Building Up Afghanistan’s National Identity

Rebuilding the country’s national identity serves as a counter-narrative to the localism that breeds and perpetuates conflict, and also brings communities together around a shared history. Governors, mayors, and other leaders have been. encouraged to use historical and living cultural resources to advance pluralism. Afghanistan’s wealth of culture and heritage is an asset to foster nation building, social cohesion and a sense of belonging.  In December 2015, the government inaugurated its National Trust Fund for Cultural Heritage and the Creative Industries, which is the mechanism for implementing the strategy to rebuild the country’s cultural heritage.

Achieved (2/5): 40.0 Achieved (2/5): 40.0 %Partially achievedand on-going (2/5):40.0 % Partially achievedand on-going (2/5):40.0 %In process (1/5): 20.0 %In process (1/5): 20.0 %Achieved (2/5)Percentage: 40.0

– Rebuild our sense of national identity as a counternarrative to the localism that breeds and perpetuates conflict.
 PROGRESS: – In process.
  • Afghanistan’s National Program for Culture and Creative Economy (NPCE) was established in 2016 by the National Unity Government, with assistance as a framework program for rebuilding the country’s national identity. The overall goal is to improve employment opportunities in the field of creative economy and to improve the capacity of national institutions in safeguarding cultural heritage. The program aims at revitalizing living arts, and to invest in the sense of national identity which is essential in promoting cohesion in a fragile state. Following the designing phase, the detailed plan was established and approved by a steering committee in April 2017. The implementation of the program is on-going with leadership from five ministries through the steering committee.

– Encouraging domestic tourism
 PROGRESS: – Partially achieved and on-going.
  • In 2017, about 500 foreign tourists visited the cultural and historical heritage sites in Herat and more than 100,000 domestic tourists visited the city. Badakhshan brought in 14,000 domestic tourists, and 156 foreign tourists in 2017.
  • Tourism indicators for sustainable development purposes, the National Tourism Policy, and the action plan for establishing a tourism institute have been developed.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization specialists have been invited to provide consultation on the development of the tourism industry.
  • The National Unity Government has tasked the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage with developing a national plan in coordination with the government to explore ways to increase tourism across the country.
  • The Herat provincial government spent $3 million restoring cultural heritage sites, including the Temple of Herat.
  • ;Bamiyan has huge potential in terms of being a cradle for fostering creative economy. In 2015, Bamiyan was elected as the capital of the South Asian countries (SAARC), and one of the first Creative Cities in Central Asia by the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
  • With recognizing also the fact that tangible cultural heritage adds up to the development of domestic tourism, stabilization works of the Buddha niches and the preservation of the archaeological and historical site of Shahr-e Gholghola within the Bamiyan World Heritage Site is currently being carried out by the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Urban Development, with the assistance of UNESCO. In order to form a venue to train and support the community in fostering creative economy including tourism, the construction of the Bamiyan Cultural Centre was inaugurated in 2016, and is currently scheduled to open to the public in spring 2019. The Centre will be the pilot hub to support cultural diversity and the creative industries in Bamiyan, and in the whole Afghanistan.

– Local governance leaders encouraged to use historical and living cultural resources to advance pluralism
 PROGRESS: –  Achieved.
  • Many of the governments plans for cultural heritage integration and preservation have been driven and supported by local governance and actively engage the local community. For example, the Bamiyan Cultural Centre project has the strong endorsement of the local government. The draft Special Plan for the Old City of Herat (SPOCH) was developed with close consultation with the local governance of Herat.
  • In September 2017, with the endorsement of the Presidential Palace, and as part of the NPCE, the Afghan government, with the support of UNESCO, organized a four-day mission to carry out the first thorough scientific survey of the Minaret of Jam in Ghor province, a survey which serves as the basis for a detailed conservation program of the Minaret. The NPCE inaugurated an exhibition, “The Minaret of Jam”, in August 2018. A video of the mission can be watched at this link.
  • In April 2017, the Governor of Herat co-organized with the NPCE a landmark conference on Tourism, Urban Planning and Heritage Management attended by major government stakeholders. As a direct result of the conference and its recommendations, the Office of the President drafted the following decree which was issued on October 2017: “On the restoration and preservation of historical, cultural heritage sites and monuments of the old city of Herat and preparation of the Herat Management Plan as a typical model for other historic cities in Afghanistan.” The main instructions in the decree included the following:
    • The Directorate for the Rehabilitation of Historical Cities was created within the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing in substitution of the Department of Revitalization of Historic Cities at the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC).
    • The Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MUDH) is drafting a Comprehensive Management Plan to maintain the historical authenticity and architecture of the old city of Herat and improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. The Ministry of Finance will allocate funds to implement the plan.
    • MoIC is creating a the Register of National Monuments, starting with Herat.
    • The Herat Municipality was tasked with the day-to-day management of heritage properties and the Independent Directorate for Local Governance with allocating the necessary funds for this to the Municipality.
  • The Afghanistan Cultural Centers Network is being established to create a biotope for culture at the municipal level in Afghanistan. The long term aim is to foster the creation of cultural networks in which cultural centres under local management will act as hubs for creation and information. Bamiyan Cultural Centre serves as a pilot project for this network.
  • The Afghanistan Creative Cities Network is being established to assist municipalities and the Departments of Information and Culture to spread the knowledge of their cultural product and activities to other cities of the world. As a pilot, Bamiyan City was nominated to be a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Currently, Herat and Jalalabad municipalities are aiming to be nominated as the Cities of Design and Literature in 2019.
  • To advocate for the right to culture of all Afghans, a pilot project in two camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Herat to conduct participatory theatres for IDP youths was successfully implemented in 2017, at the request of the Herat local government. 20 IDP youths were trained to create two plays on their experience of displacement, and the performances were staged in over 10 public and private schools in the host community. A short documentary entitled “Home: A Story of Displacement” was made to show the impact of the pilot project. The project is planned to continue in late 2018.

