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The Latest Word On The Afghan Street

Make a left at the mosque, straight past the large pine, and stop when you see the green door.
Make a left at the mosque, straight past the large pine, and stop when you see the green door.
In the latest twist in the controversy over naming Afghan streets after national heroes, the governor of Afghanistan's western Herat Province, Daud Shah Saba, has said that Afghan law stipulates that streets can only be named after people who died at least 50 years ago.

But municipal officials in Herat say the city is unlikely to change the names of two major thoroughfares in the city, which are named after mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud and Mirwais Sadiq, a former civil aviation minister and son of Herati strongman Ismail Khan.

Masud was killed in 2001, Sadiq in 2004.

Afghan officials, as well as the public, are sharply divided over the issue of naming streets and institutions after former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban leaders or their allies. Supporters see such steps as honoring the service and sacrifice of these figures. Opponents consider the bestowing of such honors as inciting further hatred and division among Afghans, some of whom see these jihadi figures as symbols of the suffering that Afghans endured during the civil war in the 1990s.

In August, a scandal erupted when provincial officials in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif requested that authorities in Kabul determine whether a street in the city should be named after a group of Iranian diplomats killed there in 1998. The provincial council was forced to ask for formal approval after Afghan media and politicians criticized the council for naming a city street the Martyrs of the Consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran without approval from Kabul.

A more serious controversy erupted in September when Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree renaming Kabul Education University after former President Burhannudin Rabbani, who was killed by a suspected Taliban suicide bomber in 2011.

More than two weeks of peaceful demonstrations by students protesting the name change turned violent in early October when supporters of the move clashed with protesters. Most of the supporters were said to be from outside the university.

The scuffles forced the government to settle on a compromise solution. The former Afghan president's name will not be put on the diplomas of graduating students. The school, however, will be called the Kabul Education University of Rabbani. Like many controversies in Afghanistan, the issue is far from resolved but will likely be pushed onto the backburner by fresh crises.

Afghanistan clearly needs a uniform address system. Although the size of Afghan towns and cities has mushroomed over the past decade, streets, buildings, and houses have no organized numbering system. Finding a house or a shop in a city as large as Kabul often means endless roaming in warrens of similar-looking streets. Many Afghans will tell you to look for a tree or the color of their door or use proximity to a famous mosque when they're giving directions.

-- Abubakar Siddique