Asia Crisis

As problems pile up, Afghan lawmakers debate words

KABUL, Aug 11 (Reuters) - As insurgent attacks reach record levels, relations with Pakistan sink to new lows and rising food prices hurt millions, the Afghan parliament on Monday grappled with what word to use for 'university'.

The debate pits Pashtu speakers, mainly from the south and east, against Dari-speaking Tajiks from the north and west and centres on the thorny issue of which words to use for expressions such as 'university', 'student', and for academic titles.

"There were two different points of views in the meeting," parliamentarian Ahmad Ali Jebrayeli told Reuters. "There were some who favoured the use of Dari expressions by Dari speakers and Pashtu words for those who speak Pashtu," he said.

"But there were others who said that we have to preserve our national expressions by using the old-style Pashtu words because some of the expressions used by Dari speakers are actually Iranian Farsi," he said.

Dari is a dialect of Persian spoken in northern Afghanistan, while Farsi is the Iranian dialect of the same language.

Pashtu is the language of Pashtuns, the traditional rulers of Afghanistan and the dominant ethnic group of the country.

Jebrayeli lamented that with the huge problems facing Afghanistan, lawmakers were locked in debate over terminology.

The debate will likely reinforce the perception of many ordinary Afghans that parliamentarians are out of touch with their needs and only focus on their own narrow interests.

Parliament failed to agree on a resolution and decided to form a committee to look into the problem, Jebrayeli said.

A journalist for a state newspaper was recently fined for using the Persian word for university in a report.

About 2,500 people, 1,000 of them civilians, have been killed in bombs and clashes between Taliban insurgents on one side and Afghan and international troops on the other.

Afghanistan blames Pakistan for much of the violence, accusing its neighbour of giving sanctuary and support to militants. Meanwhile, Western allies accuse President Hamid Karzai's government of failing to crack down on rampant corruption, which has led to Afghanistan being listed 172nd out of 180 countries on Transparency International's corruption perception index.

A harsh winter and poor rains are expected to produce a poor harvest this year and, coupled with high world food prices, are expected to lead to food shortages this year for millions of Afghans, already some of the poorest people in the world. (Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fogarty)