If people do not show respect and tolerance, eventually you have war and conflict because not everybody will agree on how to practice a religion”. Additionally, he said civilisation would not go far if people could not respect each other’s differences.

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The Economy in Afghanistan

Since 2002, Afghanistan has seen a significant change in its economy. This is due to the billions of dollars provided by international assistance and also investments, with help from Afghan expatriates. This significant increase came to light after the defeat of terrorist groups such as the Taliban.

The dramatic improvements in agriculture production and the end of the four-year drought also helped in the improvement of Afghanistan’s economy.

According to the government, Afghanistan contains up to $3 trillion in proven untapped mineral deposits. This means that Afghanistan is one of the richest mining regions on earth. But due to the conflicts in the country, Afghanistan is categorised as one of the least developed countries in the world and the poorest country in Eurasia, ranking 175th on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

Afghanistan is a country that has much to improve. An estimated 35% of the population are unemployed, 36% are living below the national poverty and suffering from housing shortage, electricity and drinking water supplies.

According to the World Bank reports, despite the withdrawal of the international security forces since 2014 and the continuous uncertainties in the political field of Afghanistan which has resulted in the decrease in the economic growth, and security threats mounting, Afghanistan has successfully managed to maintain stability and has seen slow recovery of the economy.

In the April 2016 issue of the bi-annual, Afghanistan Development Update, The World Bank has reported that economic growth has reached an estimated 1.5 percent in 2015. This is a marginal increase from the figure of 1.3 Percent which was recorded in 2014.

The reports show that growth was mainly increased due to the growth in the industry and services sectors, offsetting the contraction in the agriculture sector. The number of new registered businesses has also increased over the year.

The video, An Unfinished Journey : Agriculture in Afghanistan was narrated by me for Afghanistan’s Agriculture minister.

It is a beautiful video based on the Agriculture in Afghanistan. It provides in-depth information on the increase in the economy and what is exported and how from the provinces in Afghanistan.

Please watch for further information and let me know what you think.

The Afghan Traditional Jewellery

Afghan jewellery plays an important role in the way in which Afghan women accessorize their traditional clothes. Without the stunning chunky Afghan jewellery , the traditional dress (Gandi Afghani) will look bare and incomplete like Romeo without Juliet.

The Afghan jewellery is not just popular among Afghans for its beauty; it also has a captivating history that dates back to thousands of years and shadows the ancient routes that interlaced through Afghanistan.

As I grew up in the West, I have developed a love for the culture, colour and life that sparks out of Gandi Afghani and its jewellery . I have always been intrigued by the designs and colours used to create the traditional clothes and the jewellery and I’ve always wanted to know the history behind these stunning designs, so I have decided to explore and find out.

Afghan traditional clothes and jewellery are originated from the Kuchis in Afghanistan.  Kochis or Kuchis (from the Persian word: کوچ koch; meaning “migration”) are Afghan Pashtun nomads, primarily from the Ghilji tribal confederacy.

They used to migrate or wander on borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan they used to move towards Indus Valley and in the west they used to move towards Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Some of the most distinguished Ghilji Kochi tribes include the Kharoti, Andar and Ahmadzai. Authentic Tribal jewellery takes not only a culturally idealized outward appearance, but also reflects a way of life that is steeped in socio-cultural tradition.

In the 21st century, the Afghan Kuchi jewellery is frequently referred to as nomadic jewellery. Research reveals that countless challenges were faced by the Afghan traditional clothes and jewellery in its history. During the Soviet occupation period and the time of the Mujahedin and the Taliban, many personally owned pieces were sold.

The Afghan Kuchi jewellery is distinguished on the basis of whether the pieces are made of costly materials, imported pieces, or made of beads. The more expensive pieces of jewellery are generally created using precious and semiprecious stones worked in the metal and inlay settings by metal craftsmen in public workshops.

The more expensive the jewellery, then it has most likely derived from the Afghan environment, it will have precious stones carved in which would be found in mountainous or riverine areas. Those types are generally worn on special occasions, while the less costly ornaments made from imported materials are worn on an everyday occasion.

The most distinguished Kuchi jewellery pieces are those that are worn by young women for special occasions like their Nikka (Muslim wedding or engagement celebration), because jewellery made of precious and semiprecious material are generally worn on those days.

More simpler jewellery that is worn by Afghan women every day in Afghanistan are made from cotton-stung Mora (beads) and coins also natural products such as cloves, nuts, and clay that are easily found locally in Afghanistan.

