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.
Jaji, Afghanistan — 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.
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.
``People ... now know the value of communications, about radio, television, news magazines,'' says Mohammed Hasham Rafayi, head of the Media Center's video department. ``We have sent video tapes to Kabul to show what is happening in other parts of the country, what the mujahideen are doing. These are shown in tea shops and in homes, and the inhabitants want to see more.''
Particularly encouraging, relief representatives say, is the growing sense of public service and desire among women to play a role in Afghanistan's reconstruction. Women are are also anxious to learn, attending English classes and computer courses. (See accompanying story.)
``As things stand now, it will be extremely difficult to rebuild the whole educational system inside Afghanistan, because you can't find the teachers,'' says Swedish relief official Anders Fange. ``There has been a brain drain ... which is continuing. The intellectuals are going as refugees on scholarships to Western countries and not coming back.''
Kabul University, in the Afghan capital, reflects the Afghan tragedy. At the start of the war, it had 10,000 students and nearly 1,000 teachers, and was beginning to flourish as a seat of learning.
``Now it has become a dead place,'' says Hassan Kakar, a historian, who was imprisoned by the Kabul regime for nearly four years. On his release in 1986, he was allowed to continue teaching, but he fled to Pakistan last year.
``People are watching you the whole time. Many of the teachers have been killed, jailed, or have fled,'' Professor Kakar says. ``There are now less than 6,000 students, mainly women, because [the men] have joined the mujahideen or been conscripted. And those who are allowed to study are usually party supporters or have fought for the government.''
Educators and aid representatives point out that vast outside resources will be needed to rehabilitate the university once refugees return. The same goes for schools, hospitals, and other institutions.
``We will need a whole new generation of doctors not only to work with the people but also to teach. No one will trust those doctors who worked for the regime or were trained by the Russians,'' says Hasham Hisham, a surgeon, who was in Kabul until 1986, and had to flee because of his collaboration with the resistance.
A few of Afghanistan's estimated 100,000 skilled professionals living abroad are ready to play a new role - some because they see fresh opportunity, some because of a sense of guilt and responsibility. Economist Hedayet Amin Arsala, a former official with the World Bank, left his job in Washington in order to work on a development strategy.
``The guilt comes basically because I always think it was people like me who could have avoided what happened in Afghanistan had they used courage, or some degree of integrity, to caution people and to attract the attention of those who ruled to the problems at hand,'' he says, over tea in the garden of a Peshawar hotel. ``But this is also my country. And I want to be able to do something about it.''
Last of four parts. Previous articles ran Oct. 24, 25, and 26.