Afghanistan: Status Of Dari, Pashtu Languages A Sensitive Topic
Radio Free Europe
/ Radio Liberty, Inc.
The status of the Dari and Pashtu languages has always been a sensitive issue in Afghanistan.
Both Dari -- also called Farsi -- and Pashtu belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Pashtu is the mother tongue
of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, Pashtuns, while Tajiks, the second-largest ethnic group, speak Dari. All modern Afghan
constitutions, including the new draft presented to Hamid Karzai today, have provided equal status to Dari and Pashtu. In
reality, however, many Pashtuns say their language is discriminated against.
Prague, 3 November 2003 (RFE/RL) - Article
16 of Chapter 1 of Afghanistan's draft constitution, presented to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman President Hamid
Karzai at a ceremony today in Kabul, formally recognizes the official status of both the Dari and Pashtu languages.
Pashtu, Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluchi, Pashayi, Nuristani, and other languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pashtu and Dari are
the official languages of the government. The government will provide and implement effective programs to promote and strengthen
all languages in Afghanistan. Publications and radio and television broadcasting in all languages is without restriction,"
the draft says.
Despite such constitutional guarantees, however, many Pashtuns say their language has always been
discriminated against in Afghan society. Although Pashtu is spoken by the largest ethnic group in the country, they complain
that Dari is the dominant language in Afghan government offices, at official meetings, in the courts, in publications and
on radio and television programs.
The origins of the language dispute go back many centuries. Farsi has long been
one of the dominant languages in the region surrounding Afghanistan. Today, Farsi is the national and official language in
both Tajikistan and Iran. Tajiks are also the largest ethnic minority in Uzbekistan, while several hundred thousand Farsi
speakers live in China.
By contrast, Pashtu is spoken primarily only in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.
Ahadi is the leader of the Afghan Mellat political party and the chief of the Afghan Central Bank. He told RFE/RL that even
in predominantly Pashtun regions, such as Nangarhar Province, nearly all official communication takes place in Dari. "Although
I don't have exact statistics, we can say that 95 percent of official paperwork takes place in Dari both in predominantly
Pashtun or predominantly Tajik regions," he said. "Pashtu speakers complain that while Pashtu is our country's national and
official language according to the law, in reality it is stripped of both statuses. Its status as an official language is
extremely weak in reality."
More than 200 newspapers and magazines have been started in Afghanistan since the fall
of the Taliban in late 2001. Almost half of them are published in Dari, while some 30 percent are printed in Pashtu. The rest
of the publications are officially bilingual.
According to Afghan journalist Ziya Bumiya, however, around 80 percent
of all articles in bilingual newspapers and magazines are published only in Dari. Bumiya said the situation is the same on
Afghan National Television and Radio broadcasting. "Some 80 percent of Afghan national broadcasting is in Dari, and around
20 percent in Pashtu," Bumiya said. "National television translates some foreign movies into Pashtu and sometimes broadcasts
insignificant announcements or statements in Pashtu. All important interviews and statements, as well as important programs
that would attract many viewers, are broadcast in Dari."
According to the law, Afghans are free to choose their language
of education. Primary and secondary educations are available in both Dari and Pashtu, as well as in Afghanistan's other languages,
such as Uzbek. However, in most Afghan universities, lessons are taught in Dari.
Professor Abdulshukur Rashad, a prominent
Afghan scholar, told RFE/RL that apart from the Faculty of Pashtu Language and Literature, all other departments at Kabul
University function only in Dari. "Some people says that Pashtu is also one of the official languages, but it is only on paper.
It is not the case in reality. The language of education is Farsi. The language of offices is Farsi," Rashad said.
said that while most ordinary Pashtuns are capable of basic communication in Dari, a fluent knowledge of spoken and written
Dari is the norm for educated Pashtuns. "Many Tajiks, however, do not try to learn Pashtu," Rashad said.
Muradi, the chief editor of the "Aina" (Mirror) newspaper in Kabul, acknowledges that Pashtuns are indeed the biggest minority
in Afghanistan, but that Dari is still the language of the majority because Dari is used by all the country's ethnic groups
to communicate with one another. Muradi said Pashtuns learn Dari voluntarily because some 70 percent of the country's scientific
and historic literature has been written in Dari over the past centuries.
"No one forces people to learn Dari. There
is no need for that. People of all ethnic groups learn Dari with their own initiative to be able to communicate with each
other. That's why Dari is an effective language of offices, universities. It is a language of culture. It has taken this role
in a very natural way," Muradi said.
All Afghan constitutions -- starting from the first constitution, which was introduced
in 1923, to the latest draft constitution, which was presented to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai today -- have provided equal
status to both languages.
Abdulhamid Mubarez, a deputy at the Ministry of Information and Culture, told RFE/RL that
the law is obeyed. "We have two official languages in Afghanistan -- Dari and Pashtu. Everyone is free to communicate, write
their letters or requisitions in one of these two languages. There is no discrimination. I have never come across any discrimination,"
However, Anwar-ul-haq Ahadi, the chief of the Central Bank, said many Pashtuns, especially university
students, are dissatisfied with the current situation. "We have to address the issue," Ahadi said, "since our country is officially
bilingual, all official workers at least have to be able to communicate in both Dari and Pashtu languages."
like Ahadi express their concern that if the issue is not acknowledged and addressed properly, groups such as the ousted Taliban
will capitalize on the popular dissatisfaction, especially the discontent of young Pashtuns, to ignite hostilities between