[pjw] INFO: Zaher Wahab's wrap-up as he leaves Afghanistan for Oregon (part 2)

Peace and Justice Works pjw at pjw.info
Wed Sep 25 12:47:01 EDT 2019

[continued from yesterday]

Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2019 04:46:43
From: Zaher Wahab
Subject: Last Postcard from Kabul

The Economy:

The 'war on terror' and the infusion of massive licit and illicit foreign
capital into Afghanistan ( called Foreign aid) has produced a severely deformed
economy. In a perverse way, the country really is a land of 'rags to riches'!
People who had nothing have become multi millionaires; there may be a handful of
billionaires; this in a fourth world country! And they are not shy to flaunt
their wealth, power and privileges.

This new class hold foreign passports, have largely exported their wealth, and
sent their families abroad to Dubai, Turkey, India, and the west. If they are in
the country, they live in mansions behind huge blast walls, have guards, travel
in armored SUVs with armed escorts, shop in boutique stores and department
stores, eat in fancy restaurants, send their children to elite designer schools,
vacation abroad, have access to the government, foreign military bases, NGOs,
and foreign embassies. They are the comprador class, the contractors, the
hucksters and hustlers, the mafias, the smugglers, the criminal syndicates,
partners of the kleptocracy, agents for multinational corporations, and the
investors. They are this country's 1%.

Collectively, this class with assistance or complicity of its foreign handlers
stole most of the $125 billion in foreign assistance over the last 18 years. On
the other hand we have the people 60% of whom are officially under the poverty
line, and the 'middle class' who are food secure. 75% of the labor force is
engaged in agriculture which still uses traditional ways and means with little
help from government or the foreign aid industry. There is limited industry and
social service sector. The economy is largely informal and/or underground with
narcotics being one-fourth of the GDP.

Since the country can harvest just 30% of its water with the rest flowing out to
Iran and Pakistan, this has an adverse effect on agricultural production and
life in the country. There is endemic poverty in both cities and the rural
areas. Per capita income hovers around $500.

Two million have been displaced by war, violence, droughts, floods, conflict and
so [on]. Streets are crowded with men, women and child beggars. Millions of
children work to support their families. Corruption has been normalized. 70% of
the government budget still comes from foreign assistance.

With a week before the presidential election, the economy is on life-support. I
have never seen such poverty in both urban and rural areas. Though this is an
agricultural country, but it can not even feed itself and must import grains.
This grotesque inequality, poverty and degradation have led to massive violent
and nonviolent crimes, white and blue collar crime, organized and retail crime.
People live in fear. The culture has been gangsterized, criminalized, degraded,
perverted, and trivialized. The government itself is a vast, corrupt and
criminal organization.

Pompeo finally declared so, and stopped $160 [million in] aid to the Afghan
government. Anyone who can, is leaving the country, even risking their lives. A
recent Gallup poll ranked Afghanistan at the top of the world's
misery-unhappiness-suffering-hopelessness index. Under these circumstances, war
has become a means of livelihood for millions! This country has enormous
resources such as water, minerals, rare and precious metals, oil, gas, gold,
copper, fertile land, fruits, herbs, and people. It is indeed a shame and a
crime that its people are so poor and oppressed.

Society and Culture:

Forty years of invasions (USSR, USA, NATO), war, violence, upheaval,
displacement, migration, and fratricide have disfigured and fractured
society deeply. Families  and communities are torn apart. There is hardly a
family or community which has not directly or indirectly been affected by
the four-decade upheaval. People have been killed, maimed, exiled,
disappeared, lost, gone crazy, have become addicts, bought and sold,
dismembered, imprisoned, widowed, orphaned, etc.

People are alienated and
estranged from each other. There is little mutual trust, fondness, respect,
help, or belonging. Older ethics, morality, conventions, and nicities are
disappearing. It is a struggle of all against all and a struggle for
survival, money, power, and glamour. A vicious and ugly social Darwinism
prevails at all levels and all aspects of life. Lies, deceit, fraud,
treachery, disloyalty, betrayal are all normatised. Ethics, morality,
guilt, and shame are almost vanished from daily life. Life for the rich and
the poor seems to be all about money, power, privilege, networking,
consumerism, appearance, getting ahead, and/or getting by. The end
justifies the means.

You can now rent, buy, hire men and women sex workers,
goons, assasins, and/or suicide bombers. Everything is negotiable and
everyone/everything  has a price. A small segment of the population seems
to lead the good life, the majority simply endure life and suffer . Alien
and imported culture dominates most things from language to hair style, to
food, to values, to household furnishings, social etiquette, mourning to
entertainment, to dress, to cosmetic surgery. There are about 100 TV
networks pedling trash, vulgarity, soft core pornography, consumerism and
mindlessness materialism.

People, especially urbanites prefer things
foreign be it fruit, clothing, machinary, language, manners, food,
education, medicine, and products you name it. People inevitably opt for
the imported stuff regardless of the quality, inauthenticity, fitness,
price, or threat and damage to indigenous ways. Most things about the
country, from war to peace, education, foreign policy, technology, economic
policy, trade, and commerce, aspects of language  are decided from outside.
People appear resigned and reconciled, they lack initiative,
throw their hands in the air and see their destiny in the hands of Allah,
the Americans(and other foreigners) and/or the dysfunctional government.

There  is little to no collective or individual sense of agency. People
seem bewildered, anxious, fearful, uncertain and hopeless. They entrust
themselves to God, fate, the extremists, or the  West. Since society and
culture seem to be under siege, certain elements, including the Taliban,
have become extreme xenophobes rejecting all things foreign, hence the
polarization of society between tradition and modernity, urban and rural.
The country is in a very deep crisis, but very few seem to realize or care.


