KABUL — It is easy to drive past the American University of Afghanistan, barricaded by blast walls and guard towers. There is no sign, no American flag, no emblem.
But those who slip through its nondescript door enter a tiny corner of this country that is unique, wondrous and heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
Young men and women mingle freely, in contravention of the country’s conservative social norms. Some female students walk around unveiled, a break with custom that is unthinkable elsewhere in the country. Inside classrooms, American professors stoke lively debates and use cutting-edge technology
In many ways, the university embodies the type of country that the United States set out to build a decade ago; some still hope that the school will endure as a pillar of the legacy of America’s longest war.
Yet, as U.S. troops prepare to end their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of next year, there is a foreboding about the future on this campus, and a sense that the school may not survive as the incubator of talent and entrepreneurship that Washington set out to create.
Long-term funding for the university is uncertain, and many students have come to see their degrees as a ticket out of Afghanistan.
The country could be headed toward another civil war, said Sayed Mansoor Afzali, the vice president of the university’s student government association, who crammed a four-year degree program into three — determined to graduate before the end of 2014.
The majority of students are making plans to leave the country, Afzali said, adding: “It’s a minor group, those who believe they can stay here and build a career for themselves.”
Like just about everything else that the West has built in Afghanistan over the past decade, the American University of Kabul remains half-complete, heavily reliant on foreign aid for the foreseeable future and seized by a paralyzing question: How much will endure after the U.S. military leaves by the end of next year?
What has been built, though far from perfect, is nonetheless remarkable, said Leslie Schweitzer, who heads the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan, a Washington-based fundraising group. She said graduates have been snatched up by government ministries and the Afghan private sector.
“Keeping them in the country is very, very important,” Schweitzer said. “You can see these leaders develop, and you see in them a desire for a transparent government. These are the people who will make it happen.”
Around campus these days, students talk about the end of 2014 with anxiety and resignation.
“It’s a big fear for everyone,” said Mubareka Sahar Fetrat, 17, one of the hundreds of Afghan women attending college on State Department scholarships. “When I talk to people, no one is optimistic for the future.”
The war economy that turned Kabul into a boomtown and gave this battle-scarred capital a flare of modernity is flattening. As American officials insist argue that Afghans are now in the lead — a talking point widely interpreted as an unmistakable sign of disengagement — students who have tied their fate to the U.S. project here are struggling to understand where that leaves them.
Female students, in particular, appear eager to parlay their American degrees into a way out of the country.
Sep 29, 2013Read the full article...