Meetings in Kabul Wednesday 3 December 2003:

Visit to Kabul University

Kabul University is located in a big and beautiful campus area east of the city centre. The University was started already in 1931 during the rule of King Nadir Shah, and it played a major role for the development of the Afghan society up to 1979. During the 20 years of Soviet occupation, and civil war, the standard however severely declined, mainly because most proficient scholars fled the country. And for those who remained the isolation from the outside World meant that the development in research stopped completely.

Some of the buildings are in poor shape, but actually we did not see any concrete war damages. And outside almost every single faculty building signs stand today, signalling that cooperation projects with foreign countries (mostly Germany) are under way to rebuild the institutions. Sweden however is absent in these projects.
What also struck our eyes was that we did not see a single book in any of the rooms of the ordinary professors or deans we visited.
The university’s winter vacation had already started for most students. Some examinations were however still held, so a small number of students were present on the campus (like the students of Economics in the photo above).

Unfortunately we could not meet the Chancellor for Kabul University, Prof. M Akbar Popal, who has taken a great interest in improving the standard of the university and is a driving force in opening up exchange programmes with universities around the World. We sat waiting for over an hour in his waiting room, along with a women reportage team from the Times Educational Supplement in London, working on a feature on Kabul University, and its new computer training courses. But we finally had to give up, as Prof. Popal was still busy with appointments. We had a small chat however with the Director of President’s Office, Mr. Akram Mukthar, who acts as an assistant to the Chancellor.
We returned the following day and tried to fix an appointment with Prof. Popal through the university’s secretariat, but his schedule turned out to be totally full for the day. Well there is nothing strange with this. Exactly the same thing would probably happen if we had tried to make an unexpected visit to the Vice-Chancellor of any Swedish university.
This time we met another British resident in the waiting-room, Tim Eyres from Oxford, working as Programme Manager at Kabul University’s newly established English Resource Centre.

Meeting with Prof. Gul Rahman Hakim, Dean of the Faculty of Education

Instead we headed straight for the faculties. Our first meeting was with Prof. Gul Rahman Hakim, Dean of the Faculty of Education. He is a psychologist by training, with a PhD from an Indian university, and has worked at Columbia University in New York.
The faculty which encompasses teaching of pedagogics, psychology and social sciences, was in the pre-communist days organized in three sections, one for the social sciences, one for the natural sciences, and one for administation. The communist government after 1978 changed the system, and divided the faculty into two departments only, one for pedagogics, and one for psychology. Now the faculty will return to the original three-tier division and at the same time use the American university system as a model. Today the priority set in the faculty is to produce competent teachers trainers and administrators.

Currently, the Faculty has 300 students and 18 teachers, of whom 12 are very young (eight men and four women) and lacking even a Masters degree. There is also a major problem with language proficiency, most of the faculty is poor in English and would have to attend intensive courses before qualifying for a Masters course abroad.
Prof. Hakim has been in touch with Pia Karlsson and Amir Mansory from the Institute of International Education (IIE), at Stockholm University, while working on their joint PhD thesis project titled ”Islamic and 'Modern' Education in Afghanistan – Also for Girls?”.
He would welcome an opportunity to send some of his staff abroad for Masters courses in Pedagogics, etc. Prof. Hakim specifically points out the utmost necessity to train the Afghan students in methodology, and the art of learning how to do research. Knowledge that is non-existent in Afghanistan today.

Visit to the National Centre for Policy Research at Kabul University

We then visited the National Centre for Policy Research, established as recently as January 2003. There we met Mr. Mohammad Bashir Ahmadzai, Project Assistant Administrator, and Mr. Werner M. Prohl, Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung Country Representative.
The Centre, financed by the German private foundation Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, was set up with the specific political purpose to promote democracy in Afghanistan. The way to do this is augment the capacity of social scientists at Kabul University to do research. As such the Centre is autonomous in relation to the faculties at Kabul University, and the salaries are paid by Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung.

The centre has three departments:

• Dept. of Law and Political Sciences, headed by Prof. Qazi
• Dept. of Economics, headed by Prof. Seihun
• Dept. of Social Sciences, headed by Prof. Nasreen Gros

The heads of the departments are permanently employed. The ambition is that research should be carried out by Afghanis themselves, and not by foreign experts. Mr Werner Prohl (photo to the left) said that they are well aware of the present lack of research consciousness among the academics at Afghani universities, and the need for this to be adjusted. But the German financiers do not see this as a short-term project, but instead take on a long-term view (20–25 years) on the funding of the institute, just like they do in all International projects they decide to get involved with. We asked if they have contacts with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, AREU, that we visited the day before (see our report). They know about AREU, but there have so far been no formal contacts between the two centres.

The National Centre for Policy Research offers scholarships to Afghani researchers for carrying out Masters and post-graduate studies in Germany. But even here, Mr Prohl points out, it is still difficult to find suitable candidates for scholarship programmes. Four German universities are involved in these programmes, and the goal is to establish working PhD sandwich programmes between these German institutions and the University of Kabul. A working PhD sandwich programme in Economics has already been evolved in cooperation with the University of Bochum.
Mr. Prohl does not fear that the students going out for studies will stay on in Germany after completing their studies. Those who get an opportunity of going abroad for higher studies will definitely prefer to return to good, high-status positions in Afghanistan rather than staying on in Germany, he argues.

