Afghan leader forges new state, ties to UCLA

Afghan leader forges new state, ties to UCLA

Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan foreign minister, speaks at the UCLA School of Law on Thursday. He addressed the difficulties the nation will face as it attempts to establish state authority. (Photo by Jay Taylor, Daily Bruin senior staff)

A full lecture hall of UCLA students heard about the progress of Afghanistan's government directly from Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

This article was first published in the Daily Bruin.

By Alexa Vaughn, Daily Bruin contributor

Usually, political updates from Afghanistan travel halfway around the world through several satellites and news reporters before reaching Americans.

But last week, a full lecture hall of UCLA students heard about the progress of Afghanistan's government directly from Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

His lecture during the Politics and International Law Colloquium, hosted by the UCLA School of Law, focused on the challenge of rebuilding Afghanistan's state and society after more than 20 years of war, as well as the changes it has seen since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [The Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations is a co-sponsor of this colloquium series.]

Since 1979, the country has experienced several invasions by the Soviet Union, as well as civil wars.

Soon after the fall of the Taliban in early 2002, the United Nations helped Afghanistan form an interim administration, in which Abdullah was selected to be the minister of foreign affairs.

"We didn't know where to start," Abdullah said of himself and other government officials. "It wasn't one issue, it wasn't one challenge. ... Everything was an enormous challenge, and we had to take it and move forward."

And in the initial conferences that he and other Afghan officials had with other countries, Abdullah said he did not even know what to ask for.

"Is it for a few pieces of paper on my desk so I can start working, or is it education? Is it health? What is it?" Abdullah said.

Since then, Afghanistan has concluded the Bonn process – in which Afghan factions met to form a constitution and held parliamentary elections in 2005 – and is facing the formation of the five-year Afghan Compact with the United Nations this year. The compact is part of an ongoing process to establish peace and security under the law, human rights protection and economic development.

Abdullah said one of the biggest challenges in that process is going to be establishing a fair judiciary system.

But though it may be the most difficult step in the process, UCLA School of Law Dean Michael Schill emphasized its importance.

"Law is the central focus of all progress in our country – in our world," Schill said to Abdullah after the presentation.

Currently Abdullah said he believes one of the supreme court's biggest handicaps is the judges' lack of education.

"One of the questions we ask is, 'What is the scope of our judges' knowledge?' For 22 years, citizens were deprived of an education," Abdullah said.

If education is kept available to as many citizens as possible from now on, he believes future scholars of Afghanistan will help fill what he called an "intellectual vacuum."

Since Afghan schools opened their doors again in 2002, there are now more than 6 million students, of whom 35 percent are female, Abdullah said.

Haroon Azar, president of the Muslim Law Students Association, organized Abdullah's visit, and said he saw a need to build an academic partnership with Afghanistan's burgeoning government "in order to fill that intellectual vacuum that resulted from being through 20 years of war."

Azar said one of his hopes is to go beyond speaker events to being able to send students to study in Afghanistan so they can build their knowledge about the country and about international relations.

"I vigorously pursued him to speak, specifically at the law school, because we're trying to hopefully in the future establish some kind of relationship with the government of Afghanistan," Azar said.

Azar said he also believes there are other ways UCLA students can contribute to Afghanistan's political progress.

"I want people to know there are tangible things we can do (for Afghanistan), even if we're here," Azar said. "We can offer intellectual support."

Published: Monday, March 20, 2006