|Afghan embassy plans to build community centres and schools |
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Abu Dhabi - Lack of community schools and cultural centres is a major challenge for about 200,000 Afghans living the UAE, Afghanistan's ambassador has said.
During an interview with Gulf News, the new ambassador, Abdul Farid Zikria, who was posted as Afghanistan's first full ambassador to the UAE, said it was time the strong Afghan community here have their own schools and cultural and social centres.
Zikria, who was Chief of Protocol in the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, arrived here more than two months ago to assume his ambassadorial duties.
He comes from the Mohammadzai clan of the Durrani tribe in Kandahar.
He is a nuclear engineer by profession.
Talking about his first experience as ambassador, Zikria said: "Despite decades of war, political crises and natural drought in Afghanistan, the government in Kabul and its dip-lomatic missions abroad were able to make progress on many fronts.
"Here in the UAE we have our diplomatic missions involved in further cementing the growing brotherly relations between the two countries.
"However, we have some challenges to meet. Despite a strong community of about 200,000, our children still don't have a school where they can learn in their mother tongues, nor have we a cultural or social centre in the country."
The ambassador said he met a number of community members to float the idea and initiate a project to start a school with the Afghan curriculum.
"We are in the process and discussing with the community members to have such entities here. Most probably we will start with a school in Al Ain, where close to 80,000 Afghans live," said the ambassador, who lived in US and returned to Afghanis-tan in December 2001 to serve his country.
Zikria also said he will discuss it with the Pakistani and Indian ambassadors separately to gain from their experiences on community schools and social centres. Currently Afghan children attend Pakistani, Indian and other private English schools.
He said such centres and schools are necessary for the community, providing them platforms to maintain unity and loyalty for their country through close interaction.
Millions of Afghans have been displaced for decades due to the Soviet invasion and wars.
The Afghan community in the UAE also includes those who came here from Pakistan, where they were living as refugees.
Thousands of these Afghans hold Pakistani passports.
Referring to the restoration of these peoples' citizenship, Zikria said 100 to 120 of them have been approaching the embassy each month since the middle of last year to get Afghan passports.
"Earlier, it was very difficult to change their Pakistani passport as the local authorities would not transfer their residence permits on the new passport.
"However, we took up the issue with the UAE Government and discussed it with them. Finally they agreed to it, and now with the cooperation of the Pakistan Embassy and local authorities we are able to restore former Afghan refugees' citizenship," the ambassador said. He said this was necessary to help former Afghan citizens to return to Afghanistan and play their roles in the reconstruction of their country.
Elaborating on UAE-Afghanistan relations, he said the relations between the two governments are very strong and likely to strengthen further.
He said the two countries enjoy the best of relations due to the personal keenness of President Hamid Karzai and the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
"In his [Shaikh Zayed] sudden death, the people of Afghanistan have lost a fatherly figure. He was the biggest supporter of Afghan during the Soviet invasion and for peace and tranquility in Afghanistan," he said.
"With the strong relations between the two countries, now the Afghan Government is keen to see a full-fledged UAE ambassador deputed to Kabul," the ambassador said.
Referring to Afghanis-tan's efforts to fight narcotics, Zikria said the government immediately after the elections initiated a campaign against drugs.
"It is the top priority of Hamid Karzai's government. I've personally recently visited Jalalabad and was really impressed to see 90 per cent of the poppy growers have decided to opt for other crops.
By the end of the year, the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is set to fall by 50 per cent, though the target was 25 per cent," he said. He said Karzai's campaign to fight narcotics shows tremendous achievements.