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An Afghan's Attempt to Reverse Brain Drain

Kabul University, once one of Afghanistan's most venerable institutions was destroyed by years of civil war. Its principal was recently in Germany to win back brilliant Afghan minds for rebuilding the educational system.


Women and education: both now go hand in hand in Afghanistan

When Mujahideen guerrillas captured Kabul in the spring of 1992, they turned one of Asia's finest centres of learning into a battlefield.

As factions that now make up the Northern Alliance fought among themselves, they systematically looted and destroyed the Kabul university.

Precious books were carted off for sale from the library or burnt to keep the fighters warm in winter. Laboratory and classroom equipment was smashed and the campus turned into a mine field.

The Taliban took over from where the Mujahideen left off five years ago.

They banned almost all women from attending the university, exiled many of the almost thousand lecturers and professors and drastically narrowed the university's range of subjects.

What was once a hallowed establishment of knowledge and the most prominent among six universities in Afghanistan, was reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.

German aid wanted for basic material

Now that some semblance of order has returned to the region, the new principal of the Kabul university, Mohammad Akbar Popal wants to restore the university to its former glory.

And his first foreign destination to enlist help to get the university back on its feet is Germany.

It's hardly surprising considering that the Kabul university had intensive exchange programmes with universities in Bonn, Bochum and Cologne in the 1960s and 1970s.

In Germany recently, the agricultural scientist who studied in America and then taught and researched himself at the Kabul university for more than 20 years, said that he was interested in a long-term academic exchange.

But more importantly he emphasised, the university needed immediate practical help.

That means everything from books to scholarships, computers, toilets, telephones and a cafeteria.

For years the university campus went without electricity and water and the most basic materials such as stationary and blackboards. The straggly staff that was left earned just a few dollars and were not paid for months.

But in a sign of just how hungry the residents are for education, the university will open its doors again on March 22 to about 10,000 students, among them 500 women who passed the entrance exams in early February.

The students will have 14 faculties to choose from. 3,000 students are enrolled in the medical faculty alone.

Luring back Afghan brains

Mohammad Akbar Popal has set himself the goal of getting back the best Afghan minds to help rebuild the educational system.

A large number of Afghan professors left their country years ago and are now scattered all over the world. Germany alone has an Afghan population of more than 70,000. There are some 3000,000 Afghans living in Europe.

Popal says there's an urgent need for scientists and experts in several fields: medicine, engineering, economy to name a few.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) which has been active in promoting the exchange of Afghan academicians and scientists also plans further training programmes for teachers and lecturers.

About 100 lecturers from Afghanistan have already been invited in September to German institutions of higher education.

Uneasy about returning home

During Popal's visit to Berlin last week, the DAAD also invited about 30 Afghan exchange scientists to have a discussion with him.

They all evinced interest in returning to Afghanistan after Popal informed them about the new life and situation in Afghanistan.

But they all had some sharp, sceptical questions of their own. They ranged from telecommunication and internet connections in the country to the safety of women and possibilities of research.

Though Popal painted a bright picture of Afghanistan's future and the money invested in infrastructure, education and health, the fact remains that the ground realities are still far from certain.

Long-promised aid is now trickling into the ravaged country from all corners of the world and international peace forces are trying their best to maintain security.

But the peace in Afghanistan is still an uneasy one as sporadic incidents of violence show.

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