Afghan Program Supports Creativity and Cultural Diversity

UNESCOlogoIn recent years, Afghanistan has begun to recognize the important role that cultural heritage can play in developing a unified national identity that connects citizens beyond their perceived differences. For this reason, the government of Afghanistan created the National Program for Culture and Creative Economy (NPCE) with the support of the UNESCO office in Kabul. A broad initiative funded by a variety of donors, the NPCE covers eight vital thematic areas that are closely tied both to UNESCO’s areas of action in Afghanistan. In addition, they focus on the country’s needs and priorities as outlined in the government’s National Peace and Development Framework. Read on to learn more about these cultural and creative themes.


The Right to Culture

This thematic area focuses on the right to enjoy culture and creativity in conditions of equality and dignity without a fear of discrimination. Projects and initiatives in this category will focus on facilitating the right of all Afghans to access culture. Examples include supporting access to libraries, workshops, community and cultural centers, and other creative hubs; using cultural activities to help integrate returnees and refugees; and encouraging private sector partnerships to provide financial and other support to Afghanistan’s cultural sector.


Improved Higher Education for Culture and Creative Industries

While there is a national movement to re-center culture in Afghan society and to ensure that cultural heritage and creative industries are able to grow and thrive over the long term, this desire is hampered by the country’s lack of national cultural experts. Systemic and structured investments that target specific competencies are needed to fill these gaps. For instance, this thematic area could oversee the creation of new institutions such as schools of design or university departments for heritage conservation and management.


The Afghanistan Translation Movement

The goal of this thematic area is to launch a comprehensive knowledge movement in Afghanistan. Taking its name from the Islamic Golden Age—during which scholars gathered to translate the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic and Persian languages—the Translation Movement aims to make the sources of today’s universal knowledge accessible to Afghan citizens in their own language. At a time when it is rare to find Dari or Pashto translations of university textbooks, for example, this thematic category strongly supports the right to culture and improvement in higher education.


Legal Framework and Policies for Culture

In order for Afghanistan’s creative and cultural industries to thrive—and for its vital cultural heritage to be protected and preserved—there must be streamlined and relevant policies and regulations in place under Afghan law. Through advocacy efforts and expert consultation, the NPCE is working to support the Afghan government through a full review and revision of existing cultural heritage laws.


Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s “built heritage”—its monuments, mosques, and ancient cities—are an important asset and testament to the country’s thousands of years of history. However, due to their isolation and dispersal, far too many cultural sites are not perceived as integral to the fabric of Afghanistan’s rapidly changing society. This thematic area aims to foster a new attitude toward built heritage by supporting and implementing projects (such as rehabilitation works in historical urban contexts) that benefit the community and, in doing so, demonstrate that cultural preservation can enhance development.


Architecture for Public Spaces

After decades of political and social upheaval that have affected all levels of society, Afghanistan is in the midst of a period of explosive growth: displaced people are returning to the country in large numbers, and more Afghans are transitioning from a rural to urban existence. This has taken a toll on Afghanistan’s cities, which are struggling to accommodate these sweeping changes without destroying built heritage. This thematic area of the NPCE works to support state and local urban planning authorities to preserve existing heritage on the one hand, and to promote better contemporary architecture on the other.


The Afghanistan Cultural Centers Network

Through this thematic category, UNESCO and the NPCE aim to use a networking strategy to resolve the disconnect that can arise over cultural development work at the policy and the project levels. Often, significant policy changes do not “trickle down” effectively to the local level, where they would be of most immediate benefit. Likewise, the short-term effects of project-level initiatives often do not make it past the local sphere to the policy level, where the lessons learned could be put to broader use. This thematic area aims to open up channels of information across local cultural centers in order to provide greater opportunities to better exchange ideas and influence policy creation.


The Afghanistan Creative Cities Network

In 2015, Bamiyan became the first city in Central Asia to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, an association of 116 international member cities committed to investing in creative industries and the creative economy. This thematic area aims to pave the way for more Afghan cities to join the network and benefit from its worldwide cooperation, intercultural dialogue, and support.

