File photo: MPs in Afghanistan parliament session

Controversy over the Persian terminology “Danishqah” and its Pashtu synonym “Pohantoon”, both means University has blocked the approval of Higher Education Law (HEL) once again in the Lower House of Parliament. HEL was first tabled before the Parliament seven year ago. Since that it has been rejected several times after harsh discussions between members of parliament and even usage of derogatory remarks against each others.

The draft of Higher Education Law, consists of 9 Chapters and 80 articles, however, objection is over the Pashtu word “Pohantoon” mentioned in the Article 3 of the Persian draft of the law.

MPs belong to Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and some other ethnic groups, who speak Persian Dari, are of the view that the Pashtu word “Pohantoon” either should be replaced with its Persian synonym “Danishqah” or it should also be written alongside the “Pohantoon”. They argue that the omission of Persian word “Danishqah” is an attempt to gradually make them deprived of their language and identity. Opined that the article 16 of the country’s constitution allows all the ethnic groups to foster and develop their native languages, therefore, the people should be allowed to use both the terms “Danishqah” and “Pahantoon” in official correspondence. Persian (Dari) is one of the official languages of Afghanistan and more than half of the population of the country speaks in the same language. Persian is also used in Iran, Tajikistan and in some other countries.

On the other hand, most of the Pashtoon MPs are of the view that the Pashtu word “Pohantoon” is a national terminology which has to be preserved at any cost and stress on the usage of “Pohantoon” in official correspondence. They blame that “Danishqah” is an Iranian word and have been imported from Iran. They claim that it has no root in Dari-Persian. They term the usage of “Danishqah” contradictory with the Article 16 of the constitution. However, the Persian speaking MPs reject the notion and say that let the native speakers to define their languages.

Both, the supporters and opponents of Danishqah / Pohantoon in order to prove their arguments quote the article 16 of the constitution which says

“From amongst Pashto, Dari, Uzbeki, Turkmani, Baluchi, Pachaie, Nuristani, Pamiri and other current languages in the country, Pashto and Dari shall be the official languages of the state. In areas where the majority of the people speak in any one of Uzbeki, Turkmani, Pachaie, Nuristani, Baluchi or Pamiri languages, any of the aforementioned language, in addition to Pashto and Dari, shall be the third official language, the usage of which shall be regulated by law. The state shall design and apply effective programs to foster and develop all languages of Afghanistan. Usage of all current languages in the country shall be free in press publications and mass media. Academic and national administrative terminology and usage in the country shall be preserved”.

Experts say that as for as the development and usage of languages are concerned, the constitution is clear on that, it has not only allowed the official languages but also the local ones to be nourished and be free in their publications and mass media. However, problem lies with the last line of the said article as the academic and national terminologies are not explained. People are using the terminologies in their own Pashtu and Persian languages.

The Government and members of the Parliament should demonstrate flexibility and come out of their agonies, stubbornness and personal grudges as it is not an issue of people of Afghanistan. The issues of the common masses are unemployment, corruption, security and illiteracy etc. The masses elected their representatives to resolve the said issues but not to create differences between them. People of the country respect each other’s traditions, customs and languages and now it is the turn of parliament to recognize and respect the same.

In whatever language, the people feel easy; please let them to speak (Pohantoon, Danishqah University or something else) and also let them to live in peace and harmony else the policy of omission neither served in the past nor give out in the future. It would only lead towards ignorance, chaos and devastation.

Ishaq Rahim,

freelance journalist