Not only is the Afghan jewellery available in Afghanistan, they are now also sold worldwide, of course, for a much higher price than that in Afghanistan. I always wondered why that was.

I believe for Afghans to import Afghan jewellery from Afghanistan and sell it in the West or other parts of the world would be for business reasons. But why are non-Afghans so keen to purchase these products at such a high price?

Well, a look at the images below answers this question. Of course, it is because of the beautiful work done to these pieces, full of detail, colour and culture. But is it also because of what’s trending in the West?

As a young person living in the West, I have come to realise that in fact it is because Afghan jewelry  is now trending. I see people from all corners of the World in London, walking past me every morning and each day I do not fail to see a female wearing such jewellery that is, if not exactly the same, then similar to Afghan jewellery.

People are developing a love for the Afghan style. I see the Afghan clothes worn by top ranked models on catwalk shows. I sometimes get the feeling that the Afghan culture has really taken over the West by a storm.

Some people claim that it is not just the Afghan culture that those pieces, fashion shows, artists represent. But I genuinely believe it is from the routes of our very own Afghanistan.

Migration in the UK

Today, the world is facing a major crisis. Migration. It has hit us as one of the most problematic world crisis’ in history. Europe is faced with an influx of migrants coming from such countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia.

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More than 80% of the migrants coming into Europe have escaped from conflicts, abuse and poverty. Germany, Sweden and the UK are among the three most appealing countries from refugees fleeing their war-torn homes.

Some European countries have closed borders and some such as Saudi Arabia haven’t even taken a single refugee due to the great movement of migrants, which has resulted in thousands of people stuck in Greece; this has increased fears of the humanitarian crisis.

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Angela Merkel has announced that Germany will be taking 800,000 refugees this year and it is likely to increase to 1 million due to the constant flow of refugees. According to the UN, almost 1.8 million migrants have gone to Turkey as well as 600,000 to Jordan with Lebanon, a country with a population of 4 million, has taken in 1 million migrants.

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David Cameron has announced that priority will be given to Syrians. Only 20,000 Syrians will be taken in by 2020 in the UK. Whether this is a fair amount or not that is individual opinion but could Britain do more?

If Lebanon, with a population of just 4 million can take on 25% of its population in refugees, why is Britain taking such a small amount ?

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Migrants leaving their homes face many difficulties on their journeys to Europe. Thousands of people take the sea route which is the most dangerous of all. It has been estimated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived to Europe by sea in 2015, while only 34,900 by land.

Those making their way from Greece take the sea route via Turkey which is usually in weak rubber dinghies or small wooden boats.

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Thousands of migrants lose their lives or of lost ones as they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea. IOM has reported than more than 3,770 migrants were reported to have died in the year 2015.

In this Radio documentary, we hear stories from real migrants that have taken the dangerous journey from Syria and Afghanistan to seek a better life in the UK.

Sabir Zazai, a former refugee with years of experience in the refugee resettlement, now a Centre Director at Coventry Refugee and Migration Centre, speaks to us about his experiences. He tells us about his views on the UK’s decision to only take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

A representative from Migration Watch UK discusses the UK Government policy on housing, health and education for the resettled migrants who are currently in the UK and how the rise of migrants in the UK may affect jobs, health care and housing.

We take to the streets of central London to hear the views of the public on the decision made by Prime Minister David Cameron.

London climate change march

The climate march took place in London on 29th November 2015, a day before the UN climate talks began in Paris. More than 50,000 people marched in different parts of Britain including development organisations, faith groups, climate movements, trade unions and many more.

Hundreds and thousands of people in 150 countries marched the streets calling for a change to 100% clean energy. But the march in London was the biggest climate march in British history.

Famous people also joined the march such as actress Emma Thompson. She told The Guardian: “Unless we’re carbon-free by 2030 the World is buggered.”

High-ranking officials were seen to take part in the demonstrations around the world such as UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who joined the protest in New York City. US secretary of state John Kerry also spoke about the dangers of climate change. He said we face a long list of issues but the greatest issue and threat of all is climate change.

COP21 climate change agreement

The Conference of the Parties, 21st session, grouped more than 190 countries in Paris where they discussed new possible agreements on climate change with all countries expected to pitch in. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, gave the final draft. It was the world’s first universal climate agreement, 31 pages long.

The aim of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will help prevent dangerous warming.

Key points of the agreement:

  • Limit of temperature rise below 2 C
  • First universal climate agreement
  • Helping poorer nations (nations to give $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020)
  • Countries publishing greenhouse gas reduction targets
  • Goal to have a carbon-neutral world