On August 30, 2016, the International School Network visited the Embassy of Afghanistan to interview the Ambassador, His Excellency Dr. Sayed M. Amin Fatimie and the Deputy Head of Mission Minister-Counsellor, Dr. Bashir Mohabbat.
We were served delicious Afghan cuisine for lunch and the former Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jason Pratt took us on a tour around the Embassy.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie expressed to us his passion for maintaining durable peace. He stated, “We [Afghans] are the victims of regional and international terrorism”. He introduced to us that more than 50 extremist terrorist groups hold their roots, including safe havens and training facilities, just outside Afghanistan. Afghans have been putting up with daily outbreaks of violence, which H.E. Dr. Fatimie explains, “War has been imposed on us”. H.E. Dr. Fatimie expressed that Afghans are peace-loving and freedom-loving people, and that they are fed up with war. As an ambassador, minister, and as an individual, H.E. Dr. Fatimie aspires to see a peaceful and violence-free nation, with no more destruction or loss of the lives of his citizens, including children.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie explained to us that there are certain circles within the region in Asia who have the desire to change Afghanistan so that the battle of war continues. H.E. Dr. Fatimie states that Afghan people and leaders believe that durable peace is important not only for Afghanistan but also for the entire world. He believes that the states actors who provide for the terrorist groups will soon suffer from the terrorism themselves because terrorist groups are “snakes” who will turn against them; terrorists are criminals who cannot recognize borders. He also firmly stated that terrorists cannot be Muslims. “How can a Muslim kill another Muslim in a mosque?”
H.E. Dr. Fatimie believes that Afghanistan has a wonderful constitution which allows people to enjoy liberty and the freedom of choice. A good example that shows this is the presidential election of 2014- 7 million people in Afghanistan casted their votes, in which more than 40% were female. Despite the violence and bad weather (snow) in the majority of the country, this high number of votes showed how Afghans embrace democracy and how they are able to “push [terrorism] to the wall”. H.E. Dr. Fatimie stated that this acts as a message to the neighbors of Afghanistan and the terrorist groups that Afghans want democracy and freedom, and that leaders should be chosen through words and not through violence.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie is concerned that some countries use terrorists as strategic tools and violence for political negotiations. He introduced to us that there are some countries who differentiate between good and bad terrorist groups. H.E. Dr. Fatimie believes that terrorists cannot be good, and that those who do not agree to the constitutions should not be influencing governments. If appositions want to join the government, they should first accept the constitution, and undergo the democratic process. H.E. Dr. Fatimie firmly believes that social justice is the foundation for lasting peace. For durable peace, everyone should have access to human rights, including health and education.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie explained that Afghanistan has been making many efforts to promote peace as a strategic goal. He stated, “We believe in long term peace. And, as a student, you should know that social justice is the key to durable peace.” There are too many conflicts occurring in Afghanistan, with terrorists invading into the country from various neighboring areas. H.E. Dr. Fatimie is concerned that the terrorists are fighting to destabilize the republics of the region and eventually the entire world. Afghanistan as a nation has been fighting together to eliminate such terrorist acts and armed groups who do not accept the constitution. H.E. Dr. Fatimie expressed, “We would like to assure you that we want peace” and “We are fighting on behalf of all human beings.”
H.E. Dr. Fatimie introduced to us an Afghan dish: mantu- steamed dumplings stuffed with lamb, onion sauce, and yogurt sauce. He explained that it is similar to the Japanese/Chinese gyoza. Mantu is a favorite dish for many Afghan families, including his own. H.E. Dr. Fatimie also brought up an Afghan dish similar to the Japanese Tempura. It is a type of fried fish and vegetables.
In Afghan culture, the host who serves food will be happy if the guests eats a lot, because it would indicate that the food was delicious. This is a feature similar to Japan. H.E. Dr. Fatimie also told us that his family enjoys sushi. In Bamiyan there is only one sushi restaurant and it is run by a Japanese lady.
Before becoming the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Japan, H.E. Dr. Fatimie worked in the Ministry of Health. His mission has therefore always been to save and protect the lives of his people, and to promote health for all human beings. He stated his dislike for knives; he explained that with knives, you can hurt others, but alternatively with pens, you can promote education, which bounds the foundation of all sectors and promotes peace. H.E. Dr. Fatimie’s definition for education is “prosperity, peace, stability, security, social security”. Therefore H.E. Dr. Fatimie believes that students have a great potential in promoting peace and prosperity for generations to come.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie explained to us that almost all Afghans know the importance of education. H.E. Dr. Fatimie stated that Afghans love “acquiring knowledge” and speaking to those who are educated. This is shown through the dedication of Afghan students; many Afghan children walk for miles to attend schools, sometimes climbing and crossing mountains on the way.
