Afghan farmers' landmark visit to the United Kingdom
By: Abdul Ali Faiq
After the London conference held on 30 January 2006, the Senlis Council organized another historical exceptional program for Afghan farmers on Friday 3rd of February 2006. Afghan and non-Afghan guests were invited to a gathering at the Plaza St James Hotel, in London. All those gathered at the hotel left in a coach for Heathrow Airport at 17:00 for to meet our farmers. The organizers of the program were anxiously waiting at waiting area to receive the farmers. The farmers wearing shirt with Afghanistan's name imprinted on them carried their country's flag. The camera man was snapping their photos to the watchful eyes of the people at the arrival area who were wondering who the important guests were. All the people who had gone to see the farmers were waiting with a lot of hope, cheers, and happiness and love to see their farmers. Suddenly we saw our guests appeared with exhausted faces and we went closer and hugged them with happiness and tears. The Biographies of Afghan farmers are as the following:
Mr. Mohammad Alam :( 1)
Mr. Alam is from the Zaghal tribe of the Shinwar district in Nangarhar Province, and speaks both Pashto and Dari. Mr. Alam is married with eight children. However due to financial and transport constraints his children do not attend school. He explained that life is hell in Afghanistan compared to other country
Mr. Mohammad Ata: (2)
Mr. Ata is a Tajik from Parwan province. He is married and has eleven children. Due to financial constraints and the remoteness of his farm, Mr. Ata's children do not attend school. During Russian invasion and the Taliban era, Mr. Ata took his family to Pakistan for safety. Mr. Ata is uneducated and has been working as a farmer since childhood. He inherited land from his grandfather who was also a farmer.
Mr. Badruddin Mian: (3)
Mr. Mian is from the Tambana district of the undefeatable Panjsher valley. Mr. Mian's family was killed during the Russian invasion and he now looks after his grandchildren. Mr. Mian has been farming since he was ten year old. He now farms 2 hectares of land which he inherited from his late father who was also a farmer. I would like to tell you an interesting story about a question-answer session in the Conference Hall in which he was asked: How come you represent poppy-growing farmers while the historic Panjsher valley never cultivated poppy and why have you been sent to the UK? Mr. Mian answered "In the kingdom (Panjshir province) of National Hero Ahmad Shah Massoud how could one cultivate poppy!! He never allowed people to even cultivate a single poppy plant. I have come here to convey to you the messenger of poor Afghan farmers who have suffered gravely during the past 3 decades and instability of Afghanistan. We as Panjsheris never cultivated poppy and everyone in Afghanistan knows this. But because all human beings are members of the God-created human family I came here to represent the poor, hopeless and hapless farmers of Afghanistan!
Mr.Akramullah Said (4)
Mr. Said is from Jalalabad in the Nangarhar province. He is married with eight children, and has been involved in farming since he was four years old. Mr. Said inherited 2 hectares of land from his farmer father, on which he grows wheat and raises some cattle. During 2004 he visited Pakistan for medical treatment of one his family members. Mr. Said is on opinion that poppy cultivation is the only means for survival due to higher prices. Water shortage is another reason why poppy cultivation is a better option for many farmers.
Dinner Reception at the Hotel:
After we picked up the farmers from Heathrow Airport, we took them to La Reverse Afghan Hotel in Fulham road and served them with delicious Afghan Palaw, Manto and other dishes in a friendly atmosphere.
Blackburn communities visiting by the formers:
On Saturday, 4th of February, the farmers visited a historic place in UK which is called Blackburn Communities with Blackburn and Darwen Citizens' Jury. Then the farmers visited the Blackburn Mosque with local religious leaders. Subsequently the farmers met with communities affected by problems of heroin use. Discussion led by Dr. Bano Murtuja, the director, Vis-à-vis Research, commissioner, UK power Inquiry. The farmers were impressed by the communities.
Press conference's special moment:
On Sunday, 5th February, there was a press conference in The Institution of Civil Engineers, Gorge Street, at 10:30 to 14:00. The Afghan farmers individually expressed their own experiences and journalists and audience asked several questions about the poppy cultivation .Eventually the program followed by a Buffet.
Meeting with the members of the Parliament in House of Commons:
On the 6th February 2006, the farmers met MP Chris Mullin in the House of Commons. First the farmers were asked by the MP to express their views and opinions. Of course the farmers explained very clearly. And than there were some questions and comments from the audience. Meanwhile the PM promised to pass the misery and problems those farmers and the people of Afghanistan are facing to the government of United Kingdom.
Dinner and farewell ceremony by family and friends:
After the Parliament meeting, friends and family of the farmers served they and the Senlis Council members with dinner and all enjoyed themselves. The guests arrived at 19:00 and the dinner was served nearly 21:23. Subsequently, Afghani music was played and every one really enjoyed it, specifically the farmers and staffs. Than the farmers left the UK for Kabul on 7th of February 2006.
I participated at every single meeting or conference with the farmers which took place in London. During my journey with Senlis members, I learned a lot about the Senlis Council, farmers and the addicted people as well as meeting high profile academics, experts, staff of non-governmental organizations, politicians and policy makers. I am looking forward to seeing more of such events in the UK or elsewhere.