Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. Photo by: 401st_AFSB (Flickr, creative commons)
British Council Afghanistan director Paul Smith blogs about the process of transition taking place in Afghanistan and how the British Council is helping to develop the next generation of Afghan leaders through a range of programmes, projects and cultural exchange.
At least once a day, in my tiny bedsit in Kabul, I climb onto the end of my bed and stand on tiptoe to peer out of the window – a fair feat for an ageing dilettante with incipient arthritis. Parting the bombproof net curtains, I can just see over the concrete walls, hesco and barbed wire, and then through the minarets of the local mosque, to see the – in June – still snowcapped distant peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains which encircle Kabul.
It’s my salutary daily reminder – a reminder that President Karzai movingly articulated when he opened the ‘Treasures from Afghanistan’ exhibition at the British Museum last year. The tragic trouble and strife that this landlocked country is enduring may seem interminable but it has, in fact, been but a thirty year blip in a story of civilisation which stretches back millennia. I need to be reminded of this fact by seeking out those beckoning mountain tops. They rise daunting and majestic above this troubled capital and look down on a frantic human story as they have looked down for centuries on the likes of Alexander, Babur, British retreats and Soviet advances.
It all puts the contemporary Afghan buzzword into relief. ‘Transition’ may be the key determinant of contemporary Afghan politics and aid but it has little traction on the deeper Afghan determinants of geology, sociology, demography and the biologies of ethnic cultures. But, here in Kabul, it’s true – we are all grappling with transition, with transience, with transitoriness. 2014 will see the end of direct NATO combat missions. The Afghan security forces and police will take charge of protecting the Afghan people. Overseas aid and support will be channelled through the Afghans’ own governance and development set-ups.
Transition won’t be some red-letter in 2014 – a lowering of flags, an exchange of protocols. Transition is now and its shape is a learning curve. Our work here entirely focuses on helping develop the next generation of Afghan leaders. We’re doing this through programmes for schools, universities, public service capacity-building, civil society, English for business and professional needs and through cultural development. The singular transition of the country consists of the myriad transitions of young Afghan individuals, each asking themselves how they can contribute to their country’s sovereign independent future, each questing for the skills and experience which will help them realise this and, inevitably, each asking what will they do, where they will go, if that future opportunity simply evades them. Sic transit – and the mountains are watching the next chapter unfold.