A number of research projects have been initiated at the Centre, for example on “The Development of Democracy in Afghanistan”, “Trade relations with Central Asian countries”, “Rule of Law in Afghanistan”, and “Disarming militias as a precondition for Peace in Afghanistan”. These projects engage roughly 80–90 lecturers from various faculties of Kabul University. They are engaged for 6 – 12 months on a part time basis. The remaining time they continue to teach at their ordinary departments, where they have their permanent employment.
As the Centre does not expect valid research results in the short run they also plan for in-training of the researchers at Kabul University, teaching methodology and the practice of research. For that purpose seminars will be held in Kabul with German professors coming here. The first one is planned to be held in March 2004, and 80–90 KU lecturers from the three departments who are not properly trained to do research will take part in the seminar.

Meeting with Prof. M. Daud Rawosh, Dean of the Faculty of the Social Sciences

Our third meeting was with Prof. M. Daud Rawosh, Dean of the Faculty of the Social Sciences (to the right on the photo) and Mr. Pohandoie Ahmed Zia Nickben, Head of the Philosophy Department in the faculty. Both of them are educated in philosophy.
Prof. Daud Rawash completed his higher studies with a PhD in 1993 at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow – now renamed the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (PFUR).
When he returned to Afghanistan the situation was very volatile in Kabul, so instead he taught for some years at the Balkh University in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The Balkh University, the second largest of Afghanistan with faculties in medicine, engineering, economics, journalism, literature, law and science, was mostly unaffected by the long war, and only came into trouble after the Taliban take-over of north Afghanistan. Prof Rawash then fled to Islamabad, Pakistan, and in 1997 he became involved in setting up a college for Afghan refugees. He returned to Afghanistan after the liberation from the Taliban in late 2001, and started to work at Kabul University.

The Faculty consists of several departments; the subjects include sociology, anthropology/ethnology, history, modern history, archaeology and political science. There are however presently not a single teacher in the disciplines of sociology and modern history. All courses run are at an undergraduate level, but the ambition is to be able to start also an MA programme.
Prof. Rawash complained that the standard of the faculty right now is deplorable. The faculty staff consists of 35 persons, out of whom ten are professors. Most of these are old – according to Prof. Rawash that means 45 years and above – and besides not really qualified, lacking even Masters degrees. Only four of the professors at the faculty have PhD degrees besides himself; one from Iran, one from USA, one from Bulgaria, and one from Uzbekistan (during the time of the Soviet Union).
It means that even the professors should in fact need further education in order to increase the standard of their teaching, but Prof. Rawash sees no prospects for such a possibility, as few foreign universities would accept elderly people for Masters programmes. And even if it became possible it would not be a very good affair for the Kabul University as they could not be expected to work more than few years thereafter. Instead the faculty should invest in sending every year four of its younger teachers, below 30 years, for higher degrees abroad. Prof. Rawash proposes that one of them should be in the field of History, and the other three from philosophy and sociology.
No formal collaboration with any foreign university exists so far, but discussions are under way with universities in Italy, and also with the Strassbourg University in France.

Mr. Nickben who heads the Philosophy department was not very conversant in English, but was able to inform us that he had completed a Masters degree in philosophy at Kabul University in 1984, and he then had continued to work at the university during all the troublesome years.
Other teachers however left the country, and Prof Rawash gave us the names of some of his former colleagues, the sociologists Mr. Farid Noory and Mr. Anwar Arman, who now live in Sweden. Besides he mentioned two Kabul University economists, Mr. Omr, and Mr. Sohilla, also now staying in Sweden. We decided to search for them after returning to Sweden.

Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development

In the afternoon we made an attempt to meet Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (involved in the forthcoming Afghanistan country report from the UNDP). Zakhilwal is an Afganistan Studies researcher, and a friend of Mr. Ahmed Ghulam at the Department of Islamology at Lund Unversity. It turned out however that Dr. Zakhilwal was abroad.

Evening with Swedish experts

The Swedish Counsellor and Sida representative in Kabul Mr. Jörgen Persson and his wife Shireen Persson (originally coming from Sri Lanka, working for the Swedish NGO Save the Children) had invited us for dinner along with:

• Mr. Oscar Schlyter, Political Advisor, Office of Special Representative of the European Union for Afghanistan (photo, to the right). A young man who joined the Swedish Foreign Service (the Afghanistan desk) after writing a Masters thesis at the Dept. of Political Science, Stockholm University, in the Spring 2001 on the Taliban movement. The thesis was named ”Securitising Afghanistan. Regional security and the rise of the Taliban”.
He is now working for one year as an advisor to the EU representative in Afghanistan Vandrell. More information on EU's relations with Afghanistan.

• Dr. Staffan Darnolf, Election Administration Specialist, International Foundation for Election Systems (photo, to the left). Consultant working for one year to prepare the presidential elections that are scheduled to be held in Afghanistan in the Summer 2004.

• Dr. Björn Odin, the Institute for Personnel and Corporate Development (IPF), an autonomous academic body working with management training, development programmes, corporate and personnel strategies, future and environment studies, research and assessment studies, wholly owned by Uppsala University, and with staff members all having an academic education within the behavioural and/or social sciences. Björn Odin was now in Afghanistan with a mission to write a curriculum for primary schools in Afghanistan.

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