Middlebury

Middlebury College symposium explores the challenges facing the future of Afghanistan April 2-7

March 16, 2006

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - From Sunday through Friday, April 2-7, "Remember Afghanistan?!" will be the topic of a symposium at Middlebury College. Organized by the student group Dialogues for Peace (DFP), the event will explore the efforts and challenges Afghanistan faces as it struggles to rebuild. The free weeklong symposium will feature guest lecturers, film screenings, panel discussions, as well as an interactive experience of storytelling, multimedia video presentations and music to highlight the current situation in Afghanistan. Visit the symposium site online at www.rememberafghanistan.org.

According to the symposium's student organizers, Afghanistan has largely been forgotten by the media - as well as the public and many key policy makers - yet it remains a nation struggling to overcome decades of violence and instability. Once a hub for extremist militants from around the world, Afghanistan is still adapting to its new role as a presidential democracy with an elected parliament.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, life in Afghanistan has improved and the Afghan nation is optimistic about its future. A recent BBC World survey found that in Afghanistan, "70 percent say their own circumstances are improving and 57 percent believe that the country overall is on the way up." However, immense challenges remain, and, according to United Nations secretary General Kofi Annan, the country is experiencing "a fragile peace."

"Remember Afghanistan?!" will explore recent developments there, including the role of the United States in the reconstruction effort, the emergence of women as a political force, and the challenges to the country's security and its impact on the global political climate. The DFP organizers want to provide the Middlebury community with a framework for understanding the complicated realities of historic and current Afghanistan by highlighting the important role this small nation plays in world security and the challenges and stakes of holding together a democratic Afghanistan.

On Sunday, April 2, the symposium will begin with a screening of the film "Baran" in Room 110 of Sunderland Language Center on College Street (Route 125) at 7:30 p.m. "Baran" is described as a wonderfully romantic and uplifting film about the struggles of Afghan refugees, who numbered one quarter of the country's population by the year 2000. Acclaimed director and Academy Award nominee Majid Majidi delivers a moving image of Afghan refugees in neighboring countries, particularly Iran. Since the U.S. engagement in late 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban regime, a majority of the refugees have returned to their homes only to find them devastated by years of conflict. The issue of refugees in Afghanistan remains of critical importance to the country's transition towards stability and prosperity. "Baran" won the Best Film Award at the Montreal Film Festival in 2001.

Ashraf Haidari will deliver the symposium's keynote address on Tuesday, April 4, at 7 p.m., in the Conference Room of the Robert A. Jones '59 House, on Hillcrest Road off College Street (Route 125). His address is titled "Rebuilding Afghanistan: Achievements, Challenges and the Future," and he will discuss Afghanistan's progress in building a democratic state and the obstacles to the country's long-term reconstruction. He will also explore U.S.-Afghan relations and highlight the importance of a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan to maintain peace and security.

Haidari, first secretary of the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington D.C., is a diplomat who embodies hope for the future of Afghanistan. He is an expert on the political security and reconstruction efforts of the country and previously served at the embassy as director of government and media relations. Haidari has a master's in international security and development from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service where he was a two-year International Peace Scholar. From 2002-2003, he was a Foreign Service fellow at Georgetown University and received two advanced certificates in international diplomacy and refugee and humanitarian emergencies. Born and raised in Afghanistan, Haidari and his family lived in the country under both Soviet and Taliban occupation.

A screening of the film "Taliban Country" will take place on Wednesday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Warner Hemicycle on College Street (Route 125). This 45-minute documentary about rural Afghanistan under the rule of U.S. troops and local warlords, directed by Carmela Baranowska, provides a rare and powerful insight into remote Afghanistan activities. For three weeks, Baranowska lived alongside U.S. Marines in their remote forward operating base. While there, she obtained disturbing testimony from local villagers, some of which echo the sexual abuse documented at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Naval Base. Baranowska is an award-winning, independent filmmaker from Melbourne, Australia. Her work has been featured on Australian public television and at film festivals around the world.

Following the film, student organizer Haseeb Humayoon, who has worked with the Human Rights Watch (HRW), Human Rights First (HRF), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the human rights abuses by local warlords, will host a 30-minute discussion.

On Thursday, April 6, at 7 p.m. in the Conference Room of the Robert A. Jones '59 House, a panel discussion will feature participants Fatima Gailani and Paula Nirschel. Gailani, chairperson of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, served as a delegate to the Emergency Loya Jirga - The Grand Council - of 2002, a gathering that elected Hamid Karzai as the President of Transitional Government of Afghanistan. Nirschel, founder of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), travels frequently to Afghanistan and is able to obtain a rare look into the family life of Afghan women by visiting the homes of potential and active IEAW beneficiaries. They will discuss the situation of women in Afghanistan, the emergence of women as a political force, and the challenges to implementing the equal rights status in the new constitution, which Gailani helped to write.

