Mazar-i-Sharif calm as Nowruz preparations go on
MAZAR-I-SHARIF (Pajhwok): Preparations to celebrate upcoming Nowruz festival are underway in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, but people’s response and enthusiasm to attend the festivities seems lukewarm this time.
Local officials say though the weather and security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif is satisfactory, yet economic issues people face this year compared to the past may keep many people away from attending the New Persian Year celebrations.
Similarly, local residents and hotel owners also say people’s participation in the festival could not be compared with the past years.
The observances usually last two weeks, culminating on the first day of the Afghan New Year, March 21. The Jahenda Bala ceremony is celebrated on the first day of the New Year.
Thousands of people from across the country and abroad attend the biggest gathering, a specific religious ceremony performed in the Blue Mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Among various traditions and customs, one is the Guli Surkh festival which literally means red flower Festival (Tulip flowers). It is celebrated in Mazar-i-Sharif during the first 40 days of the year when the Tulip flowers grow in the green plains and over the hills surrounding the city.
Besides the Buzkashi game, some handicraft exhibitions and artistic and poetic sessions are also held during the festival.
Balkh governor’s spokesman Munir Farhad told Pajhwok Afghan News they had put in place all needed preparatory measures for the upcoming Nowruz festival like the previous years.
He said the population of Mazar-i-Sharif was one million people and another one million each year came to the city from other parts of the country to celebrate the festivities.
He said though the security and weather situation was satisfactory in Mazar-i-Sharif, many people were unlikely to attend the festival due to economic problems stemmed from recent developments in the country.
However, Farhad said they had taken all necessary measures for the festival on the government level.
He said the provincial administration each year created a commission comprising nine committees to make preparations for the festival.
Headed by Governor Atta Mohammad Noor, the commission contained security, culture, city cleanliness and decoration, price check and control, heath and other committees, the official said. He said most of these committees had started performing their tasks.
Provincial Information and Culture director Saleh Mohammad Khalique said his department was responsible for arranging cultural events and it had completed its preparations.
He said like the previous years, they had planned a series of culture, artistic and literary programmes. He said the participants like the previous years would be amused by music concerts planned on the Balkh university campus and at other places.
Besides local artists, singers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Iran and the United States had been invited, he said, adding the flag raising ceremony would be followed by a cultural gathering at the governor’s house.
Khalique said in the first week of the New Year, literary gatherings, feature films, and exhibitions of books, calligraphy and handicrafts would be arranged.
Some residents of Mazar-i-Sharif said they awaited literary programmes each year during the Nowruz festivals.
One of them, Mirwais, told Pajhwok Afghan News the festival was the days of fun and noise in Mazar-i-Sharif.
He said the flag raising ceremony had its exclusive fun and most residents longed for the culture activities. “I went to the university for a music concert with friends last year, it was a great fun.”
The municipality has also launched cleaning the city and plans to decorate the Hazrat Ali Mosque. Mayor Younas Muqim said they had launched the cleanliness drive 10 days ago.
The blue mosque is specially decorated for the Nowruz festival each year. Muqim said the decoration would be started in a few days.
He said the tomb and its nearby squares and buildings would be illuminated by colourful small bulbs, which would add to the beauty of the festival nights. The mayor said he had been visiting hotels and inns to ensure they were clean.
Balkh civil hospital director Dr. Noor Mohammad Faiz, also a member of the provincial commission’s health committee, said they had started putting in place necessary measures as part of the festival.
He said a medical camp also involving lady doctors would be set up at the Hazrat Ali Roza for nearly a month.
He said they had specified 100 beds at the civil hospital to deal with any emergency situation during the festivities and dozens of doctors divided into groups would be available for 24 hours duty.
But despite all these preparations, people seem less interested in participating in the festivals this time.
Owner of Gulzar Hotel west of the Blue Mosque said they had so far registered no one coming to the city for the festival. Previously, he said, hotels were full of guests these days. He said it seemed people’s participation in the festival would be very lukewarm compared to the past years.
Mazar-i-Sharif residents also said the hustle and bustle they witnessed in the past years did not appear this time.
One of them, Zabihullah Frotan, said streets of the city were calm and the number of visitors from other provinces was equal not nothing.
He said crowds on roads leading to the Roza would create traffic problems these days in the previous years, but such crowds could not be seen this time. He said insecurity rumours in the north and people’s weakened economic position could be blamed for the calm.
The governor spokesman said high ranking government officials and foreign diplomats had attended last year’s festivities in Mazar-i-Sharif. Farhad said it remained unclear who among high ranking officials would attend the festivities this time.
He said the governor’s house had invited the governors of provinces of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Iran bordering Balkh to attend the flag raising ceremony and other festivities.
Security officials said they had put in place tight security measures in very part of the city over the past 25 days.
Balkh police chief Syed Kamal Sadat said dozens of security posts had been set up on the Mazar--Shiberghan and the Mazar-Kabul highways inside Balkh province.
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