Faramarz: Afghanistan omits its own past

Women of all ages attend second grade at

Women of all ages attend second grade at a school run by the Women's Association in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2002 after the U.S. scattered the Taliban (May 18, 2002) (Credit: AP)

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- In a highly controversial move, Afghanistan's education ministry has dealt with the complexities of the last four decades of turmoil and war by simply omitting the entire period from the new history textbooks it is issuing to schools.

Officials argue that the decision to pass over contentious events of recent history is an attempt to heal rifts in Afghan society and avoid further strife. But critics accuse the ministry of distorting history and protecting individuals implicated in past bloodshed, some of who now hold senior government posts.

Children studying the books could be forgiven for thinking they were reading about another country.


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Historians see the missing parts -- from the Soviet invasion to the emergence of Islamist militias and all-out civil war -- as the key to understanding modern Afghanistan.

There is no mention of the July 1973 coup led by Mohammad Daud Khan, nor of his death when he was overthrown by Communist forces in 1978. Absent, too, are the 1979 Soviet invasion, the ensuing mujahedin war, the brutal civil conflict of the early 1990s and the Taliban takeover.

The U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and the ensuing a decade of conflict are also missing.

Education ministry spokesman Amanollah Iman explained why the ministry had chosen to rewrite history.

 "Positive events of the last 40 years have been included, but negative, distressing, exasperating ones have been avoided," he said.

He acknowledged that the continuing political role of some of those involved in past conflicts was a factor in the decision to edit out recent history.

"It may be impossible to judge those events and incidents properly in the present situation," he said.

Education Minister Faruq Wardak believes omitting "negative" history is the only way of healing divisions.

"Our recent history tears us apart," Wardak said, according to a published report.  "We have created a curriculum based on older history that brings us together, with figures universally recognized as great. These are the first books in decades that are depoliticized and de-ethicized." Iman said there been no pressure, either from Afghan politicians or from the international community, to censor the past.

But an education ministry staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that President Hamid Karzai approved the new, revised texts after consulting with government ministers and former leaders of armed militias.

Hamed Elmi, a spokesman for Karzai, said the president was unaware of the issue.

Historians say the books make a mockery of history.

 "Falsification is not allowed or acceptable in the history of Afghanistan," Ahmad Zia Nekbin, a historian and lecturer at Kabul University, said, adding that the education officials had no right to carve up the past into "positive" and "negative" parts.

The Coalition for Change and Hope, a parliamentary opposition group, is against the omissions. Its spokesman, Fazel Sancharaki, warned that erasing parts of recent history would leave younger Afghans with a distorted understanding of their nation's past.

"Present Afghan generations will become divorced from their past," he said.

Abdol Wahed Faramarz is a reporter in Kabul who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; website: www.iwpr.net.

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