Afghanistan, Issues at stake and Viable Solutions: An Interview with H.R.H. Princess India of Afghanistan
photo by the author
HRH Princess India of Afghanistan
At the beginning of January, 2010 in Milan I interviewed H.R.H. Princess India of Afghanistan, one of the daughters of King Amanullah Khan (1892-1960). India is the honorary Cultural Ambassador of Afghanistan to Europe, approved in 2006 by President Hamid Karzai. She is one of the founding members of the Mahmud Tarzi Cultural Foundation (MTCF), which is building a compound in Afghanistan including a cardiovascular hospital complex surrounded by open land for rehabilitation, recreation and sport areas, a library and a museum for Mahmud Tarzi’s works, a street children care center, a women's care center, a congress center and a hotel. Since 2005 she has been serving as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Management of the MTCF.
Amanullah Khan was very resolute in his stance on Afghan autonomy from foreign control, and above all from British influence. In 1923 he instituted the first Constitution of Afghanistan, implemented a code of civil rights and initiated many reforms in order to bring the country into the 20th century. He supported his foreign minister and father-in-law, Mahmud Tarzi, who was the driving force for instituting reforms promoting education and advancement of women.
India lives in Rome since her father had to face an overwhelming opposition to his efforts to renew the country and in January 1929 was forced to resign. He left Afghanistan together with his family, travelling to India, where the princess was born, and finally arriving in Italy.
From the Russian invasion of Afghanistan until the present time Princess India has worked tirelessly for the benefit of women's issues, underprivileged children and medical concerns. In 1984-1996 the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated two amounts of money for bringing Afghan sick children to Italy to receive medical treatments, especially those in need of special surgical operations. India, who planned and managed the project, was able to bring 65 children younger than 18. They were wounded by the Soviet army and they generally were orphans. They were brought by journalists with the help of the International Red Cross. In order to save money and to bring more children, after the surgical operations Princess India took care of them, hosting them at her residence, treating their wounds, feeding them, washing them, like and better than a nurse. One girl resided 2 and half years at Princess India’s home.
India has been also giving successful conferences on her country in Italy as well as in Europe, providing her with the opportunity to educate the public as well as collect funds and goods for schools, orphanages and hospitals in Afghanistan.
Once or twice a year Princess India goes to Kabul, flying—thanks to the Italian Ministry of Defense—in Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircrafts, in order to bring donations from all over Europe aimed at helping Afghan country people: clothes, medicines, shoes, blankets, school supplies, and money. Worthy daughter of her father, in the interview Princess India has offered a new and constructive solution to the military occupation of the country, a totally pacific one. The interview was given almost a year ago but I was able to publish only a few lines of the “cleansed” interview in an Italian newspaper.1 Princess India said uncomfortable truths and English newspapers did not want to publish her speech: Wikileaks on Afghanistan, publishing documents on alleging US misconduct , would be published in July, seven months after the interview, and the media did not believe India’s assertions. Perhaps, they did not want to touch problematic issues at a time when the Western world only praised ISAF and NATO intervention in Afghanistan. The top editor of a leading US magazine openly asked me whether I wanted to make anti American propaganda as a venomous response to a personal feeling against modernization, rationality, law and order, and above all against Western moral values – embodied, that is, by the USA.
How many times do you go to Kabul, and why?
I travel a couple of times each year to distribute gifts and donations made by European countries. Italians are the most generous among them. Recently, thanks to the help of the Comitato italiano di solidarietà con l’Afghanistan (Italian Committee of Solidarity with Afghanistan – CISA), I brought some six quintals of new clothes, blankets, medicines, school supply and some money from Prato airport, a town close to Florence, to Kabul.
Why do you go there? It should be tiring and there is no need to bring those items in person.
Of course I need to be there to check that supplies are not stolen or given away as a bribe to local officials.
President Barack Obama stated that the war in Afghanistan is “absolutely essential” and he will send more troops in Afghanistan. Quoting Ahmad Shah Massoud’s words in his letter to the people of America in 1998, therefore even before the Western occupation, “For many Afghans, regardless of ethnicity or religion, Afghanistan […] is once again an occupied country”. What do you think of Obama’s policy? Will it best serve the interests of the country?
