Afghanistan's lost generation. Ten years of fighting have deprived thousands of Afghans of schooling and technical skills. Educating youngsters, and retraining older Afghans, is one of the key challenges beyond the war.
Soon after he trained as a mining engineer in Kabul nearly a decade ago, Jan Agha joined the Afghan resistance. With his technical background, he has since worked primarily as a radio operator, interpreter, and supply coordinator with a guerrilla front. ``I do whatever is needed,'' says Mr. Agha, a shy, kindly man whose face is marked with the years spent in the mountains. Now in his early 30s, Agha is married and has two children, who he sees when he returns on leave to Peshawar, in Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It is difficult to think of the future. ``We have to keep fighting until the Russians are gone and the regime in Kabul is overthrown,'' Agha says, as if dreaming of peace will only make things harder, should the war continue after the Soviet pullout in February.
Thousands of Afghans are in a similar position. Like Agha, many joined the resistance to fight the Soviet invaders and the Afghan communist government. Some were barely teenagers in high school; others, who joined later, never had a chance to get that far in their education; and yet others fled the country to escape the war.
After years during which many Afghans considered schooling a luxury, the resistance is now coming to realize that it would operate better with educated mujahideen (``holy warriors,'' as the guerrillas are known). The resistance also faces a struggle beyond war: educating a whole generation of Afghan children, many born in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, and training new teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals to help rebuild their shattered nation.
``It was the macho thing to do, to go and fight the `jihad.' Only the chicken-hearted went to school,'' observes Nancy Dupree, who has lived many years in Afghanistan, and is doing a refugee study in Pakistan. ``They saw fighting for their homeland as their only option and so it's been difficult to get the bright ones to go school. But this is changing as more opportunities open up.''
In the meantime, however, an entire generation may have been lost.
``I have never been able to really practice my profession because of the war,'' Agha says. ``I have forgotten everything. I will have to go back and study before I can become useful again.''
Once the war is over, say several mujahideen fighting with Agha, they hope to go back to high school, which they were forced to leave because of conscription, government repression, or the desire to join the resistance. Then, they say, they hope to go on to university to become doctors, administrators, and technicians.
``Before we could only think of fighting,'' says Hamidullah, who joined the resistance when he was 14, shortly after the December 1979 Soviet invasion. ``But now we see what has happened to our country and what needs to be done.''
The thirst for education is evident in Peshawar, headquarters of the resistance and the major center for refugee aid programs. The International Rescue Committee's English courses are oversubscribed by young mujahideen, determined to learn between bouts at the front. Aspiring journalists, photographers, and cameramen throng to the IRC's journalism courses as well as those of the US-backed Afghan Media Resources Center.