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What legal education could do for a resilient Afghanistan

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It’s in this way, through secondhand snippets about Jenn’s students, that I’ve learned the textured details of student life in Kabul. I’ve heard stories about a new “law club,” job-market jitters, even fledgling romances. For one hour each week, the lives of Jenn’s students are transmitted across continents, and reassemble themselves in my San Francisco apartment.

These are more than idle tangents. They serve as reminders that Afghanistan is not simply a place where military strategies play themselves out. It is home to a population of individuals with vibrant lives, personal ambitions, and, as history attests, ample capacity for endurance.

Much of our focus on Afghanistan is on the upcoming withdrawal of US troops (which the Obama administration has made clear will be concluded in 2014). We argue about failures and successes, profits and losses. Almost invariably, somewhere beneath these discussions lies an unwieldy question: What happens next?

America’s military presence is an important issue for Afghanistan, but it is not all encompassing. Afghanistan has experienced such transitions before, and the choice it now faces is not necessarily between cataclysmic violence and peace.

In short, the question is not solely one of what happens next in Afghanistan. It is about how Americans and the international community decide to contribute, regardless of what happens.

To that end, a basic tenet of our project is that legal knowledge, once provided, cannot be taken away. The learning that a student receives in a classroom may lie dormant. It may be tested and challenged. But it has a stubborn, intractable quality. It is far more difficult to destroy than roads or infrastructure.

In keeping with these long-term ideas, at the Afghanistan Legal Education Project, we believe that one manner in which to approach uncertainty is to prepare a small cohort for the future: a group of Afghans that has studied other legal systems as well as its own; a group with sufficient education to articulate ideas before an electorate; and a group empowered to embrace, and protect, a collective form of Afghan government.

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