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The need for a ‘Professional Discourse and Engagement Project’

by: Dr Khesrow Sangarwal

There is now a common consensus among numerous world scholars, and international players that they know little about a country that has dominated a decade of international relations and policy making in the world. The long and painful years of political conflict, civil war and military upheaval have pushed Afghanistan into an information “vacuum”, that has now turned into a “black hole” where vast resources have disappeared, with arguably little outcome. The Professional Discourse and Engagement Project will be attracting multidisciplinary expertise to study, research and redefine Afghanistan.  We will be providing a medium for research and publication on healthcare, economy, regional and international relations, agriculture and irrigation, Energy, information communication technology etc.

There is now a common consensus among numerous world scholars, and international players that they know little about a country that has dominated a decade of international relations and policy making in the world. The long and painful years of political conflict, civil war and military upheaval have pushed Afghanistan into an information “vacuum”, that has now turned into a “black hole” where vast resources have disappeared, with arguably little outcome.

We are not alone in thinking that the sluggish process of reconstruction and stabilisation in Afghanistan is a direct and unfortunate consequence of the deficiency of reliable, uninfluenced, and evidence-based knowledge on the country.

Clare Lockhart, head of US think tank, The Institute of State Effectiveness, who spent more than 10 years of her professional life working on Afghanistan, has attributed some of the setbacks of last decade of international engagement in Afghanistan to lack of a coherent development strategy due to insufficient knowledge of the country. She observes “a problem with a lack of global expertise on Afghanistan.”[1]

Martin Bayly, a PhD candidate on stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan, has also encountered the same problem. According to him “there is plenty of security-related literature, but there’s less up-to-date understanding of anthropology and societies in Afghanistan.”[2] Martin has now set up The Afghan Studies Group in order to bring together academics with an interest in Afghanistan.

It can be said with a descent degree of certainty that most of the policies and strategies drawn for Afghanistan during the current decade are based on outdated and obsolete knowledge of Afghanistan. Adam Roberts, head of the British Academy has a similar opinion: “The wars in Afghanistan in the nineteenth century have been the foundation for a view of the country and its peoples.”[3]

The word’s prestigious Universities and institutions have to rely on anecdotal facts when it comes to Afghanistan. The CIA’s World Factbook on Afghanistan, for example, has been repeatedly criticised by Afghans for presenting inaccurate and misleading information about their country.

It appears that lack of academic and reliable information on Afghanistan is pandemic to the entire world. Thomas Rutting who co-chairs the Berlin based Afghan Analysts Network shares the same view. He told a BBC journalist that the problem was “broader than just a British problem…dedicated studies on Afghanistan exist but are very scattered.” [1]

It is widely believed that institutions in Russia, China and some other regional countries might have a better knowledge of Afghanistan as opposed to their Western counterparts. However, it is pretty certain that the type of knowledge possessed by these powers is more for military and emissary use, and has little academic value.

Undoubtedly, the scarce of reliable and academic literature on Afghanistan has done a great disservice to the country and its long-suffering people. We, at the Afghan Professionals Network, APn, have appreciated the need to establish a professional discourse and engagement organisation to study Afghanistan. We intend to invite academia and experts to write on Afghanistan, and attend our seminars, symposia, and on-line multi-media activities related to Afghanistan.

The APn will be supporting efforts to enhance public and professional knowledge and understanding of Afghanistan.

We appreciate that it is not in the field of sociology and anthropology alone that we do not know Afghanistan. The country is an “alien subject” across all academic disciplines. While we are not naively claiming to achieve an “intellectual synthesis” on Afghanistan, we will also not be serving as a “boutique institute” on current affairs alone.

The Professional Discourse and Engagement Project will be attracting multidisciplinary expertise to study, research and redefine Afghanistan. We will be providing a medium for research and publication on healthcare, economy, regional and international relations, agriculture and irrigation, Energy, information communication technology etc.

The young and educated generation of Afghans living in Afghanistan and abroad are very energetic, enthusiastic, and capable of enhancing the current pace of post-conflict recovery and stabilisation in Afghanistan. They deserve a better access to the type of academic and scientific knowledge about their country that we are aiming to provide.

With organisations like this, we believe Afghanistan’s very own “Belle Époque” can be achieved.

References

  1. The Embassy of Afghanistan in Ottawa. Afghanistan News Bulletin. Available on line at www.afghanemb-canada.net Accessed on 02/08/2012.
  2. Furlong, R. Knowledge of Afghanistan Astonishingly thin. British Broadcasting Corporation. Available on line at www.bbc.co.uk Accessed on 02/08/2012.
  3. Roberts, A. Doctrine and Reality in Afghanistan. The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Volume 51, Issue 1, 2009.

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