In the first event of its kind, students from the UA and Kabul University participated in a video teleconference Wednesday that aimed to build bridges between the United States and Afghanistan.
Through a facilitated dialogue, a panel of four students from both universities took turns asking questions, in an attempt to create a deeper and better understanding of one another.
“We can’t just leave it to our governments to sort of get along and make friends,” said Farzana Marie, a doctoral student studying Persian literature, president of Civil Vision International and the moderator for the UA.
It is important for citizens to be informed and to speak with each other, to know what citizens are saying in a country that really means a lot to the United States’ national interest, as well as citizens who have either served or have family and friends who have served in Afghanistan, Marie said.
“It’s important for us to have a sense of what’s going on there [in Afghanistan] really from the citizens side and not just what you see on the news,” Marie said.
For Kabul University, the lead moderator was Najib Sharifi, president of the Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization.
Sharifi began the conversation for the Afghanistan side, though the dialogue experienced a short delay due to security threats in surrounding areas of the university.
The relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan has been very unique during the past 10 years, in the sense that it’s been influenced by more than 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, Sharifi said. Sharifi added that he believed the negative relationship is caused by a lack of understanding of each other, and the failure of diplomacy between the two countries and their governments.
“Having considered this, there’s a dire need for people to people contact,” Sharifi said. “Now it’s up to us to do what we can to fill the information gap, and dispel misconceptions and create understanding, because at the end of the day we are all people and people are beautiful, wherever they are.”
Participants from the UA were Andrew Campos, a first-year graduate student studying public health, Austin Gilliland, a freshman studying political science and economics, Kate Lamas, a pre-veterinary sciences freshman and Katie Schwarz, a psychology sophomore.
The dialogue was split into two parts: The first was to discuss the past relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan since 2001, and the second was to discuss the future from 2014 and beyond.
Schwarz asked the Kabul students how much of an impact the conflicts and violence has made on their day to day lives.
“In terms of an impact of the violence on our daily lives, just as a personal experience, when I go to class, and I’m sitting there and … I hear an explosion happens outside … that doesn’t stop me from coming to class the next day,” said one student panelist at Kabul University. “So people … they’re used to having these explosions … there is a morality among the people that it will never stop us from growing and working harder and harder to … overcome this eventually.”
Members of the audience on both sides were given the opportunity to participate, asking questions like how each side felt about the media portrayal of their countries and what the perception has been of Afghanistan for students in the U.S.
“I think it’s really a beautiful thing to allow there to be access from students to each other, to really learn from each other,” Marie said. “That’s a powerful thing I think, not to just be fed, sort of from the media or government officials, but to listen to others that are kind of in a similar life position as we are – learning about the world, trying to figure out what we think, what our role in it is, and how to really make a difference in what happens in the future between our countries.”
Mohammad Fardous Asem Rahmani, a graduate student at the UA studying public policy, said part of the discussion was to learn from the experiences students in the U.S. and Afghanistan have had.
“This is a real connection between societies, and civil societies … not through the government or military operations,” Fardous said. “This is something to the people in the United States to learn and know about the people in Afghanistan, from the people in Afghanistan.”