What Is the Aga Khan Music Initiative All About?

AKTClogoWhen you think about protecting and preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, it’s easy to focus on physical objects and structures, such as historic mosques or ancient monuments that are in need of repair and restoration. But living elements of cultural heritage, like music, need protection and revitalization just as much as their tangible counterparts. This is precisely why the Aga Khan Development Network and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture created the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI) in 2000. First established in Central Asia (including Afghanistan) and subsequently expanded to include parts of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, AKMI is a unique program designed to help musicians and music educators from Muslim countries preserve, transmit, and further develop their traditional musical heritage. Read on to learn more about this important initiative.


What are the aims of the Aga Khan Music Initiative?

AKMI works to promote the revitalization of musical heritage in order to provide a livelihood for musical artists and to strengthen pluralism and dialogue in nations where those very things face significant social, political, and economic challenges. Among other specific aims, AKMI supports exceptional artistic and educational talent, promotes the revival of historic connections and collaborations among artists from the regions served by the program, and disseminates the results of its efforts all around the globe with the support of educational institutions, arts presenters, and music distributors. Ultimately, the goal of AKMI is to help support vibrant, interconnected artistic communities that create contemporary music rooted in tradition, and to build new audiences for such music through broad-ranging arts education initiatives.


What are the main focus areas of the Aga Khan Music Initiative?

To fulfill its core mission, AKMI concentrates its efforts and investments on a number of key focus areas. These include the following:


  1. Music education and mentoring

In many parts of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, the question of how to grow the next generation of young musicians is an urgent one, as traditional methods of music teaching and learning have been seriously disrupted in past decades by conflict. For this reason, education and mentoring are a central focus of AKMI’s cultural development investments. Specific initiatives in this area include the following:

Music curriculum development centers and schools—AKMI supports a growing network of Central Asian curriculum development centers and music schools that are working to ensure that local musical heritage passes to the next generation and evolves to find its place in the contemporary world. Some of the most successful strategies these organizations are using include the revitalization of the traditional master-apprentice relationship in music pedagogy; the development and dissemination of new curriculum materials; and the organization of teacher training institutes and workshops to provide educators with critical support and resources.

Textbook project: The Music of Central Asia—To help grow a knowledgeable and appreciative international audience for Central Asian music, AKMI has produced a pioneering textbook on Central Asian musical traditions. Published by Indiana University Press in 2016, this textbook is the first in the world to offer a thorough and detailed introduction to the rich and diverse music of Central Asia.




  1. International performance and outreach

In partnership with a global network of arts presenters, academic institutions, and cultural associations, AKMI works to bring musical innovators from Central Asia to the world stage. Specific initiatives in this area include the following:

Concert and festival programs—AKMI strives to bring the musicians on its artist roster to new, diverse audiences all over the world, and to help foster understanding and appreciation in those audiences. To this end, performance venues are selected with the aim of reaching audiences who are varied in profile, age, and background, and the format of the performance is carefully designed to provide important cultural context for the performers and their music. For example, a short documentary might be screened before a concert to introduce the audience not only to the featured musicians, but also to the communities in which they live and work.

Artist-in-residence and workshop programs—These initiatives link the educational mission of AKMI with its curatorial expertise. Often organized alongside a formal concert or performance, workshops and residencies give students the unique chance to interact directly with musicians from AKMI’s artist roster. Featuring small classroom settings and hands-on workshops, these initiatives offer an exceptional opportunity for cross-cultural exchange and the exploration of fundamental questions about musical creativity.


  1. Artistic production and dissemination

AKMI believes that musical traditions in a community are only truly alive when they can evolve in response to the taste and interest of contemporary listeners. To support this evolution, AKMI operates a commissioning and creation program for new works. With this program, AKMI seeks out exceptional innovators from traditional musical backgrounds, and supports them along trajectories of sustained creative development that result in new work that has roots in tradition but that speaks to today’s audiences. An example of a work commissioned and produced under this program was a new composition by Homayun Sakhi, the Afghan rubab virtuoso: Sakhi himself performed his work for rubab, string quartet, frame drum, and tabla alongside the world-renowned Kronos Quartet.

