Stabilising Afghanistan - Deputy Minister Zardasht Shams
Interview with Deputy Minister Tourism, Administration & Finance of the Ministry of Information & Culture, Mr. Zardasht Shams
21 August 2015
On Wednesday 19th August, 2015 Afghanistan celebrated 96th years of Independence. Every year since 1919, the national pride of this great nation swells in a patriotic spirit when Afghanistan celebrates Independence Day. Today Afghanistan is experiencing a new era of political, socio and economic landscape under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and the country, situated on the crossroads of South and Central Asia, looks towards a wealthy future in which a new era of development will play a key role.
Global Editor for Foreign Exchange - The Diplomatic Society (FETDS), Srimal Fernando was pleased to interview Hon. Zardasht Shams, Deputy Minister Tourism, Administration & Finance of the Ministry of Information & Culture Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Srimal Fernando (SF): Deputy Minister Mr. Zardasht Shams, please give us a brief background about yourself and what your role as a Deputy Minister Tourism, Administration & Finance Ministry of Information & Culture Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be?
Deputy Minister Shams (DM): Let me extend my sincere gratitude to Foreign Exchange - The Diplomatic Society, particularly Mr. Srimal Fernando for his personal interest in Afghanistan and our ministry.
I was recently appointed as Deputy Minister Tourism, Administration & Finance of the Ministry of Information & Culture Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Prior to this I served the public and international organisations in various capacities such as the United Nations, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), NHK (Japan Broadcasting Organisation) and Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad.
My responsibility at the Ministry of Information & Culture is to revive and develop our tourism industry and provide support to our other key areas such as pluralistic and free media, preservation of ancient monuments and heritage sites and support our youth to play a productive role in the development of our country.
SF : Can you explain briefly what steps the new Government of Afghanistan undertook to stabilize the socio, economic and political aspects of the civilians living in Afghanistan in the recent years?
DM : After the withdrawal of most of the international troops last year our national security forces took the responsibility of the security and the fight against terrorism. The new government faced challenges on both the security as well as economic front. Since with the withdrawal of US and other forces the foreign assistance also diminished. Unfortunately, the bulk of our economy was dependent on foreign assistance and the transition was not only in the area of security but the significant transition was the economic one. The government thus focused to enhance trade with neighbours including India, Pakistan, Iran and China. Several rural development projects were launched to improve the livelihoods of the rural population. The leading project in this sector is the National Solidarity Program (NSP) funded by the World Bank. Agriculture, being the backbone of our economy, is a key focus area for our government and the modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture is on the agenda of the current leadership. Afghanistan is a leading producer of fresh and dry fruits in the region. The government is committed to enhance the agricultural production and maximise its export. We have problems in our trade agreements with Pakistan and the government is working to resolve these and to have easy and timely access to other south-Asian states.
SF : From the point of view as the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Administration & Finance, what is your opinion about your Ministry?
DM : Afghanistan is a country famous for its ancient monuments as well as natural beauties. Situated along the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan remained a crossroad of civilisations. It was a passage not only for trade, but cultures, ideas and values. Preservation of Afghan culture and restoration of that historical seat is our foremost duty. In addition, free and pluralistic media is the foundation of a democratic society and the ministry is committed to preserve and protect this basic right of our people. The media freedom and development is unprecedented in our country. During Taliban till 2001, only Radio Kabul was functioning and the State TV was banned due to their extreme and false interpretation of religion. Now we have over 50 TV channels, over 100 radio stations and thousands of publications. People are enjoying full freedom of speech and in some cases we are far ahead compared to our neighbours.
SF : What role does your ministry play in the safeguarding of information rights of the public, local and foreign journalist working in Afghanistan ?
DM : Our ministry is fully committed to the rights of people to information. Recently the access to information law was passed by parliament. A Commission was formed to oversee its implementation in the country. Representatives from civil society, media organs and public institutions are members of that Commission.
The ministry also facilitates foreign journalists who want to visit Afghanistan for reporting purposes. Journalist visas are issued in our foreign missions and upon arrival the Ministry of Information facilitates their activities if they need assistance. There are many bureaus of international media outlets such a BBC, Reuters, AP and others in Kabul.
SF: What are the challenges that the Ministry is facing at the moment and what steps has the Ministry taken to improve the facilities, performance and the image of your Ministry?
DM: Afghanistan is a country with a rich history and each and every part of our country is full of ancient sites and historical monuments. Due to security reasons we are not able to preserve our historical sites which are in danger and might be damaged. Further, our funds to restore and protect these sites are limited. In addition, the skills and capacity is also limited and we are currently working to train experts in the restoration fields.
In the media sector, the unprecedented development has brought some problems too. Although we have many highly capable journalists, many of our journalists and media organisations lack professionalism. They don't follow the code of ethics of journalism and sometimes create problems. Dealing with the private media sector is also challenging as they are antagonistic to the implementation of laws. However, the ministry is working to enhance professionalism in the media sector.