INSIDE Chico State
0 November 6, 2001
Volume 32 Number 6
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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On the Border of Afghanistan

Four years in Pakistan afforded educator close-up view of regional politics

Fourth and Fifth Grade Pakistan Boys

This fourth/fifth-grade rural classroom on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, offers insight into the Pakistan/Afghanistan region: The class is all male; girls are normally not allowed to go to school with boys after the third grade. If there is not a separate girls’ school, then girls stop going to school and stay at home. LeBlanc encountered high-ranking educational administrators who did not send their daughters to school.

photo: Tom LeBlanc

In 1990, Tom LeBlanc, new director of Sponsored Programs, was hired by Harvard University to implement what was to be a 10-year USAID-funded education project in Pakistan. However, the war in Afghanistan and ensuing events resulted in the withdrawal of all U.S. aid from Pakistan. The educational program was dismantled after just four years. LeBlanc participated in the Oct. 23 campus forum “Roots of Terrorism” that focused on globalization. His remarks follow. The forum was co-sponsored by Building Bridges and Graduate and International Programs.

I lived in Pakistan in Peshawar, which is on the Khyber Pass next to Afghanistan, from 1990 to 1994. This region, the Northwest Frontier Province, is very harsh, physically. Much of the landscape is barren rock and desert, although Peshawar is green and humid because of agricultural cultivation.

The country has a huge illiteracy rate, plus everything that could go wrong politically was going wrong in Pakistan. Pakistan looked like paradise compared to Afghanistan because of the devastation there after the war with the Soviet Union. Right after the war, there were a couple million Afghans in Peshawar, and everybody was thinking, “Great, the war’s over. Soon we’re going to be going home.” But this never occurred because Afghanistan was ruled by a series of warlords, and they started to fight with each other in a civil war.

Fourth and Fifth Grade Pakistan Boys

Boys outside a rural school in Peshawar, Pakistan. “In spite of the fact that research the world over shows that the more educated the females in a society, the higher the quality of life, females continue to be excluded from formal education,” said Tom LeBlanc.

photo: Tom LeBlanc

The war in Afghanistan contributed to the disintegration of the USSR. CIA-trained Afghan refugees, or the Mujahideen, in turn trained anybody from any country who wanted to fight in the jihad. People like Osama bin Laden were trained by the CIA. We gave the Mujahideen fantastic weapons, such as surface-to-air rocket launchers, that they used to destroy Soviet jets and helicopters.

So Pakistanis, who had provided logistical and political support during the war against the Soviet Union, were supporting different Muja-hideen. They decided to support Gollbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most destructive and antisocial warlord in Afghanistan, because he is Pakhtoon, as are many Pakistanis. He bombed Kabul back to the Stone Age after the defeat of the Soviet Union. He was absolutely relentless and horrible.

The Pakhtoons, the majority tribe in Afghanistan, live in Peshawar. The Pakistanis wanted to make sure that they had people in power who would create a peaceful situation so that they could build oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan, and through Pakistan to the port in Karachi.

When the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was over, the United States no longer felt that it was important to support Pakistan due mainly to the fact that they were developing nuclear weapons. Washington cut all military and humanitarian aid to Pakistan because it believed Islamabad had a nuclear bomb. At the time, Pakistan was one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid.

By withdrawing U.S. support, we committed the Pakistanis to support the Taliban. Saudi Arabia said, “We’ll give you money to help you educate the refugees in the refugee camps, but we want to teach them our fundamentalist ideology.” The United States left and allowed the Saudis to go into Pakistan and train the refugees. The Pakistanis had no access to any resources, so they turned to Saudi Arabia and said, “Look, we really want to do this pipeline through Afghanistan—let’s arm these refugees and have them go into Afghanistan and take over.” By this time, the mid-1990s, I had left.

When I heard about this in the international press, I actually thought it was a great idea because Afghanistan would finally be unified. In fact, the Taliban swept through very quickly and unified the country. The problem was, you also had Osama bin Laden mixed up in all this.

Osama bin Laden had been a hero during the war with the Soviets. He went back to Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, where he was welcomed as a war hero, but he couldn’t settle down. He became very critical of the Saudi regime, and that was not tolerated.

Then we had the invasion by Iraq of Kuwait, so the United States decided to go in. When we brought troops into Saudi Arabia, that was the last straw for Osama bin Laden. Things began to unravel—bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, gave the Taliban a lot of money, and even married one of the Taliban leader’s daughters. All these events led up to the World Trade Center bombing.

I believe globalization can be good. I believe in providing Western education, health aid, and helping develop the private sector in developing countries. I believe that we can provide people with the possibility of a Western education so that they can be critical of their government. We can help develop democracy. That may be a simplified ideology, but the alternatives are people like the Taliban and bin Laden, which just leads to destruction and fascism.
We have a pretty good way of life, and I would like to see us keep our lifestyle. The only way we can do that is to help our brothers and sisters in developing countries to develop their countries based on our Western model of democracy and capitalism.

Tom LeBlanc, proposal development manager, Sponsored Programs
Transcribed by Barbara Alderson

 

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