Thousands celebrate Afghan New Year in Helmand as Karzai announces security transition
More than 10,000 spectators crowded into the Lashkar Gah stadium last night for a music concert to celebrate Nawruz, the Afghan New Year.
The concert came on the eve of an announcement by President Karzai that Lashkar Gah would one of the first districts where security responsibility would be transferred to Afghan forces.
The Karzai stadium in Lashkar Gah was once the setting for Taliban executions; last night Afghan Security forces kept 10,000 fans and a clutch of famous performers, including 2 women safe from harm. The performers sang to a capacity crowd at the city’s football ground for 4 hours, whilst thousands more partied in the streets outside, unable to get in. The scene was a far cry from the Taliban era – when music was banned.
Deputy Provincial Governor Abdul Sattar said “This concert has brought people together, and provided a sense of community and identity. We are grateful to the artists who have come to perform and to the dedicated Afghan police and army who are keeping the event safe and orderly.”
The concert demonstrated that the people of Helmand felt safe enough to congregate in large numbers at a widely-publicised event, confident that the Afghan Police and Army were able to guarantee their safety. Over 200 women also attended the concert, watching with their children from a segregated area in accordance with Pashtun cultural norms.
Lashkar Gah was amongst those 8 areas named by President Karzai this morning as the first areas to be transitioned to the Afghan security forces from the international community. British forces have been working in Lashkar Gah for several years, and Afghan Security forces already provide much of the security. Checkpoints in the heart of the city are run exclusively by the Afghan National Police, and Afghan patrols began running independently in the district in October 2010. However, the process of transition will take many months, and will depend on conditions being right.
The concert was organised by the Youth Information Contact Centre, including the Kabul-based singers Hamayoun Anger, Hayat Gardizy, Garooz Kanduzy, Farzana Naz and Rieta Wazhma.