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Feature   |  Winter 2007

Second Chances

 

Kabul University professor Ghulum Faizi

lost his teaching job—and nearly his life—

during years of civil war and Taliban rule

in Afghanistan.

He's since reclaimed his former

position and is helping rebuild Kabul's

agriculture program from the ground up.

Ghulum Faizi still has the letter he received from Taliban leaders, dismissing him from the agriculture faculty at Afghanistan's Kabul University.

Kabul University professors Zikrullah Safi (left) and Ghulum Faizi are observing higher education from a new vantage point. The two spent fall semester with Purdue Agriculture faculty to update their teaching methods.

The fundamentalist Taliban placed little value on education, and foreign-educated faculty like Faizi were among the regime's early targets.

A plant scientist, Faizi had earned a master's degree from Kiev University in Ukraine during the mid 1980s. Upon returning to his homeland, he joined the agriculture faculty at Kabul. He soon received a teaching promotion. But due to a chain of events that led to the rise and fall of political powers just a few years later, both his teaching career and Kabul University lay in ruins.

It didn't seem probable, or even possible, that one day he would have a chance to resurrect his teaching career and play a key role in rebuilding his university.

Calm before the storm

In the 1960s and '70s, Kabul University was a thriving intellectual community. Many faculty members had been educated abroad, and English was widely spoken. Kabul maintained collaborative relationships with several American universities, and Purdue helped start its engineering program in the late 1960s. But when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, all ties with Western universities, including Purdue, were severed. New alliances were formed with institutions in the Eastern Bloc.

When Soviets troops withdrew a decade later, civil war erupted as tribal factions fought for control. Caught in the crossfire, the capital city of Kabul and the university were among the casualties. "Every night, there was fighting throughout the streets of Kabul," Faizi recalls. More than 50,000 people were killed during infighting in Kabul between 1992-96.

Civil war ended when the Taliban seized power in 1996. For Faizi, it was the beginning of a new period of terror. His teaching job gone, he was cut off from education, at times prevented from reading or writing. He returned to a family bakery business but was still persecuted and beaten by the Taliban.

Faizi describes the period between 1992 and 2001 as "a time of war and darkness." But, despite the threats and hardships, he steadfastly refused to seek refuge abroad.

International intervention

"We have no labs, no equipment and few teaching materials. Classes are held in a renovated boiler room. Two computers provide intermittent Internet connection, and students have only 10 minutes a day on the Internet, which is about enough time to print one page."

Zikrullah Safi
 Kabul University Agriculture Professor

A terrorist attack in the United States became the catalyst for change. "9/11 was terrible for the United States, but it freed us from the Taliban," Faizi says about events leading up to the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and eventual fall of the regime.

With a new government in place, Faizi was invited to return to Kabul University. He's now part of an international coalition led by Purdue's Office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA) to rebuild the country's agriculture programs, first at Kabul and, later, at four other Afghan universities.

 

 

 

 

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