Afghans celebrate 99th Independence Day with fervor

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Millions of Afghans marked the country’s 99th Independence Day with fervor on Sunday despite heightened security and swelling militancy.

In downtown Kabul, the main boulevards were decorated with the tri-colour Afghan flag and huge posters of former King Amanullah Khan, who was at the helm of affairs in Afghanistan from 1919 till 1929 when the country regained its sovereignty over foreign policy from the British who were ruling neighbouring India back then.

The day, Aug. 19, marks the end of British control over the country’s foreign policy after three Anglo-Afghan Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries that also compelled the then Afghan rulers to acknowledge the Durand Line as a border between Afghanistan and the then British India.

Convoys of private cars driven particularly by youngsters hoisting the flag marched through different avenues of the city, playing patriotic songs on amplified speakers, and cheered on by by-passers.

On the eve of the Independence Day, a rare musical concert was also organized at the Zazai Park of the city with thousands of Kabul residents attending under tight security. Popular singer, Karan Khan, entertained visitors for hours before they were enthralled by spectacular fireworks.

Mohammad Ummar, a father of five children, told Anadolu Agency he usually does not allow his children to go out in the evening owing to security concerns, but he relented because of the special day.

“Believe me, it is such a special feeling, I bring my whole family to the concert today in spite of security concerns, the wounded country needs healing. I wish God bring us peace forever,” Ummar said.

Another main attraction of the celebrations was a rare international football game organized for the big day between the host Afghanistan and visiting Palestine team. On the invitation of the Afghanistan Football Federation, the Palestinian football team landed in Kabul two days ago, and held practice sessions at the AFF stadium in Kabul for the match.

The two sides have played each other twice in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers and once in the Asia Challenge Cup in 2014. Palestine beat Afghanistan in all three matches. In a presser a day before the match, Afghan coach Anosh Dastgir and his Palestinian counterpart, Noureddine Oulad Ali, expressed readiness for the encounter.

– 'How can I be happy?'

Main roads leading to the avenue of the match were blocked for general traffic owing to security concerns.

In neighboring Nangarhar province, a large number of devotees of the late King arrived from different parts of the country to pay their respect and offer prayers at his grave today. The King Aman’s grave is surrounded by a modest mausoleum in Jalalabad city.

His rather majestic and iconic palace in Kabul, the Darul Aman, is under reconstruction owing to the severe damage it sustained during the rages of civil war as well as the Soviet invasion in the 1970s.

Ghani led the main official Independence Day ceremony in Kabul today where he laid a floral wrath on the memorial of the martyrs of the Afghan Independence.

However, not everyone is in a celebratory mood as the country reels from a surging militancy.

Shukria Sultani, a young girl who fled a deadly war in Ghazni, told Anadolu Agency she and all 10 of her family members remain haunted by the terrible memories of the four-day deadly clashes between the Taliban and the security forces in her province last week.

“How can I be happy and celebrate Independence Day; we are the walking dead…until there is permanent peace, Independence Day is meaningless for me,” Sultani said.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, civilian casualties in Ghazni are estimated to range from 200 to 250; thousands have fled the city.

Amid the Taliban's threats not to allow safe passage to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, the UN said Sunday attacks on aid workers have surged by 20 percent in the country.