Are you willing to die for an education? Students at American University of Afghanistan persevere amid terror

In August 2016, the sound of laughter from college students in the courtyard of the of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) was replaced by shrieks of terror.  The Taliban stormed the campus and killed 15 of AUAF’s most talented students, professors, and guards, and kidnapped another two professors, who remain in captivity.  Since then, we have had to literally rebuild the university in a new, state-of-the-art location in Kabul.  Despite daily threats against their lives, young Afghan students from around the country come to Kabul for the chance at creating a better life for themselves, and for their country.  AUAF student Breshna Mosazai articled the feeling of most students when she declared, “I am ready to die for an education.”

Some have resigned themselves to viewing Afghanistan as a failure, but the will of the Afghan people has seen it endure many periods of calamity. Among the youth it is this irreducible core of resilience and optimism that serves as the unwavering resistance to the menace and intimidation too often unleashed by terrorist groups in Afghanistan.  The tragic events of August 2016 epitomized the notion of the continued battle between progress and violence in Afghanistan, with its youth unwavering in the face of it.

The American University in Afghanistan represents the best of the U.S.-Afghan partnership – one that is too often characterized and clouded by its tempestuous nature, yet has yielded success in many sectors often overlooked by the citizens of both countries. AUAF as an institution is not only a manifestation of the best of U.S.-Afghan values and goals, but the university is a harbinger of the future of Afghanistan – one that is defined by advancement through civic engagement, economic development and interconnectivity. Graduates from AUAF go on to attain high level jobs in government and in the private sector, and are some of the most sought-after students in the country.

Although the Trump administration has inserted a new energy and a growing military footprint, that should not take away from the success of vital projects undertaken by Afghanistan with critical aid provided by the U.S. and its international partners in electricity, water, health and education.

Policymakers and taxpayers too often perceive Afghanistan through the lens of terrorism and state-building, but the U.S. can also build upon success stories like AUAF.

The specter of uncertainty has always underlined the public debate over U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. Quite simply, if left on its own, Afghanistan will retreat to a sanctuary of chaos and violence and would lack the capacity to mitigate the opportunistic and ruthless intervention of transnational terror groups and state sponsored proxies. Engagement therefore begins at the grassroots level – more specifically with education, especially in light of the fact that 64 percent of its population is under the age of 25.

If left on its own, Afghanistan will retreat to a sanctuary of chaos and violence and would lack the capacity to mitigate the opportunistic and ruthless intervention of transnational terror groups and state sponsored proxies.

While much needs to be done, we often overlook how far Afghanistan has come: from a bleak lawless and war-torn nation with no women in school and no prospect for development, to a country that has a government, women in schools, a parliament with more female representatives than the U.S. Congress, a booming print, media and entertainment industry, and is one of the most connected telecommunications countries in its region.

AUAF sees itself as manifestation of this exponential advancement and as a nexus across all these sectors of public and private life. As we approach the university’s twelfth year of operations, our core principle remains and forever will remain – in spite of terrorist attacks and all of the hardships the university must endure – “Education will prevail.”

No one should have to be willing to die for an education.