Reflecting on the year in Afghanistan

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman speaks with Sultana Parvanta, a former official with Afghanistan's Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Ms. Parvanta lives in Kabul? and she says this is a special time of the year to be in the Afghan capital.

MARCO WERMAN: Afghanistan is home for Sultana Parvanta. She's a former official with Afghanistan's Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Ms. Parvanta lives in Kabul, and she says this is a special time of the year to be in the Afghan capital.

SULTANA PARVANTA: Winter is beautiful here, actually. You see these magnificent mountains that surround the city full of snow right now against the blue sky and the sunshine, but cold and crisp. It's really beautiful. So it's a good time of the year for quiet time, for sitting around the fire, if you will or the around the hotties, as we call them, the heating instruments. So I think it is a hopeful and optimistic time, as we have put the elections behind us, as hard as it was for us. But now I think it's shifted, and we have a new cabinet, and Afghans have no option but to be hopeful right now, and hold a vision for peace and for stability and for prosperity.

WERMAN: It sounds like it's easier in Kabul in winter, a peaceful time of year, as you say to envision peace.

PARVANTA: I think so. I think people are more internal. You have to sit around, be with the family, keep warm, locate the whole family in one room. You go more to visit because at night instead of staying in one place in the cold, and people gather together, and stay warm together.

WERMAN: You know, from here, President Obama's new strategy on Afghanistan, quite frankly, still looks kind of risky. Nobody really knows how it's going to play out, and I'm just wondering why you think that right now here we are in the winter, the year's about to change, why you feel kind of optimistic that there's a new start, a new window of opportunity here?

PARVANTA: Well, to see the outreach or the reaching out of the west in so many ways in civil manner and military manner to help Afghans to put their lives back together is really touching. We just have to be optimistic, and Mr. Obama making the commitment to send new forces. But at the same time, I think there's also a lot of conversation about really having emphasis on ways to curb corruption, on ways to emphasize more development. I think those are really important. And I just hope that all of these efforts really focus on the main issues that directly relate issues of violence and bring about peace.

WERMAN: Do you think they will?

PARVANTA: I think so. I think that we have to focus on a few things, and I think that there are a couple of major avenues that directly impact peace. I think Afghans have been so long isolated from the world. For 30 years, schools were basically closed. Universities were less than half-functioning. The doors were locked to the west to any ideas. I think we need to have Afghans become aware that there are people around the world, who live differently, and yet peacefully across various differences whether it's ethnicity, whether it's language or sectarianism. We need to make Afghans aware that there are people who coexist in peace, and we need to learn these things. I think we have to make peace look good.

WERMAN: And I'm wondering, as a former government official, you think about these things, Ms. Parvanta, all the time, so what are your thoughts about how to get Afghans from there to here to get the same sort of optimism that you've got?

PARVANTA: Well, Afghans go to the winning side. This is a part of our psyche and operation. People in Afghanistan, I think it's also in the culture, but I think these years of war have really brought that to forefront, and as part of the cultural perspective of people is they believe what they see. Very pragmatic people.

WERMAN: You alluded earlier to a small, but I think important snapshot of that pragmatism when you were talking about how people get together to stay warm at night. I mean, that's a very basic need. Tell me what those scenes are like, and what do people talk about, and do you think that that is a way people can kind of like get back to what unites the country?

PARVANTA: Afghans are very family-oriented. Around the family, there's this old traditional system of heating we call sandali, and basically imagine a table, a square table with half of the length of the legs like a western dining table like cut the legs in half and put it on the ground, and they put a heater underneath it with charcoal. That's the burning charcoal. They put that under this table, and on top of this table, they put huge blankets, big, big blankets. I mean, like really big. And then on the far side of this table, for example, about a meter away from this table, there are these big cushions that you can lean on. And then everybody sits and pulls this blanket over them, and they sit around this warm table, all covered underneath by the heat.

And for example, these nights, these conversations are very family oriented. It's about the country, about politics, about what everybody did that day. Afghans are conversationalists. They are still that culture of people and relationships is very, very alive. And these are the things we have not used very much, in terms of reaching the people, and we have done some like the national solidarity program is totally like a grassroots movement that the government initiated with international assistance, which is local governance coming back from the grassroots through local councils or we call them shoras.

WERMAN: So I guess the thing to do is to visualize that sandali that heating table, which unites everybody peacefully.

PARVANTA: The idea of communal gathering, solving problems together, and also across the sandali, you talk. It's a conversation that solves all problems, it's the communication, it's like what you and I are doing right now is so incredibly valuable, and it's very, very essential and human. And if we have something to find a solution to, we can do it through these kinds of conversations, so that is the image. The image of being together, looking for ways to solve problems, looking for peace, looking for a better future because after all, we are human. We can do these things. I mean, we're amazing.

WERMAN: Well, Sultana Parvanta, I enjoyed the conversation very much, thank you.

PARVANTA: Well, I wanna thank you for giving me this chance because I really wanna thank everyone who right now is helping Afghanistan, and thanks for the support, and many thanks for the vision of the peace, and for all of us all over the world, and for the people of Afghanistan. Thank you.

WERMAN: Sultana Parvanta lives in Kabul, which is where she spoke to us from. Very good to speak with you again, thanks so much, and happy holidays.

PARVANTA: Thank you. Happy holidays to all of you.