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The Role of Education In Afghanistan's Political Future Ambassador Said T. Jawad

Colgate University

Dear Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for your interest in Afghanistan. I am honored to be here. I would like to thank Dr. Rebecca Chopp, Colgate's President; Mr. Lyle Roelofs, Colgate's Provost Professor Alexander Nakhimovsky, and Dr. Adam Weinberg for the warm hospitality and for providing me with the opportunity to be here with you.

I have been asked to speak about a number of issues; including update on the recent political development in Afghanistan, the London Conference, the role of education in reducing violence and extremism. All of which require detailed discussions. I will touch upon all of the subjects briefly, and allow more time for Q&A to discuss some of the issues in more detail.

Historically, Afghanistan has been the center-stage when great regional and global changes have taken place. From the conquests of Alexander the Great, to the emergence of Afghan empires, from the Cold War to the global war against terror, Afghanistan’s destiny has been connected with regional and global politics.

Afghanistan is a land bridge connecting Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. The ancient Silk Route, which carried both goods and knowledge, and connected China to the heart of Europe, passed through Afghanistan. Today, Afghanistan is once more playing its historic role in bridging cultures, countries and civilizations. Afghanistan is an operating model of cooperation of civilizations. Over 60 counties are helping rebuild Afghanistan.

Yesterday, President Bush was in Kabul to emphasize the long term US commitment and the strategic partnership between our two countries. He was the second US President, after President Eisenhower, to visit Afghanistan.

Last month, the London Conference reasserted the international consensus that has been the foundation of the Afghan people partnership with he international community. In London, we launched the Afghanistan Compact, which sets out an ambitious agenda with quantitative and time-bound benchmarks for rebuilding Afghanistan. The Compact is a realistic plan of what we need to do in order to consolidate the peace and state-building process in Afghanistan.

We need to enable our new national and democratic institutions, all of which are successfully created by under the Bonn Agreement, to deliver services to the Afghan people, to improve security, to fight the menace of narcotics, to create job and opportunities, to enforce laws, and to protect our citizens, both men and women, from crimes, corruption and human rights violations. We recognize that urgent actions and reforms are needed to overcome theses challenges.

Improving security is crucial. It must be to be done through military and non-military means. Considering a rising level of terrorist infiltrations, attacks in the South, and further incidents of suicide bombers generated outside Afghanistan, the continuing strong presence and robust role of the US military is needed and welcomed by the Afghan people. We have asked our friend Pakistan to cooperate with us sincerely. We have provided them with intelligence dossier about the terrorists’ locations and training camps inside Pakistan.

We hope that NATO is capable to meet the expectations of the Afghan people to fight the war against terror effectively and decisively.

We are very grateful for the new pledges in London, amounting to about $10.5 billion dollars with $4 billion coming from the United States. These pledges demonstrate a continuing donor confidence in Afghanistan. We are asking for improved efficiency of use of funds from our partners.

In London, the Afghan Government committed itself to further reforms and meeting specific benchmarks and goals over the next five years and unveiled its strategies for doing so. In return, the international community committed to long-term financial and military support. In two weeks we will have the first meetings of the US Afghan Strategic Partnership in Washington. The Strategic Partnership was signed in June of 2005.

The U.S.-Afghanistan partnership has yielded significant results for our people. We have established all key institutions of democratic governance, including constitutional design, human rights commission, electoral system, national army and police force, political parties, as well as mechanisms for building trust, political reintegration, women empowerment, and disarmament of militias.

We have experienced double digit economic growth in the past four years, and made considerable progress in connecting the country by building roads and telecommunication systems. Afghans today enjoy more political, economic, and social rights than at any time in the history of the country. Free press is flourishing.

We have come along way, but we are not out of the woods. Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries of the world; in fact the 6th poorest country in the world. We have one of the highest infant mortality and one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world; and we have unacceptable levels of illiteracy, particularly among women. Six percent of the population has access to electricity and only 23 percent have safe drinkable water.

Among our numerous challenges, the task of rebuilding our education system has stood out. We have made some progress. Student enrollment in universities has leaped tenfold from 4,000 in 2002 to 40,000 in 2005. Imagine, next year your admissions board decides to increase by ten times the current enrollment. The dorms and classrooms would be crowded, and the faculty would be overwhelmed. This is what we are facing in Afghanistan.

In the past 30 years, while the rest of the world was investing in education, universities and schools in Afghanistan were not ignored, they were systematically destroyed. Our schools, universities, and libraries were bombed and our trained teachers were killed. Our curriculum was politicized by the Communists and the Taliban. My country was forced into an academic isolation that lasted over quarter century. 80% of school buildings across the country are damaged or destroyed. Eighty percent. This is a tremendous loss for a poor country. It took us sixty years to build them.

