Even as Afghanistan continues to rebuild after decades of violence and oppression, the war-torn Middle Eastern country still faces significant practical and cultural challenges, a Cal Poly professor and ambassador says.
Maliha Zulfacar was appointed Afghan ambassador to Germany from 2006 to 2009. She and Williams College Professor David Edwards recently completed the documentary “Kabul Transit,” which will be screened at Cal Poly on Tuesday.
Zulfacar returned to the United States in October after working with German agencies and organizations to help rebuild her home country after 40 years of war.
Her efforts included collaborating with the German groups to train Afghanistan’s police force, build schools, coach teachers and develop the country’s damaged infrastructure and agricultural systems.
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The Cal Poly ethnic studies professor, who grew up in Kabul, said Afghanistan used to be a moderate Muslim country before the Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s.
Zulfacar said that when she went back home in recent years, after the Sept. 11 attacks, most of the library books at the university in Kabul had been burned.
During Taliban rule, which ended when the Muslim fundamentalist group was pushed out in 2001, independent news agencies also were banished. A variety of news agencies have sprung up in recent years.
Zulfacar said only 3 percent of girls attended elementary school under Taliban control, compared to 38 percent now.
She said her goal now is to make Cal Poly students more aware of poverty and third-world hardship to help build a connected, peaceful world.
Zulfacar attended college in the United States, then returned to Afghanistan and taught at Kabul University until 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded.
She lived in Germany for five years before coming to the U.S. again and teaching at Cal Poly.
“Kabul Transit” is Zulfacar’s second documentary about average citizens in Afghanistan.
The film follows residents of the capital city in their daily lives and the involvement of the international community. People tell stories of the past and hopes for the future.
The physical destruction of Zulfacar’s homeland is widespread, and keeping food in people’s stomachs in Afghanistan will be vital, she said.
An even bigger challenge will be to rebuild the uprooted cultural structure, which will likely take a generation, she said.
Many intellectuals and professionals who had the means to leave Afghanistan during the wars, including a civil war before the Taliban took control, now are being called upon to help with redevelopment.
“A large group of Afghan immigrants went to Germany, and part of my mission as ambassador was to coordinate reconstruction efforts with them, particularly with second-generation Afghan immigrants who had a chance to visit the country of their roots and help,” Zulfacar said.
Upholding the constitution also is a key challenge, including maintaining equality between men and women, which is written into the constitution, Zulfacar said.
Making education, including vocational schools, a priority, will be crucial to make Afghanistan self-reliant and self-sustaining, she said.
“The real change will have to come from within,” Zulfacar said. “Only the Afghan people can maintain the social structure — and peace — that will carry them into the future.”
‘Kabul Transit’ will show at Cal Poly
Maliha Zulfacar, a Cal Poly professor who spent the last three years as an ambassador of Afghanistan in Germany, will be available to speak after a free screening of her film “Kabul Transit” on Tuesday at the Chumash Auditorium on campus from 7 to 9 p.m.
The Cal Poly Social Sciences Club, which is sponsoring the event, also will be accepting donations for Haitian earthquake relief.
Zulfacar will hold a question-and-answer session after the documentary screening.