Remarks of H.E. Dr. Zahir TaninÂ Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United NationsÂ Five â€œTowers of Knowledge â€“ An Exhibition of Afghanistan in Ancient Pictures (1747 â€“ 1973)
I would like to thank the Permanent Mission of Germany for hosting this important Exhibition. Â I would also like to expressÂ my gratitude toÂ the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and Liechtenstein forÂ co-sponsoring the event with us. Â Finally, I would like to thank and congratulate Professor Paul Bucherer-Dietschi for his tireless work and effort in putting together this wonderful exhibit.
Over the last few decades, the rise and fall of the Taliban, the fight against terrorism, and the hard work of reconstruction have led to a characterization of Afghanistan and its people as mired in perpetual conflict. Â This isÂ a disfiguration of history.Â The five â€œTowers of Knowledgeâ€ that portrayÂ Afghanistan through pictures from 1747 â€“ 1973 trulyÂ capturesÂ our rich history andÂ stunning natural beauty, andÂ introduces imagesÂ ofÂ thatÂ serve as a reminderÂ ofÂ many years ofÂ thriving culture.
The exhibition has been presentedÂ atÂ a timeÂ in which Afghanistanâ€™sÂ history, culture and popularÂ virtues,Â like its politics,Â have been the subject ofÂ misinterpretationsÂ by media,Â pundits,Â andÂ numerous opportunisticÂ â€œobserversâ€. A stereotypeÂ of an Afghanistan thatÂ appears toÂ have never advanced out ofÂ Old TestamentÂ timesÂ has beenÂ trumpeted loudly,Â reflectingÂ incomprehensionÂ of the countryâ€™s past.
We must also look into two other factors that areÂ essential for the idea of suchÂ anÂ exhibition: firstly, aÂ third generation of Afghan refugees is nowÂ entering societyÂ in the US and Europe. Our diaspora in the West is growingÂ quickly. Meanwhile, we speak about the millions of Afghans inÂ the region, particularlyÂ inÂ Iran andÂ Pakistan. Â And we have, in truth,Â become a dispersed nation.
Secondly, in Afghanistan,Â whileÂ afterÂ more thanÂ thirty years of war and struggle,Â and long years of disrupted education,almost allÂ Afghan children have finally had theÂ opportunityto go to school, aÂ generation was raised without formal education; from which most of theÂ TalibanÂ emerged. Â This is howÂ history was lost on millions of young Afghans, how ourÂ national identityÂ wasÂ hurt, andÂ howÂ relations with the past were diluted.
But our hope remains strongÂ and tonightâ€™s exhibition is proof of that. Through such an exhibition we can introduce to the lost generation of todayÂ a visual confirmation ofÂ the magnitude of the past; a fruitful period in history; and untoldÂ storiesÂ ofÂ Afghanistan.Â I am very happy to see we are not alone in such an endeavor. Â Our enemies tried to destroy this history,Â as they did with the great statues of BuddhaÂ at the dawn of the century,Â but our friends – with blood, with money, and with creative efforts – are trying to help us. We recognize and appreciate theseÂ good intentions. Â I just came from an official visit of Germany,Â and no matter howÂ Germans viewÂ their military presence in Afghanistan,Â it was hard to find anyone there who didnâ€™t speak in solidarity with our pain, and better hope for our future.Â For that we are thankful.
These pictures beginÂ with theÂ reign ofÂ Ahmad ShahÂ Abdali(Durani) who established an Afghanistan with its borders extending from Central Asia to Delhi, to the Arabian sea; one of the last greatest empiresÂ of the region. They depict the early 20th century, whichÂ marked an era of advancement in education, governance and development.Â Afghans decidedly entered the way of modernization. In the middle of last century, young peopleÂ in the regionÂ saw Kabul as the Paris of the east.Â TouristsÂ visited from all over the world.Â The UN staff during the India-Pakistan warsÂ cameÂ to Afghanistan for their R and R (rest and recuperation); now UNAMAâ€™s team escapes toÂ five star resorts in Dubai and Kuwait city.
Iâ€™m not trying to glorifyÂ the past,Â but the exhibition portraysÂ the rich history that should be a source of renewed prideÂ in cultural and national identityÂ that can help Afghansto standÂ with their heads high.Â Nostalgia of the past is not a useful emotion, but theseÂ pictures remindÂ us of what we are capable of andÂ that we are part of a region where the avant-gardesÂ ofÂ literature, art, science and religious philosophyÂ emerged long before extremism and intoleranceÂ pushed us intoÂ isolation and ignorance.Â We shouldÂ prepare ourselves forÂ theÂ future throughÂ learningÂ aboutÂ the past.Â Nationalism can be constructiveÂ when it is forward looking. Iâ€™m certain Afghanistan willÂ become again a peaceful, progressive country with the advancement of women, an expanding market andÂ culturalÂ innovation. These pictures help the new generationÂ and perhaps all,Â not onlyÂ toÂ know our history, but to be inspired by it.
Thank youÂ all forÂ coming,Â I hope you enjoy the exhibit.