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Hope for Afghanistan – with its new generation of law students

For Afghanistan to stabilize, it doesn't just need new buildings and better police forces. It must have educated citizens who can fairly run government, implement laws, and work in the courts. Based on our work with Afghan law students, we have hope for the future.

By Daniel Lewis / September 30, 2011

Stanford, Calif.

Recent headlines suggest that Afghanistan is headed for collapse – the result of US troop withdrawals, Taliban attacks in Kabul, and the Parliament in constitutional crisis. While the challenges that Afghanistan faces are unarguably difficult, the defining question is whether Afghans can and will stand up for themselves.

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One common gauge of progress is the strength of the Afghan police and military. Yet as we know, a fighting force that provides physical security is only one part of the equation. What about the effectiveness and integrity of government ministers and parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, business executives, and others in positions of authority? These people are pillars of democracy, and their performance so far has been disappointing – with corruption, incompetence, and bitter infighting all too common.

Now, however, a wave of students – who were mere children when the US first invaded the country in 2001 – is graduating from Afghanistan’s universities. Can they be bulwarks of successful democracy? Our experiences suggest that this next generation of leaders provides cause for hope for Afghanistan’s future.

As part of the Afghanistan Legal Education Project, I and several other students from Stanford Law School recently visited Kabul for textbook-writing research. There, we sat in on a class, the Introduction to the Laws of Afghanistan, taught to a group of 30 eager Afghan undergraduates at the American University of Afghanistan. The professor, Haroon Mutasem, is a rising star in the legal community. He was first in his class at Kabul University during the Taliban era – even though it was dangerous for anyone from his Tajik ethnic group to “stand out” among the predominantly Pashtun Taliban . He then received an advanced legal degree from the University of Washington on a scholarship.

Mr. Mutasem cold-called students, just as one would at an American law school, and they responded with thoughtful answers and asked pointed questions of their own. The evening class time accommodates students with full-time jobs, like Jamil Danish, who works during the day as a journalist. Mr. Danish wanted to learn about Afghan law to better inform his coverage of politics and current events.


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