Meeting with Nancy Hatch Dupree, Senior Consultant, AKBAR/ARIC (Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief):

Web page: www.afghanresources.org

Nancy Hatch Dupree (photo to the right) is probably the World’s leading authority on the cultural heritage of Afghanistan, having lived and worked most of her life in the area. Together with her late husband, the anthropologist Louis Dupree, she travelled extensively in Afghanistan in the 1960’s and 70’s and has published numerous books and articles about the country.
She is now living in Peshawar, and still actively engaged in AKBAR/ARIC saving whatever there is left to save of the cultural heritage in Afghanistan after 20 years of destruction and looting.

We were lucky that she had been invited to present a paper at the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, so we could meet this fascinating and enormously vital woman. She came directly from the airport to the head office of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, near Chicken Street (the SCA office was shifted here as recently as January 2003), where we had made an appointment in the morning of Thursday 4 December 2003.
Nancy described the main projects that AKBAR/ARIC is involved with. They involve strengthening the services for research on Afghanistan, by linking all institutions and libraries in Kabul and the provinces together. It also involves collecting all possible documents from the UN agencies, NGO’s working in Afghanistan and multilateral project bodies. These documents should be made easily available in the form of a Documentation Centre to be placed in Kabul.

So far 25 000 document have been collected and are now kept in Peshawar, because still the political situation in Kabul is not stable enough for the setting up of such a centre. And besides a building, which should be user-friendly with all facilities available, must be built.
An important benefit such a centre would give is that Afghani researchers and scholars here would find an arena where they can meet with Western researcher and students. Because, as Nancy Dupree strongly points out, it is utmost important that research on Afghanistan is carried out by Afghanis themselves, and not only by foreign scholars. But in order to realize this Afghani researchers must be trained in how to handle research. This knowledge is lacking today.
One institution in Afghanistan where efforts already are under way to implement this philosophy is the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, where local staff has contributed to the forthcoming United Nations Development Programme Country Report on Afghanistan, soon to be published. See the UNDP Afghanistan Office web page for more information.

Otherwise she has no illusions that it may happen very soon, because the standard of research carried out by local researchers today is not up to the mark. She told an illustrating story that she recently got three manuscripts from local researchers to publish. But it turned out to be impossible to print them, as the quality was too bad. Once upon a time there used to be proficient scholars at the universities, but during the 20 years of war and isolation they have grown old and have given up. And for those who see the salvation in getting young Afghanis, trained abroad, back from the Diaspora, this is not a much better lot, because they mostly lack the knowledge necessary about Afghani culture and society. ”They know everything about technology but lack the human dimension”, Nancy says. This makes them dangerous as they tend to prefer to tear everything old down and put up new buildings.

The second project Nancy Dupree is working hard with is the so-called ABEL Extension project. It is about publishing books in the major languages of Afghanistan, Pushtu and Dari, and distributing them to libraries to be set up all over the country. Since the project started in 1995 a total number of 122 titles have been published. Community libraries have been set up at 30 places, and the distribution also goes to 75 high school libraries, and 600 other libraries run by other organisations/agencies. Here the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is deeply committed in cooperation.
Staffan commented that the mission Nancy Dupree and AKBAR/ARIC has taken upon themselves should really be a government affair, as it could be termed setting up a National Archive. Nancy however objected to the term, as it ”sounds dusty”, and also because the work they perform could not be carried out by the government at present, because no trained staff is available. With training it might however be possible to turn the documentation centre and the libraries over to the government in the future.

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Last updated 2007-01-18