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Cablegate: Dari-Pashto Debate Deadlocks Parliament

VZCZCXRO2413
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2175 2301001
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171001Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5138
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS KABUL 002175

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV AF
SUBJECT: DARI-PASHTO DEBATE DEADLOCKS PARLIAMENT

REF: KABUL 1193 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) Action in Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga (the National
Assembly's Lower House) has stalled over a higher education
bill because of disagreements over the Pashto and Dari usage
of the word "university." The disagreement has stopped most
activity in the lower house for more than a week, delaying
consideration of other important bills on election law and
the country's national development strategy. The inability
of MPs to move beyond the dispute shows continued animosity
from last session's ethnically charged quarrel over 10 Wolesi
Jirga seats reserved for Kuchi nomads (reftel) has not fully
subsided.

2. (SBU) After a fast start to the new legislative
session that began on July 22, action at the Wolesi Jirga
ground to a halt last week over the higher education bill's
supposed favoring of one of the country's two official
languages over the other. Pashtun nationalist MPs charge the
Dari word for university, "Danesh-Gah," is a foreign word of
Farsi/Iranian origin that should not be used for official
government business. Dari-speaking Tajiks, Uzbeks, and
Hazaras counter the term is just as prevalent in Afghan
society as the Pashto "Pohantoon." MPs agree the
Constitution designates Dari and Pashto as the country's two
official languages and offers protections to speakers of
other minority languages, but some Pashtuns have decried what
they see as Farsi words intruding on Afghan culture (Dari and
Farsi are mutually intelligible to native speakers).

3. (SBU) MP Saleh Mohammad Regestani (Panjshir, Tajik),
Legislation Committee chairman, said a small number of
Pashtun MPs were holding firm on a seemingly minor issue in
revenge for last session's Tajik-led walkout over
inflammatory comments by a Pashtun Kuchi MP. Some parliament
staff have accused Regestani and other Tajik MPs of egging on
their Pashtun rivals to make a stand on cultural issues and
hyping accusations of a "Pashtunization" of the GIRoA led by
Farouk Wardak, President Karzai's advisor for parliamentary
affairs. Regestani knows the debate over language usage
strikes many outsiders as trivial and hopes to score points
as a leader in parliament by brokering a compromise. MPs
agreed late last week to pass the issue on to a
constitutional commission to decide whether to accept the
Dari term or recognize the Pashto word as the sole acceptable
term for the government's use. Hopes that this would lead to
a quick resolution and quiet ethno-linguistic rabble rousing
may be in vain -- the constitutional commission charged by
the Constitution with settling these types of matters does
not yet exist, as the government has not appointed its
members.

WOOD

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