At the invitation of the first post-Taliban minister of higher education,
Dr. Sharif Fayez, also an Afghan American academic, I arrived in Kabul in
early March, 2002. I could not believe what I saw. I literally wept when I
saw how my middle and high schools, like the entire country, were ravaged
by the prolonged wars. The education system from top to bottom was
severely limited in scope, purpose quality and quantity. Like the country
itself, education too had become a wasteland.

The ministry of higher
education building had no running water so we had to use an outhouse. And I
lived in a simple house with no in-door plumbing. There were just two old
manual Pashto and Dari typewriters. Very few of us had phones. There was no
internet or computers, or other technology in the building. Electricity was
irregular so we begged UNESCO to get us a generator.

There were just five
public universities with about seven thousand students, mostly men. Other
than delapidated  buildings, there was nothing to little else you expect at
a university. The system was isolated, archaic, underfunded, substandard,
dysfunctional and useless. The system was gripped by mediocrity, tradition,
ideologies, culture and religion. We had a monumental challenge to rebuild
the education system. A few international organizations arrived to help.

What I do remember was our commitment, dedication, determination, hope, and
optimism. A few Afghans and internationals believed we could modernize and
rebuild the Afghan higher education, even against all odds. Everyone was
thirsty for a good education. Although I was a tenured and full professor
at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and had full
responsibilities, but seeing the desperate situation in Afghanistan, I had
to find ways to help. So L and C was kind enough to allow me to teach  my
full load at L and C during Spring and Summer and spend August to January
in Kabul every year from 2002 to 2014. I served as senior adviser and handy
man to the minister from 2002 to 2006. Around that [time], the government
including the ministry of higher education, started to become ethnicised.

Thus  in 2006, I joined the University of Massachusetts team to design and
teach in its MA program for university instructors from all of Afghanistan,
at the Kabul Education University. KEU was later renamed Shaid Rabani
Education University. Later the U of Mass and I designed an MPPA( master of
public policy and administration) program at Kabul University, and I taught
in that program during 2012-2[0]15. Since I worked two challenges jobs between
2002 and 2013, I began to feel tired. Late in 2013, I was offered a full
time position  to design, direct,  and teach an MA Ed program at the
American University of Afghanistan. This was to train 1000 trainers from
two year teacher training institutions from all of Afghanistan. So I
resigned my position at LC and joined AUAF as full professor and director
of MAEd in 2013/14.

In the summer of 2015, I was asked to design, teach
in, and direct another MA program in education and law enforcement at AUAF
for the police academy instructors. That  program ended on Sep.1, 2019.

There has in fact been a big increase in the number of students, schools
and tertiary institutions both public and private since 2002. There are now
some nine million pupils, attending some 217000 schools; 38 public
institutions and 140 odd private institutions of higher learning with
140000 and 150000 students. Half of the public schools have no buildings!
Education is free from first grade to college. Most of the private
universities are run in large rented houses.

Though some 5 million
school-age children and 93% of college-age youth still have no access to
school and the quality of education at all levels is substandard. At the
same time 80% of the women and 65% of the men in the country are
illiterate. Most of what is called education is out of s[ync] with the
country's socioeconomic and cultural reality; it is  shallow, substandard,
and dysfunctional producing millions of un/underemployed academic
prol[e]tariat constituting a huge socioeconomic problem and a time-bomb.

There are reasons for this state of affairs. Insufficient funds is the main
reason, with the country spending one the lowest amount per student in the
world. Lack of capacity to run effective and efficient organizations is
another reason. The two ministries for education can not even spend
one-third of their development budget. Leadership changes is another
reason. Government organizations are crippled by ethnic, political, or
personal factionalism. The notion of an independent,  competent, clean,
secure,  and stable civil service does not exist here.

There have been 8 ministers of higher education and that many ministers of
education since 2002; and to my knowledge, none were trained professional
educators. All appointments at all levels are politicized and ethnicized, based
on bribes, nepotism, or deal-making; the patronage and poenage system prevails.
Most international experts are themselves under and/or unqualified and out of
touch with the local realities. In case of women and girls 'culture' itself is a
huge barrier to their education. And schooling and education are not viewed so
much as a means to transform the individual or the society, but a way to make a
living and/or get ahead.

As my departure nears, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I have spent
a lot of time and energy here over the last 18 years, trying to make a
difference. I have endured frustration, ha[r]dship, stress and strain, and
even risked health and life. And I care deeply about family, friends,
coworkers, indeed all the people here who have to endure so much. Any
people should not be subjected to so much brutality, pain, suffering and
deprivation. It offends and pains me greatly.

And I have contempt for the predatory class and the various criminal syndicates
for their inhumanity. To me they are almost like animals. And I also hold the US
ruling class and its 'allies' responsible for this state of affairs. On the
other hand, I know full well that there are limits to our endurance, and I feel
that for now, I have reached my limits. And my wife Tahmina needs/wants out of
here too. We know what lies ahead for us in Portland, but the US is by no means
Afghanistan and we expect better.

So if all goes well, we depart Kabul and arrive in Portland on October 2nd. I
will, after a two weeks readjustment period, be happy/available to share my
observations with anyone who is interested and concerned. Please feel free to
share this report.

Those interested, can [visit https://dispatchesfromafghanistan.tumblr.com 
], and read these reports starting in 2009.

Zaher Wahab
Kabul Sep. 24, 2019

*Zaher Wahab, Ph.D.*
Professor of Education
Director of MAELE
American University of Afghanistan

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