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.
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More than a few of the students grew up in Pakistan, where their families fled during the chaos and fighting of previous decades. Several told us they felt a responsibility to learn about the laws of Afghanistan, to understand the country where they now live.Skip to next paragraph
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Our group also spoke at length with top legal students selected by USAID from Afghanistan’s public universities for an English-language training program. These men and women were bright and friendly, nervous about their job prospects but seemingly upbeat about their country. The education they received in school is heavy with theory and memorization, but the students eagerly seized the practical knowledge and critical thinking skills in the new Afghan law textbooks that our project writes.
The students plan to apply their legal knowledge in a variety of careers, from business to government to nonprofits. Unfortunately, the private sector is still weak in Afghanistan, and job opportunities are scarce, especially for women.
One afternoon we interviewed Hamid Rasooli, a potential translator for our textbooks. Mr. Rasooli is a mid-twenties returnee from Pakistan, where he learned English in a refugee camp since it was one of the few proven ways to get ahead. As we shook hands at the end of the interview he told us he was particularly interested in translating our textbooks because they bring valuable knowledge to his fellow Afghans, his “brothers.” This is the type of goodwill and optimism we encountered in almost every young adult we met.
For many years there has been an emphasis in Afghanistan on building structures, both physical and governmental: new courthouses, new laws, new schools. These produce easily quantifiable results and indicate progress on paper. But for Afghanistan to stabilize, a key ingredient is educated citizens who can effectively and fairly run the government, implement the laws, and work as judges and attorneys in the courts.
Based on our group’s interactions with the next generation – people like Mutasem, Danish, and Rasooli – we believe there is hope. By empowering this generation of students with legal knowledge, they can be building blocks for a stronger Afghan democracy as they fan out into critical positions in the government and economy. Importantly, America still has time to think about how it can best foster this long-term development going forward.
Admittedly, our experiences are anecdotal, but they are also targeted. We work with only a small, unusually well educated subsection of Afghans. But there is no doubt that these students are the next generation of leaders, for better or worse. We believe the next generation will work for the better.
Daniel Lewis is a third-year student at Stanford Law School and co-executive director of the Afghanistan Legal Education Project based there.