What legal education could do for a resilient Afghanistan
Americans need a more complex, realistic picture of Afghanistan. Such a picture shows that US efforts to support education and the development of Afghan civil society should not be abandoned. It also shows that these initiatives may require patience and persistence.
As Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai meets with President Obama in Washington this week, and the Senate prepares to consider Mr. Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, now seems like an apt time for reflection on the US strategy in Afghanistan. In particular, what does America’s approach to Afghanistan’s educational needs reveal about its long-term goals for the country?Skip to next paragraph
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Last fall, in a brief and unceremonious election, I became the co-director of a small group – the Afghanistan Legal Education Project– at Stanford Law School. Our organization works with academics in Kabul to write law textbooks for young Afghans.
Early visions of prestige notwithstanding, I’ve learned by now that my duties are mostly administrative – editing, scheduling, sending cajoling emails. But for all that the job lacks in diplomatic glamour, it comes with an unusual perk. Each week, I host a Skype call with our American teaching fellow in Kabul. Over time, her insight has come to serve as a healthy source of perspective: a sense that Afghanistan is more sophisticated – and resilient – than many pundits and politicians suggest. America’s approach to its future should be, too.
Jenn Round is our longest serving teaching fellow, and she’s been reporting back from Kabul for more than 18 months. When our weekly calls began, she and I mostly stuck to discussing the project. Now, however, when there is little textbook business to discuss, we fill the time with other topics.
It’s in this way, through secondhand snippets about Jenn’s students, that I’ve learned the textured details of student life in Kabul. I’ve heard stories about a new “law club,” job-market jitters, even fledgling romances. For one hour each week, the lives of Jenn’s students are transmitted across continents, and reassemble themselves in my San Francisco apartment.
These are more than idle tangents. They serve as reminders that Afghanistan is not simply a place where military strategies play themselves out. It is home to a population of individuals with vibrant lives, personal ambitions, and, as history attests, ample capacity for endurance.
Much of our focus on Afghanistan is on the upcoming withdrawal of US troops (which the Obama administration has made clear will be concluded in 2014). We argue about failures and successes, profits and losses. Almost invariably, somewhere beneath these discussions lies an unwieldy question: What happens next?
America’s military presence is an important issue for Afghanistan, but it is not all encompassing. Afghanistan has experienced such transitions before, and the choice it now faces is not necessarily between cataclysmic violence and peace.