What You Need to Know About Afghanistan’s Newest National Park

Over the last 10 years, Afghanistan has been making an impressive commitment to environmental conservation. The government of Afghanistan is increasingly aware that protecting its natural resources and safeguarding its wild places is not a luxury, but an essential element of reconstruction and sustainable prosperity. As a result, the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) has worked hard to ensure that key natural areas receive the protection they need for a healthy future.

While the creation of national parks has been a dream in Afghanistan for decades, it wasn’t until 2009 that the country finally established its first-ever national park in the spectacular region of the Band-e-Amir lakes. The initiative was successful, bringing attention, tourists, and jobs to Band-e-Amir’s communities while simultaneously establishing important safeguards for the area’s fragile natural habitat. On the heels of this success, five years later, in 2014, the country created its second national park in a remote but stunning corner of northeastern Afghanistan.

Home to soaring mountains, grassy alpine plains, and unique wildlife, Wakhan National Park has been called “one of the last truly wild places on the planet” by the director-general of NEPA. For a glimpse of this exceptional area that few people in the world get to see, here are four fascinating facts about Afghanistan’s newest national park.


The park is huge.

Wakhan National Park covers a remarkable 1 million hectares, or 4,200 square miles. That’s roughly 25 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. Naturally, given this impressive size, the geography and landscapes found in Wakhan National Park are very diverse, ranging from jagged mountain peaks to rough meadows, and from dry, desert-like areas to the headwaters of the Amu Darya River.

To make the most of the park’s vast area, the long-term management plan is to divide the park into different zones for different uses. For example, some zones will be exclusive reserves for wildlife, while others will permit multiple uses, including grazing.



The park is extremely remote.

Wakhan National Park is located in the area of Afghanistan known as the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of land that protrudes from Afghanistan’s northeastern tip and is bordered by several other countries, including China and Tajikistan. The meeting place of the Pamir Mountains and the Hindu Kush range, the district is a very isolated, cold, and high-altitude mountain valley bordered on both sides by formidable mountain peaks.

Accessing the area is no easy feat. An overland trip from Kabul takes a week, and it can actually be easier to enter the park via Tajikistan, its northern neighbor. As a consequence, it’s not entirely surprising that Wakhan National Park receives just 100 to 300 international visitors a year.


The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife.

Although Wakhan’s isolation might be a barrier for human visitors and inhabitants, it’s a major advantage for the many different species of animals that inhabit the region. According to a deputy director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – a US non-profit that has worked with NEPA on the creation and management of both of Afghanistan’s national parks – an “astonishingly diverse” array of wildlife calls Wakhan National Park home.

Nine species of wild cats can be found in the park, which is (believe it or not) the same number found in all of sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to these feral felines, the park’s residents include wolves, brown bears, stone martens, red foxes, and ibex, as well as the unique Marco Polo sheep. The largest wild sheep in the world, it sports horns than stretch nearly six feet from tip to tip.

In terms of wildlife protection, one of Wakhan’s biggest success stories to date has been the elusive snow leopard. Listed as an endangered species by the World Wildlife Fund, the snow leopard population has declined in recent years as a result of trophy hunters targeting them for their beautiful pelts as well as from farmers killing them in order to protect their livestock. However, the creation of Wakhan National Park, as well as regional conservation programs dating back to 2009, have brought the snow leopard’s numbers back up to around 140, which WCS experts say is a sustainable number.


The park protects people as well as nature.

It’s not just animals who are being helped by the creation of Wakhan National Park. The Wakhan District’s resident population of about 15,000 people, most of whom are ethnic Wakhi or Kyrgyz, are also seeing benefits.

Under an agreement with the government of Afghanistan, the local population will serve as co-managers of the park, together with the Afghan government. They will be able to continue to use the land for their livelihood (many Wakhan locals survive by herding livestock), and can also get jobs as rangers, managers, and other park personnel.