30 August 2005
Democracy not the preserve of the West: Karzai
|Former King Zahir Shah lays the foundation stone|
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, talks after laying the foundation stone of the new Parliament building in Kabul on Monday.
KABUL: In a brief but moving ceremony which underscored India's intimate involvement in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the former King, Zahir Shah, on Monday laid the foundation stone for a new parliament building to be constructed with Indian assistance.
Speaking to an invited audience at the construction site, Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his "most sincere thanks" to India for its help. India, he said, is a country that has shown that democracy is not the preserve of the Western world alone. In his own remarks on the occasion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the roots of a plant were being laid which will, "through your nurturing and care, grow into a sturdy `panja chinar' of democracy." Earlier, Zahir Shah — now called Baba-e-Millat, or `father of the nation' — had told the Prime Minister that the new parliament building would symbolise the partnership between the "world's largest and newest democracies."
The parliament project is part of New Delhi's quiet emphasis on infrastructure creation in Afghanistan, say senior Indian officials. Though the $550 million pledged so far makes India only the sixth-largest donor country, virtually all the Indian money was going towards the creation of tangible public assets such as buildings, roads, buses and hospital equipment. The Habibia High School — renovated by India and inaugurated on Sunday — is one example. The Tata buses, which form the backbone of Kabul's public transport system, are another. On Monday, the Prime Minister's wife, Gursharan Kaur, visited the Indira Gandhi hospital in Kabul and announced the provision of $2 million for a new neo-natal centre.
The new National Assembly will come up on the western fringes of Kabul, virtually in the shadow of the bombed-out shell that is the Darulaman Palace, built by King Amanullah in the 1920s. This sector saw the heaviest fighting between rival mujahideen groups in the aftermath of the fall of the leftist Najibullah government in the 1990s.
At the foundation laying ceremony, an Indian engineer, Anshuman Chakravarti, from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) made a power-point presentation of the architectural plans for the complex, which include the construction of two chambers – for the Wolesi Jirga and the Meshrano Jigra – as well as a library, prayer hall and other facilities.
In his remarks, Dr Singh also made a direct reference to the new Indo-U.S. partnership on 'democracy promotion' signed during his visit to Washington last month. "We are partnering other democracies through the Global Democracy Initiative and have contributed $10 million to
the U.N. Democracy Fund to be used to promote institutions based on the eternal values of liberty, equality and fraternity."
India, the Prime Minister said, believed that democratic institutions need to be encouraged and promoted. But these had to be "in accordance with the culture, values and native genius of each country". He described Afghanistan as a country which had always had a plural society and "a tradition of democratic discourse through institutions like the Loya Jirgas".
The Afghans will elect their representatives at a nationwide poll on September 18. The elections are 'party-less' though many important political personalities opposed to Mr Karzai's government are in the fray and are expected to do well.
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