John Sifton, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, will deliver the closing address on Friday, April 7. Sifton will speak at 4:30 p.m. in the Conference Room of the Robert A. Jones '59 House, and his address is titled "A Future for Justice? Addressing Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity." He is an authority on human rights issues in Afghanistan and will discuss the legacy of Afghanistan's history of human rights abuses from 1979 to the present, with a particular emphasis on current struggles to hold past abusers accountable. Sifton has testified before the U.S. congress regarding Afghanistan and has been a frequent voice in the media on related issues. Currently working at Human Rights Watch's New York City headquarters, he focuses on Afghanistan, Iraq, and military and counterterrorism issues. His writing on Afghanistan has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post and Salon. After his address, he will host a discussion.

Following Sifton's closing address, the symposium's final event will take place in Ross Lounge, located in Ross Commons off College Street (Route 125) at 7:30 p.m. Student organizers Zohra Safi and Haseeb Humayoon will leave the community with sights, sounds and stories by which to remember Afghanistan. Safi will share her experience as a young girl in today's Afghanistan and Humayoon will share recollections of living amidst war and under the Taliban rule, and the youth involvement in the current reconstruction phase. Interactive elements will include a photo slide show of life in rural and urban Afghanistan, a short video of the traditional Afghan dance Attan, a photo presentation of the Afghan sport Buzkashi (goat grabbing), and traditional Afghan music with indigenous Afghan instruments.

The DFP symposium received financial and other support from the following Middlebury College organizations: Student Government Association Symposium Committee, Atwater Commons, Brainerd Commons, Chellis House, Rohatyn Center of International Affairs, Department of Political Science, International Students Organization, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, South Asian Club, Islamic Society and Arabesque. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact symposium organizer Pavel Svaton at psvaton@middlebury.edu or 802-443-4534.

To follow is a schedule of events:

Middlebury College Dialogues for Peace Symposium

"Remember Afghanistan?!"

April 2-7

Sunday, April 2

7:30 p.m.

Screening of "Baran"

A romantic and uplifting film about the struggles of Afghan refugees. Acclaimed director and Academy Award nominee Majid Majidi delivers a moving image of Afghan refugees in neighboring countries, particularly Iran. Since the U.S. engagement in 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban regime, many refugees have returned to their homes to find them devastated by years of conflict. The issue of refugees in Afghanistan remains of critical importance to the country's transition towards stability and prosperity. "Baran" won the Best Film Award at the Montreal Film Festival in 2001.

Room 110, Sunderland Language Center, College Street (Route 125)

Tuesday, April 4

7 p.m.

Keynote Address: "Rebuilding Afghanistan: Achievements, Challenges and the Future"

Ashraf Haidari, first secretary at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington D.C., will discuss Afghanistan's progress in building a democratic state and the obstacles to the country's long-term reconstruction. In addition, he will discuss U.S.-Afghan relations and highlight the importance of continued U.S. and international engagement in Afghanistan for maintaining peace and security in the world. Following his address, Haidari will lead a discussion related to his lecture and the issues surrounding it.

Conference Room, Robert A. Jones '59 House, Hillcrest Road off College Street (Route 125)

Wednesday, April 5

7:30 p.m.

Screening of "Taliban Country"

A 45-minute documentary about rural Afghanistan under the rule of U.S. troops and local warlords, director Carmela Baranowska's "Taliban Country" provides a rare and powerful insight into remote Afghanistan activities. Baranowska is an award-winning, independent filmmaker from Melbourne, Australia. Her work has been featured on Australian public television and at film festivals around the world. Following the film, symposium student organizer Haseeb Humayoon, who has worked with the Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the American Civil Liberties Union on the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the human rights abuses by local warlords, will host a 30-minute discussion.

Warner Hemicycle, College Street (Route 125)

Thursday, April 6

7 p.m.

Panel Discussion: "The Afghan Women: An Emerging Political Force in the Face of Immense Obstacles"

Panelists Fatima Gailani, chairperson of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, and Paula Nirschel, founder of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), will discuss the situation of women in Afghanistan, the emergence of women as a political force, and the challenges to implementing their new equal rights status in the new constitution, which Gailani helped to write.

Conference Room, Robert A. Jones '59 House, Hillcrest Road off College Street (Route 125)

Friday, April 7

4:30 p.m.

Closing Address: "A Future for Justice? Addressing Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity"

Speaker John Sifton, an Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, will discuss the history of recent human rights abuses in Afghanistan, the culture of impunity surrounding the abuses by past commanders and - most recently - the U.S. military. After his address, Sifton will host a discussion on Afghanistan's future.

Conference Room, Robert A. Jones '59 House, Hillcrest Road off College Street (Route 125)

7:30 p.m.

Closing Event: "Images to Remember Afghanistan"

An interactive event including students' personal stories, a photo slide show of rural and suburban life in Afghanistan, a video clip of the traditional Afghan dance Attan, presentations of the traditional Afghan sport Buzkashi (goat grabbing), and traditional Afghan music with indigenous Afghan instruments.

Ross Lounge, Ross Commons, College Street (Route 125)

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact symposium student organizer Pavel Svaton at psvaton@middlebury.edu or 802-443-4534, or visit the symposium site online at www.rememberafghanistan.org.