Afghan girl fly kites for peaceKABUL, 21 September (IRIN) - As Afghanistan struggles to consolidate its hard-won peace following nearly three decades of brutal civil war and internal strife, young boys and girls in the country's capital expressed hopes for a brighter future at a hilltop ceremony on Thursday, with the children flying kites and balloons inscribed with personal messages of peace.
Over 50 children from Ashiana, a local school for orphans and street children in Kabul, participated in the event organised by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to mark the International Day of Peace (21 September).
Children gathered together at Nader Khan hill in the middle of the city. "We hate violence and we could not suffer more," Nargus, 11, said as she held a white kite in her hand bearing a dove and an olive branch.
"I lost my beloved father and mother in fighting in Kabul [during the 1990s]," said Nargus, who now lives with her aunt.
Decades of conflict, which started after the invasion of the former Soviet Union in 1979, have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan and displaced millions of others to neighbouring countries.
This day of peace is of particular significance to the people of Afghanistan who have suffered from decades of war and under-development and who are now working tirelessly to consolidate democracy, development and security to the country, said Dan McNorton, public information officer at UNAMA in Kabul during the ceremony.
Despite widespread international involvement and the deployment of the thousands of NATO troops following the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001, lasting peace and stability is still far away, with the Taliban resurgent in the volatile south and southeast of the country.
"Of course there are still challenging circumstances in Afghanistan and it's currently going through another period, which is very difficult for the country," McNorton said.
The war-ravaged country has seen an upsurge in violence this year with more than 2,000 people, including militants, Afghan security forces, civilians and foreign troops, losing their lives.
UN officials said insecurity was a challenge but reversible - and more development work was still needed in the impoverished Central Asian state.
"We face many challenges in Afghanistan - the most important things are to improve development, governance, the rule of law and building judiciary systems," McNorton remarked.
In his message to mark the day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "For some of us, peace is a day-to-day reality. Our streets are safe; our children go to school. Where the fabric of society is strong, the precious gifts of peace can almost go unremarked."
"But for far too many people in the world today, those gifts are only an elusive dream. They live in chains: a climate of insecurity and fear. It is mainly for them that this day exists," Annan said.
But analysts believe that bringing peace and prosperity could happen if the widespread corruption in government institutions, extensive poverty, warlordism and unemployment were tackled effectively.
"I work all the day to maintain my family. I sell plastic begs in the bazaar in the first half of the day and then study in an orphanage but it is very difficult for me as sometimes I am afraid of being kidnapped," Nargus maintained.
The annual observance of an International Day of Peace was established by the UN General Assembly in 1981. United Nations offices, as well as governments, schools, non-governmental organisations and communities of faith worldwide have also planned activities to mark the day.