Higher learning returns to Bamian

3 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. John E. Lawson Jr.

During the Taliban’s reign over the Afghanistan, the Afghan people weren’t afforded much opportunity for education. But the Taliban has been removed from power and opportunities to learn are presenting themselves to the people of a country plagued by decades of war.

The Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team re-opened Bamian University here April 3 during a ceremony attended by numerous area dignitaries and including comments from Mohammad Abdul Karim Khalili, vice president of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Sharif Faiz, minister of higher education, Mohammad Rahim Aliyar, governor of Bamian province, and David Sedney, deputy chief of mission from the U.S. Embassy, Afghanistan.

The PRT falls under Task Force Stonewall, under the command of Regimental Command Team – 6 comprised of Marines from 6th Marine Regiment and commanded by Col. David C. Garza.

The university was once the pinnacle of higher learning in the province of Bamian, teaching history, agriculture, medicine, language and science to its 400-500 students.

When the province fell to the Taliban in 1998, the terrorists closed the university and used it as a headquarters. As a result, the university received significant damage during the 2001 U.S. bombing campaigns against the Taliban. Despite significant damage, civil affairs experts determined the university was salvageable. Only ten percent of the structure was reusable, but according to Lt. Col. David J. Pirie, chief of staff, Bamian Provincial Reconstruction Team the desire for a University was strong.

Coalition forces established the Bamian PRT in March 2003, which has since provided tools to recreate or establish the basic infrastructures to build area communities within the province.  Additionally the Bamian PRT, run by coalition members from New Zealand, works with the leadership of the province to ensure stability and focus on the future. The university is the result of such interaction.

After a year of reconstruction and about US$ 600,000 donated by both the United States and New Zealand, the university was reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

New Zealand Defense Force Group Captain Gavin Howse, Bamian PRT commander, also spoke at the ceremony, calling the university “not only a memory of past glory, but a sign of future success” for the Afghan people.

Other dignitaries from Afghanistan and coalition nations, as well as teachers and future students, filled the university’s courtyard surrounded by the three newly reconstructed buildings.

After the ceremony, guests toured the 14 classrooms and other facilities including the library and computer lab with more than ten computers.

As the tour group entered the library, one Afghan exclaimed, “This is the biggest library I’ve ever seen!” as he gazed over the shelves containing hundreds of books on subjects ranging from Physics to Agriculture.

Zeinab Sajadi, a teacher and manager of the library, said, “The people are very happy for the opening of the university in Bamian.”

According to Dr. Mohammad Sarwer Mawlaie, dean of the university, the university anticipates teaching 1,000 students in its first year, and hopes to double that number by the end of its second year.

Efft Mostasharnia, a professor at the university, said she was “very excited” and the students were “very happy” to have the university open in the Bamian area.

“Education is essential. Without education you can’t develop. With the university, the Afghan people can learn and become literate. They have the opportunity to better themselves and to grow,” Howse said.

Programs the university is scheduled to offer include education and agriculture, with a goal to establish a 50 percent female enrolment in the near future.

“This project, as well as the PRT’s other projects, is successful because of a proper balance between security and reconstruction,” he added. “It’s teamwork; Afghanistan, the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand (the four nations in the Bamian PRT); working together to make things happen. It’s one mission: one team.”

The Bamian PRT and area Afghans have identified more than 30 other projects worth more than US $3.5 million, which are scheduled for completion during 2004.  These projects will support local government infrastructures, bridges, agriculture rehabilitation and training, said Howse.

Headquarters Marine Corps