The government of Afghanistan spends the most on the sector of security and the second most on education. In 2001, Afghanistan restored their democracy with the support of the international community, and since then, education has been one of the priority areas. Before the establishment of the democracy in 2001, only about 700 thousand children were enrolled in schools, in which none were girls as females were not granted access to education. On the other hand, now there are more than 9.5 million children who go to school, and 40% of them are girls. Until 2005, the facilities for education were still insufficient; there were not enough buildings for children to go to school. Therefore children attended classes in open atmospheres, such as in outside classrooms held in tents or in mosques. Today, there are more than 17 thousand schools in the nation. Yet even today, there still are areas where children study in tents because of the lack of educational facilities, which they must walk for miles to reach from their homes.
Afghanistan has two national languages, Pashto and Dari, in which basic subjects are taught. However other languages are taught in secondary schools such as English, German, French, and Arabic. Dr. Mohabbat explained that high schools in Afghanistan allow for students to learn different languages, and so they can continue their studies abroad after graduation. He himself had studied French in high school and then abroad in France. He explained that Afghan students therefore have a choice of which foreign language they wish to pursue.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie added that there are high schools in Afghanistan that are supported by different countries, and each school offers classes for the language of the country the school is affiliated to. For example, the high school H.E. Dr. Fatimie studied at was supported by United States, and so he learnt English as a foreign language. There are other schools officially affiliated with or sponsored by countries such as France, Germany, and Turkey, who each teach the language of their country, which are respectively French, German, and Turkish. H.E. Dr. Fatimie hopes that a high school can be established in Afghanistan with an affiliation to Japan so Afghan children can learn Japanese. “Our people love Japan,” he explained, and he believes this can further strengthen the countries’ bond and friendship.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie introduced to us that 28% of parliamentarians in Afghanistan are women, and the country has 4 women ministers, 4 women ambassadors, many female police officers, and female pilots who bravely fight against insurgents. Since the restoration of democracy in 2001, Afghan women have returned to their place in the country. H.E. Dr. Fatimie observed that in 2003 when he was appointed as the Minister of Health, there were less than 400 female health workers in the country. Yet now, there are 3,700 female physicians, more than 5,000 midwives, and many other female health personnel.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie recommends Bamiyan as a tourist destination. He described Bamiyan as being a peaceful province located in Central Afghanistan. The people in Bamiyan are generous and hospitable. He explains that Bamiyan is an attractive destination for both locals and tourists.
The national park in Bamiyan is very beautiful. The Hindu Kush Mountains, a worldwide famous mountain range, are located in Bamiyan, H.E. Dr. Fatimie introduced to us that some of the mountains there are more than 5,000 meters high in elevation above sea level. There are six lakes above the Hindu Kush Mountains, which are almost at 3,000 meters elevation above sea level. Bamiyan also used to be home to the tallest Buddha statues in the world (53 meters) on the East but they were unfortunately destroyed by the Taliban terrorist group.
Dr. Mohabbat added that Afghanistan is a country with abundant fuel and national resources. The country is both rich in the quantity and quality of minerals. He recommends seeing the stones of emerald and rubies.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie used the metaphor of a coin to symbolize globalization. Globalization has two sides, one of which is positive, and the other negative. H.E. Dr. Fatimie explained that we cannot stop globalization, but we can control it by choosing how to proceed with the choices we have. H.E. Dr. Fatimie gave us examples of the positive and negative effects of globalization in three different fields: economy, health, and culture.
In the economic aspect, globalization can be beneficial for people because companies can expand and operate in new areas, allowing the countries to send goods and services overseas and the people in the host countries to benefit from them. Yet a negative aspect of this is that some companies will focus on branching out to countries with low wages, which can lead to inequality and abuse of labor. H.E. Dr. Fatimie explains that globalization can therefore improve the economy of the world but at the same time if it is not controlled well, it will cause inequality, not only across countries but also between people in the same country.
As where health is concerned, globalization can improve the accessibility of medicines and advanced technologies. If this is focused well, we can improve the health situation of people across the globe by the improvement of the quality of medicine and treatment, and safe and efficient technology. However, the negative side of globalization for health would be the increased traveling. The movement of not only people but also animals and products can spread diseases to many people, and can affect people, animals, and plants in different ecosystems.