– Incorporate culture into development planning
 PROGRESS: – Achieved.
  • The Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC), with the assistance of UNESCO, is revising the current Law on the Protection of Heritage Properties in Afghanistan. The revision will enable the government to lay the groundwork for an effective combination of culture with modernization at the legal, institutional and operational level, by aligning the provisions with international standards and with ratified international conventions. The draft revision is currently being appraised by the Ministry of Information and Culture.
  • In May 2016, the government inaugurated Afghanistan’s National Program for Culture and Creative Economy.
  • 47 restoration and preservation of historical monuments’ projects have started implementation from 2014 to 2017, with 35 projects already completed. Completion of the three phases of the reconstruction of the Darulaman Palace is an essential part of this process. The Aga Khan Foundation has is working to rehabilitate 24 sites, the Afghan Cultural Heritage Conservation Organisation (ACHCO) has rehabilitated four sites, and UNESCO is working to rehabilitate 2 sites.
  • The Ministry of Information and Culture, with the assistance of UNESCO, and in coordination with the Ministry of Mines & Petroleum (MoMP) initiated the the Afghanistan Heritage & Extractive Industries Development Initiative to develop suitable strategies to integrate the preservation of physical cultural resources in the government’s efforts to promote the extractive sector in the country. The project is in its second phase since October 2107 and has generated the following achievements:
  • – Supported the revision of the National Law for the Protection of Heritage Properties
  • Organized targeted training and mentoring initiatives to enhance the capacity of Afghan professionals
  • Provided the relevant authorities with concrete tools for the preventive identification and monitoring of physical cultural resources in prioritized areas of interest, through remote archaeological screening and preparation of the first digital database of heritage sites
  • Provided technical support to the relevant authorities, notably the MoIC, in the survey, documentation and preservation of the archaeological site of Mes Aynak
  • The government has emphasized sports as a part of building national identity and culture. Enforcement of the Afghanistan Sports Law, which was recently drafted, is helping to regulate the sports sector. Licenses were issued for coaches in 51 different sports, and 550 athletes were selected as the representatives of their sport. Multiple new sports stadiums around the country have been built in order to encourage sports activities, including for women and persons with disabilities.
  • Following the first Kabul Photo Biennale in 2015, the second Biennale was organized in 2017 on the theme of “Rebirth”. The Biennale which entailed a nation-wide competition and a series of exhibitions with the result inside and outside Afghanistan, aimed at promoting better image of the country by fostering a spirit of positive dialogue.

– School curriculum and teacher training programs must encourage pluralism
 PROGRESS: – Partially achieved and on-going.
  • Another objective of the NPCE is to enhance the knowledge of Afghan university students in culture-oriented studies in five areas: a) urban planning; b) architecture; c) preservation and conservation of historical sites; d) archaeology; e) design and visual art. Work on-going over the past year has been to widen the offer of available texts books; organize conferences in relevant university departments; improve the current format and contents of relevant University courses; and facilitate the development of exchange programs among Afghan universities. After extensive consultations, UNESCO and the government sighed partnership agreements with Kabul Polytechnic University in November 2017, and the University of Herat.
  • To improve the quality of higher Education in the field of culture, workshops were conducted for university professors, students and technical staff from key ministries (MOIC and MUDH). Trainings have been delivered to plan safeguarding roadmaps for the Old City of Herat and the Minaret of Jam.
  • An internship program at the Bamiyan Cultural Centre construction site was implemented to offer young Afghan female engineers and technicians an on-site training. 5 engineers were trained from the Spring internship in 2018, and 5 more is to be trained during the Autumn internship.