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The Killid Group
Rewriting history to wipe out war yearsWritten by Mohammad Reza Gulkohi and Ibrahim Mehdawi
Saturday, 18 February 2012 14:57
The Ministry of Education has taken out 40 years of conflict from school textbooks. A Killid investigation.
Schoolchildren studying the history of contemporary Afghanistan will not learn about the conflict and bloodshed of the last 40 years. Textbooks will ignore the years from the regime of Daud Khan who had overthrown his cousin, King Zaher Shah, to seize power until his assassination in 1978 to the decade from 2001 to 2010 that began with US forces ousting the Taleban regime. The four decades have been deemed as an obstacle to national unity.
Farooq Wardak, minister of education, told the media, "Our modern history causes disunion among us. We have framed a course that is on our earlier history; that unites us and is based on facts that are applauded by the world."
Human rights and cultural activists are appalled. They say that by keeping the younger generation ignorant about the conflict-riven past, policy makers are condemning them to repeat history and not learn from it.
Shams Ahmadzai, director of the Kabul regional office of the AIHRC (Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission), says it is every citizen's right to know who he or she is. "Awareness of the past will prevent future generations from repeating history in which tens of thousands of people have been affected and economic losses run into millions. The future generations should know who are responsible for the killings and financial losses."
One strand of opinion suggests that pressure to sanitise history has come from precisely those elements in power that do not want their past to be remembered through school textbooks. "It is pressure from elements that don't want their black report cards to be recorded in history, and judged by future generations and students," a critic who did not want to be identified said. They fear public awareness would increase the pressure for justice and the implementation of the transitional justice process. It could question the amnesty law (the National Stability and Reconciliation Law) that was passed by Parliament in 2007, by a coalition of powerful warlords and their supporters to prevent the prosecution of individuals responsible for large-scale human rights abuses in the preceding decades. Supporters of transitional justice argue that identifying war criminals and taking them to the courts is a needed step towards reconciliation, peace and to eliminate vengeance in the country.
Ajmal Balochzada, a human rights activist, believes, the transitional justice process could be "negatively affected" by the Ministry of Education's decision to edit out the conflict years from modern Afghan history.
"Not confronting the past, and dealing with the events, means you are laying the foundation for future hostility which will create big problems," he believes.
No hopes of justice
According to Balochzada, by sanitising official history the government has also let down the tyranised who were hoping for justice. "All the work of human rights groups and civil society in the last one decade for transitional justice has been reduced to naught by the Ministry of Education," he says.
Moreover by denying the past how can the future be secured, he asks. In his opinion "if we want to rehabilitate our country we need to find the roots of problems, find out why we have fought."
Satar Saadat, an active member of civil society, blames the Ministry of Education of seeking to "conceal" the war crimes of people now in power. "Most of the persons who were involved in the events of four decades play important roles in the present politics of the country … Not only the Ministry of Education but the entire political system lacks the courage to judge the actions of those who now claim the title of heroes. That is why the ministry has decided to hide such a big historical reality (by not including the conflict decades in school textbooks)."
UNAMA, the UN political mission in Afghanistan to assist the government's efforts to strengthen peace, did not want to comment on the education ministry's decision. Nazeefullah Salarzai, UNAMA spokesman, said: "The mission of UNAMA is not related to the issue so this organisation does not have a special view."
Meanwhile, officials in the Ministry of Education denied there was pressure from political heavyweights in the government, and said it was done for the sake of national unity as the education minister had said.
Amanullah Eman, spokesman of the Ministry of Education said the decision was taken eight years ago. "When the decision was taken on the preparation of the curriculum eight years ago, it was decided that personalities who were involved in the events of 40 years should not be discussed." According to Eman, "the turning points of history have been discussed slightly and briefly in the textbooks."
The spokesman took pains to explain why. "The Ministry of Education has the responsibility of the education of the young. We will try to ensure national unity and preserve national values." In his opinion books should encourage people to work for national unity and not divide them and "lead once again towards crisis".
Asef Nang, deputy education minister, gives two reasons for deleting a chunk of recent Afghan history from school text books: it can sow discord and deepen differences since there is no agreement on the course of events; it can incense the public and hurt the sentiments of different ethnic groups and communities.
Social scientists, however, disagree with the ministry's views on history writing for schoolchildren. They say that history strengthens feelings of self-reliance, national unity and defence of the country. Studying about social and cultural revolutions can inspire people to embark on courses that can change their own histories. Besides this the lives of great personalities can inspire generations, while the history of tyrants and criminals can strengthen the fight against despotism and colonisation.
Aziz Rahmand, lecturer of history in Kabul University, says, "Informing the future generations of the reasons for the events of the past 40 years will build up national unity and sort out the differences." He adds: "When students know the history of the country from the stand point of politics, economy and culture, and comprehend the cause and effect of the events at the national and international level, this will cause the national unity not break-up."
According to Rahmand, knowledge of history would pave the way for democracy. "Knowledge enables people to judge and choose democracy over other systems." In his opinion if students were not to know the history of the last four decades, national unity would be under threat.
It would be good if students were exposed to historical events and allowed to assess their worth independently, the Kabul University lecturer says. "The ministry will not be able to hide the events of 40 years by not including it in the curriculum and blank it out from the minds of future generations in today's era of technology," he says.
The Ministry of Education cannot choose history, says Hafeez Mansoor, member of Parliament. "The time has passed to omit and connive with history," he says. "History is not for omission. If some events are not good for some part of a community, they are good for other people." There are lessons in history for the future generations, he adds.
Mansoor believes ignorance has created bigger tragedies than awareness and wisdom. "In order that history should not be repeated, there has to be a proper appreciation of the issue. To arrive at solutions you need to know everything about the past." He is passionate about history. "The present generation should know the root of discord and conflict was weak governance. In order that history should not be repeated we should not delete history."
Not surprisingly university students have also expressed strong opinions on the ministry's tampering with history.
Nasratullah, a student at Social University in Kabul, asserts, "The people and students have the right to be aware of the events of the past and current times; to be able to judge justly, and take wise decisions on the future."
Farzana, 19, is an orphan. Her father died in the war. "I am damaged by the war. I have the right to know who was responsible for the killing of innocent people like my father." She says nobody has the right to deprive anyone of the knowledge of their past.
Similarly Mohammad, a 34-year-old from Ghazni, lost his brother during the years of conflict. "I should know what were the forces that changed our life. The Ministry of Education should enlighten public minds and not seek to conceal the reality."