This description of Asad Danish's work was prepared when Asad Danish was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
Asad Danish is promoting peace-building and development in Afghanistan by enhancing education and establishing libraries in rural and urban schools.
The New Idea
Asad is working to bring harmony to war-torn Afghanistan and the Pushtoon tribal belt in and along Pakistan in the North West Frontier Province. He focuses on education and learning through publishing, creating libraries and providing resources to illiterate masses through radio. Asad’s publishing house prints ‘knowledge’ books, including dictionaries, how-to guides, translations and magazines that bring local wisdom and global knowledge to the Pushtoon people in their own language. The crux of Asad’s work has been the creation of libraries in small towns in Afghanistan, particularly in schools. Using books donated by his organization, the Danish Publication Association, Asad developed the concept of the “Dynamic Librarian,” through which he started reading circles to promote education in local communities. The publication house now serves as a for-profit venture that supports him and helps him invest in rebuilding Afghanistan through various community projects. It focuses on Pushtoon and other communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and does outreach to Afghan and Pakistani communities in Europe, North America and the Middle East to help mobilize resources for development in rebuilding Afghanistan. In addition to this, Asad is establishing an FM channel, which will broadcast local news and promote Afghan culture and literature. Asad’s publishing and library projects have brought together people from social, political and literary fields and made him a known figure among the locals. Asad has built upon this to create hubs for meeting places to create discussions and dialogue around peace. He is also involving religious leaders and the Taliban in his efforts to bring tranquility; a peace mushaira (poetry recital) held recently in Kabul is an example of such activities. Through inclusive activities such as these he is bringing a semblance of peace and normalcy to war-torn Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that the Afghan war has destroyed the economic and social structure of Afghanistan and the contiguous areas of Pakistan, where Pushtuns are the largest ethnic group. Pushtuns have been the amongst the greatest victims of the fighting that has, thus far, claimed the lives of more than three million people. In addition to this, millions more have been displaced, and an estimated 40 to 50 million Pushtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan are surviving in dismal conditions. Tribal feuds, religious animosity and sectarian hatred have demarcated barriers amongst the Pushtuns and brought further miseries upon them. Peace and development are two primary needs to resolve these issues, but a top-down development approach, lack of community participation, meager resources, absence of dynamic leadership, prevailing militancy and dying social and cultural norms have left them with no choices but to bear arms for survival. Art, culture and literature have failed to attract government’s attention, and as a result, artists, writers and poets find no avenue to express and disseminate their message. Furthermore, the last thirty years in Afghanistan have seen a consistent destruction of libraries, schools, areas of cultural importance whether it was due to the Taliban or the constant invasions by foreign powers. While international forces have been trying to root out extremist elements, little systemic effort has been made to rebuild the educational infrastructure. Currently the literacy rate in Afghanistan is 28 percent: A gap that has left the Afghan population with few or no means of pursuing educational opportunities.
Asad, an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, started his career by establishing a book store, which eventually expanded to include a publishing house: The Danish Publishing Association. Noticing a lack of interest from local publishers to print books in Pushto language, Asad took advantage of the opportunity to produce books for millions of readers, specifically those living in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with an aim to expanding knowledge and reviving literature. Asad’s publishing association started their work by first establishing five libraries, and the enterprise has grown to include 30 more in different parts of Afghanistan. The libraries are located in both girls and boys schools to help support the education process. In that same vein, he has also introduced the idea of “Dynamic Librarian” to increase the literacy rate in poor communities and create awareness about Pushto books and literature. Asad’s continued efforts in the last eighteen years have seen the publication of 1700 titles in the Pushto language. This includes dictionaries, books on learning how to use computers, financial systems and science, as well as literature that highlights the culture and history of the people and helps them remain connected with their traditions and be proud of their identities. The publications highlight good community development practices and motivate and encourage practices such as such as encouraging the formation of sports clubs, hygienic practices among local service providers such as barbers, and helping young people get scholarships to college. His publication house is nationally acclaimed and received best books prizes in year 2007 and 2008 by the Association of Afghans in Europe.Seeing that radio is the major media through which people receive news and entertainment, Asad set out in 2009 to establish a radio channel. He has acquired government permissions and built a team to run the radio channel and is in the process of acquiring transmitters and other equipment. However, contradictory to contemporary practice of electronic media to promote foreign culture and Indian movie songs, Asad plans to promote local culture, arts, literature and education. Asad plans to use a combination of radio, books and libraries to create a pro-peace mindset and help people learn and spread education. He is planning to increase the number of libraries and create more hubs for people to engage in dialogue and promote local cultural practices. Asad sees the implementation of this three-pronged strategy as necessary to recreate the education process and positively impact the development of Afghanistan. He is also determined to spread the impact among Pashto emigrants in order to attract them to peace-building and development.
During the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Asad’s father was jailed for not supporting the Russian regime; an event that traumatized his entire family. Before that, he remembers his father having a small library and musing that if he had many children, one of them could maintain it, not expecting Asad to care for literature so deeply. With the onset of war Asad never received formal education, but when he arrived in Peshawar in 1990 as a refugee, he set up a bookstore and later the Danish Publishing Association. He felt committed to supporting the education he missed out on because of the war, and made a promise to himself that the generations of Afghans like himself that suffered would have another chance to attain education and relinquish weapons for books.For four years Asad worked on publishing to generate resources and create a network of people before embarking on the library building project and encouraging small-scale community development works. Five years later he established the Danish Publishing Association. Today Asad is constantly involved in developing new resources for the Afghan immigrant population in Pakistan, as well as Afghan’s living in Afghanistan who have suffered the various invasions, to support them and help them realize their potential.