By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After I got through with the SIM, I went to see one of my favorite people from my second trip, Dr. Sherif Fayez, the American-educated minister of higher education. He’s brilliant and personable, and I’d learned a lot from our talk about the state of universities in Afghanistan. At the time, the situation had been grim; his annual budget in 2002 was just $400,000 for 20,000 students. He was personally beleaguered. Riots had broken out at Kabul University, allegedly over dormitory conditions, and a handful of students had been shot dead by the police, who handled the demonstrations poorly.
The relatively short trip took nearly an hour. Kabul’s traffic can be horrendous, a sign of increasing prosperity. Also, my taxi driver was dreadful. In my experience Afghans are not talented drivers (oddly, Yemenis are), and this guy went 20 miles an hour even when the traffic thinned out. Once inside the Ministry compound, I could see major construction going on. Dr. Fayez mentioned that his budget is now $7 million for 40,000 students, almost 1 percent of the country’s budget, and an $8 million USAID-funded dorm for 1,500 girls is opening September 28. It’s the first in Kabul, and aims to bring girls from the provinces to the capital. Five hundred of them will have scholarships as well. The construction I’d seen on the grounds was a junior college and business school; the Koreans were going to start work on an IT center in November.
Dr. Fayez had to leave for a dinner, so I left the details of these projects for another meeting. I wanted to ask him about my plan to go to Herat to find out more about the recent political violence there, which had culminated in Karzai’s dismissal of the longtime "Amir of Herat," Ismail Khan. Dr. Fayez, I knew from my first meeting, was both an outspoken modernizer and an old friend and supporter of his fellow Herati. He insisted that Khan is not the fundamentalist depicted in many news stories, but a traditionalist with a sense of humor, and I respected Dr. Fayez’s progressive credentials enough to withhold judgment.
I wanted to take him up on his earlier offer to introduce me to Khan. "When do you want to go? Just tell me a day in advance, and I will arrange for you to meet Khan in his house," he said. I suggested that I fly to Herat on Saturday and see Khan on Sunday, and he promised to set the plans in motion.
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