Language Controversy

The predominant use of Dari in grand assembly proceedings has angered many Pashto-speakers.

Language Controversy

The predominant use of Dari in grand assembly proceedings has angered many Pashto-speakers.

Afghanistan’s language question has been rearing its head at the Loya Jirga. While regulations state that discusions should be in the country's two official languages, Dari and Pashto, most business has been conducted in the former.

This was the case in voting in the Jirga’s first major election - for the post of assembly head - with some delegates complaining they could not follow the proceedings."I didn’t understand the elections and put my paper blank into the voting box," said Asadullah from Oruzgan province

Yar Khan Wazzer said that not everyone from his home of Paktika could keep up with everything said in Dari, and called for at least key parts of the discussions be translated into Pashto.

"If both languages are spoken, it is better that important information be given in both languages," said Haji Abdul Wakil from Balkh province. The organisers of the assembly appeared to get the message and ensured that there were bilingual announcements in the head of state ballot

As Afghanistan tries to move towards national unity, many delegates want to play down any differences that they feel could be a cause of division. But there are suspicions that some are exploiting the senstive language issue to sow the seeds of discord.

"There are people everywhere who want to break national unity through language prejudice. Afghanistan, in its 5,000 years of history, has never accepted a language or religious bias - and will never do so," said Taj Mohammad Wardak."Those elements fanning the fire should stop because these acts are shameful."

Afghanistan’s many different languages are inextricably tied into questions of class and regional and ethnic allegiance.

Traditionally, Dari has been the lingua franca of educated Afghans from all groups. But Pashto is also an official language in recognition of the fact that the Pashtuns are the country’s largest ethnic group.

During Burhannudin Rabbani’s presidency, from 1992 to 1996, Dari was promoted to some extent. Then, when the Taleban came to power they changed everything to Pashto. Some Kabuli residents say they were beaten just for talking Dari in the streets.

President-elect Hamed Karzai speaks both fluently and is careful to switch between them in domestic speeches. Many of the elected delegates to the Loya Jirga come from far flung parts of the country and speak minority languages, many have at least some grasp one of the two official tongues.

Danesh Kerokheil is an IWPR trainee.

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