Azizulla Arral: Our motto — put the rifle aside and take a book in your hands!
A few words about the Cultural Center I lead and its activities. This center, one of the most important public Cultural Centers of today's Kabul, was established five years ago in accordance with the Decree of the President of Afghanistan, Mr. Ashraf Ghani. In a relatively short time, the center has become a place of cultural communication for the entire cultured part of the population, not only in Kabul, but also throughout the country. The present and future of our Cultural Center in our minds seemed marvellous.

The priority task in our activity for us was — and still is — the promotion of reading books among the local population, and their agitation to become familiar with this source of knowledge, thereby trying to reorient the public consciousness of a certain part of the population to peaceful solutions to existing difficulties, and not to take up arms when social and economic problems arise. "Put your rifle aside and take a book!" is the slogan of our Cultural Center.

I am sure that we have achieved some positive results in our activities. The past years have been spent in intensive work in preparing for printing and distributing books of scientific, historical and literary content in all languages of the multi-ethnic population of Afghanistan.

Alas, our activities that began so successfully went into decline, and therefore became less effective, with the appearance of this scourge in the world. It is clear that due to the coronavirus, the number of mass cultural events has sharply decreased. The pandemic disrupted the algorithm of cultural communication of ordinary Afghans — weddings, funerals, Attan dance, horse races, goat-breeding competitions — which has been formed for centuries. The pandemic affected all these events, putting the freedom-loving soul of the Afghan in the limited space of their homes.

For a short time, it seemed to us that in such difficult conditions, reading a book should become, if not the main thing, then one of the main ways of spending time for Afghans. How wrong we were in our calculations: due to the sharp decline in the purchasing power of the population, the book sales volume rapidly began to decrease.

In our recommendations, we began to focus on reading books online. But even here our advice did not work because using the Global Network in Afghanistan is not a cheap pleasure, and its quality even in the capital has become a byword. And the situation is surely worse in the provinces.

Despite all the difficulties, we continue our work, actively trying to maintain its efficiency at the same level. Today, we manage to do this with great difficulty, and the temptation to ask the state for financial assistance is becoming stronger.

Many other cultural institutions have long since closed due to the pandemic, and printing and sales of finished products are almost at the zero point. According to one of bookstore owners Umumi, he lost 80% of his previous income, and today he is already experiencing difficulties in paying for the rent of the store's premises.

Nevertheless, I am deeply convinced that from the point of view of political importance, it is extremely important to maintain the activities of the Center. It just became necessary to make an audit and a detailed analysis of even a small part of our experience. First of all, the above concerns the content of book products. More emphasis should be placed not on secondary and not so important topics, but on burning human problems, the solution of which will give a simple Afghan a job and bring some prosperity to his home. The latter is of decisive importance in solving the "weapon or book?" dilemma.

The Emergency Committee headed by the second Vice-President of Afghanistan, Muhammad Sarwar Donish, said that the committee provides assistance only to educational institutions. We immediately came up with the idea of creating training courses within the Cultural Center, where unemployed young Afghans could be taught technical specialties at the technical training college level. For example, courses for gas welders, electrical engineers, nurses, etc., i.e. specialists who are worth their weight in gold in today's Afghanistan. It is even difficult to imagine how many construction projects could be started if we had a sufficient number of such specialists among young people today!

In conclusion, I would like to appeal to the Committee on International Education and Partnership of the Assembly of Asian Peoples with a proposal and a request to start our cooperation with organizing such courses. We are fully aware of how difficult these plans are to implement, but we are also confident that our great desire and willingness to work in this direction, plus your vast experience in such matters, will eventually be crowned with success.

Azizullah Arral is a writer, analyst, reviewer, social and civil law activist. Well-known Afghan journalist. Graduated from National University of Uzbekistan with high honors, got Master degree in philology. Currently works on getting Doctor degree in the field of journalism in Tajik National University. Azizullah Arral is the director of Banu TV and radio channel and the director of Presidential cultural center "Book". Author of dozens of scientific works, books, speeches and articles. Was awarded the Mir Masjidi Khan national medal.