Under Taliban rules, girls were not allowed to go to school. Consequently, 69% of women and girls all over the country, with 90% in rural areas, cannot read. Only 29% of schools that we have are under a roof. Most children sit under the shade of trees or under large tents to study. No desks. Books are shared. Fortunately, despite these impediments, the kids keep coming to school in hundreds and thousands. 5.6 million Children are going back to school.

Under our new Constitution, the Government of Afghanistan has taken the responsibility of paying for all of its citizens, male or female, to go not only to school but also to college. This even includes dorms and meals for students who travel from rural areas. This is a serious burden, and our only option is to shoulder it. We have fallen far behind, and education is the only means of catching up. We need resources to make up for quarter century of losses.

In remote rural areas we have gone back to the basic literacy classes, which have been integrated into our National Development Strategy. We have combined these literacy programs with teaching life skills, such as training in basic health care or housekeeping.

It is not only our recent history, Geography, too poses a major obstacle for us. Our Beautiful land that is praised by poets and travelers, is a harsh terrain, with few roads and a lot of landmine. Many children have to walk over two hours to reach a classroom. A two-hour walk in Afghanistan is scenic, but dangerous too, especially for a young girl.

We are building some new schools with your assistance, but a school without a teacher, books and curriculum is a waste of valuable resources. We need more teachers, and we better training opportunities for them.

We are gradually introducing “Information Technology” to schools and universities. Instruction in our universities is still primarily through handwritten notes. Kabul University is setting up distance learning centers.

But providing basic education to next generation and all Afghan children is not the end of the road. We urgently need to develop and expand our depleted human capital. The small pool of the available human capital is largely being consumed by NGOs and the UN. They have resources to buy the capacity. A teacher can make ten times more money if takes up the job of a driver for an NGO. We do not have the financial resources to compete with such organizations, and this leaves the Afghan government with very limited capacity to deliver services to millions of demanding people who have enthusiastically participated in the elections to elect their President and representatives at the parliament.

We have made significant progress with higher education. Four years ago, 1% of the student body was comprised of girls. Today, 24% of the students who attend Kabul University are women. We hope to have a 50/50 gender ratio six years from now. Kabul net student enrollment is 87% (92% boys, 81% girls) and this is the model that we hope to replicate.

Investing in education is also investing in women empowerment. It is through education and economic empowerment that women become aware of their constitutional rights and gain the necessary skills to compete for jobs-- leading them from dependency to equality and freedom. Furthermore, when men are better educated, they are more likely to support education for women.

Currently, there are 19 institutions of higher learning in Afghanistan, 13 universities and 6 instructive institutes. Kabul University has the largest enrollment, with 8,000 students. These universities employ slightly less than 2,000 professors. 6% of Afghan professors at the universities have PhD degrees, 34% have Master’s degrees, and 60% have B.A. degrees only. Salaries for professors had been recently increased in Kabul, but lack of funds continue to pose a challenge in keeping and acquiring qualified teachers and scholars.

Our Ministry of Higher Education has predicted that in six years, over 1 million college graduates will require employment. If the private sector does not grow rapidly, they will all be looking at the Government to provide them with jobs. We need to make a parallel investment in vocational training programs. Afghanistan’s next generation will need a wide variety of simple skills to continue the reconstruction process.

Today, the United States and the international community invest in providing the citizens of the Broader Middle East with better rights and means to participate in the political process for building democratic states. This is a great opportunity. All human being deserve and demand freedom. While the International community creates an even playing field for political forces to compete, two groups will benefit the most from the new environment are extremists: who are well organized, and groups with access to money, often illicitly gained. There is no program to support moderates and moderation. This noble cause may lead to unintended consequences. The recent Palestinian Parliamentary elections and to a lesser degree our Parliamentary elections are examples of this process, whereby the groups at the extreme right and left did surprisingly well. Education is the best long-term investment for democracy, moderation and building a civil society.

Now, how you can help? There are a number of ways that you all can . Offering programs to train teachers and professors at your university, creating partnerships between universities in Afghanistan and academic institutions in the United States, focusing academic study of Afghanistan in the classroom, conducting research on Afghanistan’s education, security, and economics development, funding scholarships, waiving tuition for Afghan students, and holding forums of exchange -- such as today’s event – are all ways to assist with the revival of the education system in Afghanistan.

To conclude, Afghanistan with a young population that is eager to learn and to partner with the United States, is a great opportunity for the region and an important asset for global security. In today’s divided and troubled world, the goodwill and commitment of the Afghan people to partner with the United States is an important asset for regional and global security.

Our people welcome the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and are grateful for the assistance provided to us. Where extremists have tried to build walls, we are building bridges. Afghanistan has been and will remain a bridge.

Thank you.