Obama is not alone in all this, there are other countries. Anyway, nothing helps if the West produces and sells weapons to Talibans, directly or indirectly, via Saudi Arabia. Talibans are financed by Western countries, opium is sold through northern and southern routes outside Afghanistan. Western countries for over one year bombed mountains with enriched uranium bombs in order to kill Bin Laden. Those weapons ended up in the environment, the consequence is that malformed and brain-damaged animals and children were born in those areas. A large part of people now suffer of thyroid and leukaemia, there is a toxic cloud in southern Afghanistan, in the Talibans’ affected areas, but Western armies keep bombing rocks and not opium fields. I want to underline that opium revenues benefit only a very few people, who with that money build skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
A noble war was that to defend the country from Soviet invaders, this war is terrible because Talibans are motivated, Western soldiers are mercenary. Mujahedeen are those warriors who ameliorate themselves, engage in jihad to make themselves better, purer, and it is not true that jihad is not mentioned in Qu’ran like the injuction to wear a niqab or the saying that women should be educated just like men. Afghan Mullah read the Qu’ran in Arabic and do not understand it because they do not know Arabic. Taliban leaders are mostly Arabic speaking men and do not know what to do with kidnapped Westerners, they do not understand them and need an interpreter. Most kidnapped Westerners, such as journalists, look for being kidnapped to become famous, and we have even to pay for them while Afghan people are massacred.
Do you think that Western forces – some 130,930 ISAF and 48,000 US soldiers so far – are enough to defeat Taliban and terrorist groups?
I do not think so. They should occupy the whole Afghanistan, not only areas of the country, but in southern regions nobody knows exactly what is happening, there are too many interests involved. What is important is who has the power and who has the money. People who control the region and have money, those are important and with them Westerners should find an agreement, a solution to peacefully run the country.
What is the solution then? If there is a solution.
Of course there is a solution to really benefit the country: to defeat the opium farming. In fact there are two kinds of Talibans, those who really believe in the Holy War, who are trained in some madrasas to bring order in the country, and those who most probably live very well with the opium traffic. There are no “good Talibans”, those who are really good are only puppets in the hands of leaders, they do not have any power. The good thing is that people, and especially women, at least in Kabul and neighborhoods do not want Talibans. Girls go to school and to the university of Kabul. After 2001, when the university re-opened, the first students who enrolled walking in between two wings of men were women. Even those wearing chadors and burqas. It was reopened also the University of Nangarhar in Jalalabad, of the most important cities of pashtun culture.
What about the neighbour states? What viable solution they think of for Afghanistan?
I do not think they are friends to the country. Pakistan double or triple cross Afghanistan. Neither Pakistan nor the other countries want a free and strong Afghanistan, they much prefer a weak and instable government, which is useful to the opium trade. Drug traffic has increased and is less controlled than before. Long ago in Iran the opium farming was allowed, it was state-controlled, it was forbidden by the Shah.
Therefore you do not think of a solution for peace?
The enemy is sneaky, Talibans are ceaselessly fed with fresh and young fighters from Muslim countries, and from Western countries with weapons, money and opium traffics. Nobody really knows who the enemy is, good pashtun day farmers in the night become Talibans. Therefore, I think that the country can find peace not through army battles or the occupation, but following these three ways:
- restoring agricultural production, people are starving since too long time, are sick, literally sick, and tired. We need irrigations systems, we need to build or excavate water wells, and we need to de-mine fields.
- To have peace we need to educate teachers, good teachers able to provide female children, and above all male children, with a good, respectful yet modern education.
- Alien soldiers should leave the country. Italians are mostly deployed in southern regions, they are generally accepted because they respect locals, they enroll not to be recruited by transnational criminal organizations like mafia and camorra since Italy does not offer many jobs today. Belgian Air Force is deployed in airports such as that of Kandahar. British soldiers are not liked for historical reasons [the three Anglo-Afghan wars - Editor’s note]. US men who enroll often do not have high ethical standards, when they walk out they are sometimes drunk, they even killed civilians and did not pay their families, nor they apologized, they apologized with Karzai only.
Do you think that Italy should leave Afghanistan?
Italy has also benefitted ordinary people, the Italian Cooperation has remodeled the Esteqlal Hospital of Kabul. At the center of the complex they have constructed a 2 floor building for burns, which are a major public health issue in Afghanistan. A large number of burn injuries occur in domestic settings and patients are mostly young girls who set themselves on fire to escape unwanted marriages arranged by their families with much older men. Those families are usually indebted with Russian rich men, they cannot give them the money back and marry off their daughters. This is a major issue among young Afghan girls.
- Enrica Garzilli, “La principessa India: per salvare Kabul debelliamo I traffici di oppio e di armi”, in Il Messaggero, March 21, 2010, p. 15. ↩