Editor’s Note: It has always been the view of Pax Populi that peace in Afghanistan cannot be imposed from outside, but must be cultivated from within. For this reason, our goal in Afghanistan is to help Afghans to bring peace to their own country by supporting educational and economic development initiatives within a framework of human rights. To this end we are delighted to partner with Afghan organizations that share a similar vision, one of which is a remarkable group called Afghans for Progressive Thinking (APT). Pax Populi began partnering with APT in September 2012 when we extended our English tutoring services to a group of their members. The longer our association, the more we have come to admire APT and their dynamic and uplifting commitment to building a New Afghanistan. In the following essay in our “Voices from the New Afghanistan” series, we are pleased to share with you a few thoughts from Aref Dostyar, one of the co-founders and head of APT. Mr. Dostyar and his organization are on the forefront of efforts to building a new, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan. We at Pax Populi look forward to seeing APT grow stronger and more effective in the months and years ahead and as it does, we also look forward to the strengthening of the partnership between our organizations.
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“Did you just mention Plato? And are you from Afghanistan?” a British teacher asked me. I responded “Yes” to both the questions. She then asked, “Do you have libraries in Afghanistan?” Although I had been thinking about ways to contribute in building my country, these questions added to my sense of responsibility: Not only do we have to work to build Afghanistan but we also have to give a more realistic picture of it to the world.
When I was at the university, I thought about what we Afghans needed to do to build a beautiful Afghanistan. My friends and I would discuss all sorts of topics about conditions in Afghanistan such as the need for good governance, peace, education, human rights, business, and development. I graduated from university in 2009. Later that year, in December, I attended a leadership seminar in Kabul and my instructor talked about how to form a vision and pursue it. I couldn’t wait for the class to finish so I could start working to realize my vision. I was on fire! I said to myself, “I have a vision. Now I know how to pursue it!”
I have always believed that it has to be Afghans who build their country. No one else can do this! It is 100% our own responsibility. There are two questions: what to build and how to build it. When I look at my country’s history, I see that we have torn Afghanistan into regions and Afghans into tribes, languages, and religions. This has caused war, and war has further divided us and taken away that which we ought to value: love and peace. I believe that if we are to build a beautiful Afghanistan, we need to build tolerant, respectful, open minds and hearts. Tolerance will end war. Respect will foster love. Openness will encourage creativity. All of these three elements together will guarantee peace. Peace will guarantee sustainable development.
In order to reach this vision—an Afghanistan full of tolerance, respect, and openness—my two classmates and I started Afghans for Progressive Thinking (APT). My friends and I have focused on working with university students for three main reasons. First, university students have a strategic role — they are the future of government and business. Second, we have a passion to further empower university students. We gain energy doing this work. Third, we believe this is something that we can accomplish.
At APT we do two things. One, we model a culture of tolerance, respect, and openness. We have staff, interns, and volunteers who are young men and women, and they are from different tribes, regions, and speak different languages. We love and respect one another. We even think beyond Afghanistan and work for universal peace by having close relationships with people from all over the globe. Two, we have four main programs that are the basis of our activities at the universities. We have debate training and tournaments that help students learn logical argumentation, persuasive articulation, and respectful refutation; leadership seminars that challenge students to shift their understanding of leadership from a power position to a role of serving; special events that encourage open dialogs on topics related to students’ field of study; and international exposure trips that help students observe relatively tolerant, respectful, and open cultures like India and Turkey.
So far our NGO works with about twenty public and private universities in Kabul, Herat, Badakhshan, and Mazar-e Sharif. We are associated with the civil society organizations in Afghanistan, and we have international partners in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, France, India, and Turkey.
I have a lot of responsibilities as an Afghan. However, our vision of building a beautiful Afghanistan is very exciting and encouraging! Almost all of the universities that our NGO has contacted have appreciated the programs we offer. Both faculty and students are excited for our movement.
Hope: We believe Afghanistan will develop and that it is developing. We have seen big changes since 2001 which gives us energy regarding our present and hope for our future. Our one main goal at APT is to see a network of 1,000 students who have embraced and are sharing this vision by 2020. This is happening! For more information, please visit our APT website. Join us!