- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

JALALABAD, Afghanistan The view from Nangarhar University overlooking the Kabul River reminds one of Harvard University and its perch along the Charles River near Boston.

But the thought proves fleeting as one sees the ruins of what was once Afghanistan's premier institution of higher education.

After more than two decades of war and years under the rule of semiliterate Taliban mullahs, who had a distaste for formal schooling, only a shell of Nangarhar University remains on the outskirts of Jalalabad.

Electricity and running water are luxuries, available only intermittently. The windows are without glass, and most of the classrooms have no chairs and desks.

Despite this, 3,500 students have enrolled since the Taliban were ousted from power by U.S.-led allied forces last fall. The students include 200 women in medical school, who were driven out when the Taliban came to power in 1996.

Now they are struggling to complete their degrees.

Qazi Ameen Waqad, the chancellor, says he is determined to rebuild.

But to do so, he desperately needs international assistance, which thus far has been slow in coming.

"All aid is going to Kabul. Kabul is not whole of Afghanistan. I now have almost 200 girls in medical school. We have no books, no furniture, light and other basic necessities for life," Mr. Waqad said.

Standing in the university's engineering school, he points toward buildings without ceilings and speaks of someday setting up a computer lab.

The cultural transformation that the world desires in Afghanistan, he says, is not possible without the rehabilitation and modernization of its educational institutions.

"You cannot bring that through U.S. allied forces," Mr. Waqad said. "Only slogans and public statements are not going to give any results."

A key demand of the outside world is that Afghanistan provide schooling for girls and women.

"The girls need facilities and need to be funded. We have no books, even in the primary schools for girls, let alone the university," Mr. Waqad said.

Thus far, the university has received a donation of about $165,000 from Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Mr. Waqad said he is grateful for the contribution, but that the amount is a "peanut" compared to the many millions of dollars needed to rebuild.

"U.S. and other Western forces must realize that the Taliban turned this university into a religious madrassa to implement their ideology," he said. "We must try to undo all that Taliban has done to these educational institutions. Otherwise, every desire to change Afghanistan will fail."

The Taliban closed every college in the university except the medical school. Even there, women were not allowed access.

The dining hall of the campus was converted to a mosque. The move defied common sense, Mr. Waqad says, because the school already had a mosque.

Apart from international governmental aid, Mr. Waqad had hoped to attract support from private and religious groups as well as NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations.

But he worries that the West is focusing only on Kabul and its more renowned university.

Nangarhar University does not even have one computer on campus. The ceilings in the engineering school collapsed long ago, forcing students today to attend lectures under an open sky.

Many of the building's walls lie in heaps of rubble. Bullet holes mark the walls that still stand.

There is no gas for a kitchen, forcing staff to prepare meals over burning wood.

Zubaida, a medical student, now lives in a dilapidated dormitory at the university, pursuing her dream of becoming a physician.

"There is no washing machine or any other arrangement for washing clothes. Even water is not available. Light in the hostel room is not enough to study."

She wants new light bulbs in her room, for the occasional periods when electricity is available, but she can't find any. Textbooks are in short supply.

She also wants more women to gain admission here, not just to the medical school, but also to the other departments.

"Unless more women are admitted in all the university schools, the position of women in Afghanistan cannot improve," she said.


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