The positive effect of globalization to culture would be that a globalized society would be provide for a more supportive environment for different cultures, promoting acceptance, tolerance, and understanding. This can allow people across the world to work together and cooperate harmoniously. Yet on the negative side, globalization may create clashes between cultures, which can lead to severe consequences. H.E. Dr. Fatimie hopes that globalization will be under our control so that it can be ensured that the people can benefit from its positive impacts.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie introduced to us that Japan is well-known amongst Afghan people. He observed that in Kabul, you can see more Toyota vehicles on the streets than you can in Tokyo. He stated that this proves the Afghan love towards Japanese products. He explained that Afghan people also enjoy the high quality of Japanese clothing.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie expressed to us his “humble request to the youth of Japan”, whom he described as the “leaders of tomorrow” and “builders of the world and the future”. He wishes that students can make every effort to promote peace through all ways and means and to create a supportive and loving environment for the world. He stated that the youth of Japan will not only be the leaders of the country’s future, but also that of the world, as the world is “expecting a lot” from the youth. H.E. Dr. Fatimie explained his confidence for such effects to result in a “stable, peaceful, and prosperous world”.”Victory will be on your side,” he stated.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie also expressed that he does not want students to “forget poor countries”. He explained to us that Japan has always been a proven supporter of peace and development of the world. Through various efforts and financial contributions, Japan has changed the lives of people in more than 180 countries since after of World War II when Japan had become the second economic power of the world in 1968. Japan became the biggest contributor and supporter of developing countries, and now is the second largest contributor to the United Nations. H.E. Dr. Fatimie aspires Japan to “please keep up this excellent work [of promoting] peace and development of the world”. He expressed, “I offer my salutations and admiration to the noble nation of Japan”
After the interview H.E. Ambassador Dr. Fatimie showed us videos of Afghan music, including both traditional, classic music with the national dance, and modern music. He explained that while the energy for our body is food, “energy for the soul is music”.
The Ambassador’s Message
H.E. Ambassador Dr. Fatimie expressed that it is a “great honor to serve as a link” between Afghanistan and Japan, “two nations who enjoy friendly relations”. He promised that he will “spare no efforts” in further strengthening the bonds and friendship between the two nations through various means. He stated, “When the people of Japan are happy, we, Afghans, share your joy”.
H.E. Dr. Fatimie expressed to us his thoughts and prayers for the victims of the flood in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. He explained that when Japan is suffering, it is a time for him to express his sincerest condolences on behalf of the people and government of Afghanistan. The flooding in Iwate Prefecture claimed the precious lives of 15 people and displaced 1600. He expressed his thoughts for “the families of the victims” and the “entire noble nation of Japan”.
The Embassy of Afghanistan in Tokyo is a very beautiful building, with four floors and a roof. The second basement floor is used for storage, and the Ambassador’s residence is located on the second floor. Mr. Pratt showed us around every other floor of the Embassy.
On the first floor is the Al-Biruni hall, named after Al-Biruni, an Afghan philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Mr Pratt explained to us that most events are held in this hall, and that this hall is also used a cultural center. The interior is decorated beautifully with artwork that represent Afghan culture. All of the carpets in the room were made in Afghanistan by hand specifically for the embassy. The carpets have the words “Embassy of Afghanistan in Tokyo” written in the design. On the wall are paintings that show Afghan history and culture, including a picture of a king that promoted education and poetry throughout Afghan history. There was a picture of low table and chairs, which Mr Pratt noted that it is similar to the Japanese kotatsu. Mr. Pratt also showed us artifacts including a lapis lazuli (blue stone) vase. This stone is only home to two countries in the world; one of which is Afghanistan
The offices and kitchen of the embassy are located on the first basement floor. We visited the Ambassador’s office. There were two areas, one smaller area for get togethers and another more ceremonial area for welcoming bigger groups. The office featured the two countries’ flags, Afghan and Japanese, and various photos. There is a shelf holding gifts the Ambassador has received both in Afghanistan and Japan. Mr. Pratt explained that such gifts show the importance of connections and symbolizes important meetings. One of the gifts, a soccer ball piece, was given as a token for an Afghan man working in Japan and his group who made a new system for the soccer ball. This system allowed for a machine to detect whether or not a goal was made even if the referee did not look. This system was first used in the FIFA World Cup in Japan, and is now a standard system.
Another particular gift the Ambassador showed to us was a precious gift from the Minister of Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami from the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Afghanistan had made donations to the victims of the earthquake on a government level, societal level, and through local initiative of the embassy (including diplomats and Afghans living in Japan). These donations were directly delivered to the people in Fukushima as well as those from Fukushima living in other prefectures such as Iwate. This gift was presented to H.E. Dr. Fatimie on his visit to Fukushima, as a token as gratitude and friendship. Mr. Pratt added that the Afghan contribution is remembered even today, as two days prior to the interview, the governor of Iwate had tweeted about 5 countries who pledged friendship to Iwate, in which the list included Afghanistan.
We then visited the library of the Embassy. The wood that decorated the room were made in Afghanistan, and each pillar represents an important religion from Afghan history. For example, one of them is a Torch (fire). At the back of the library is a lovely mosque, with carpets that face Mecca so Muslims can pray in a clean and peaceful place.
From the roof can be seen very old stone steps below that date back to the Tokugawa period. The area was before owned by the Tokugawa family and then became a Buddhist school where the Emperor studied. The roof now is a lovely place where one can drink tea while remembering history outside even in the rain as the area for tables and chairs are roofed.
Madoka Nishina Keio University
Kate Shimizu Doshisha University