When I was 16, my brother deployed to Afghanistan for the first time—and I became acutely aware of the ongoing conflict there. At the same time, I saw how little attention most Americans paid to the war. The next year, in 2004, Time magazine ran a cover story titled “Remember Afghanistan?” I posted the magazine cover above my desk—the two-word title of the story serving as a constant reminder for me of the importance of staying focused on Afghanistan, despite the far-off distance of the country in conflict. From that time on, I engaged in various projects and research relating to Afghanistan. Eventually, this interest led me to Stanford Law School, where students, faculty, and the administration have demonstrated a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, particularly through the Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP).
Started by Stanford Law students in 2007, ALEP is committed to developing and providing legal education for Afghan students, primarily at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Working closely with AUAF faculty and students, Stanford Law’s ALEP team researches, writes, and publishes legal textbooks (to date: four in English, two in Pashto, and three in Dari), the first such texts in the country. We also have helped to develop the AUAF legal curriculum. In just five years, ALEP has become a critical resource to Afghan students seeking legal education that would likely not otherwise exist. (The model has been replicated by Stanford Law School’s Rule of Law Program in East Timor, Bhutan, and Iraq.)
We Stanford Law students recognize that it is the Afghans as citizens who ultimately have the reins in deciding how to use and apply these legal resources in their country, in a way that can have a long-term impact. Not until I visited Kabul, however, did I fully appreciate the value of ALEP to the Afghan students and simultaneously discover how integral these students are to the continued development of ALEP and the rule of law in Afghanistan.
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FLYING INTO KABUL ON A CLEAR AND COLD FEBRUARY DAY EARLIER THIS YEAR, I WAS STRUCK BY HOW MUCH THE SCENE REMINDED ME OF HOME IN UTAH. The valleys below, nestled against the high and snowy peaks of the Hindu Kush, looked quiet and peaceful. Not an hour later we—a team of five Stanford students and our professor, Erik Jensen—sat in a packed van, overheated, with foggy windows, and trusted that our Afghan driver would somehow maneuver through the 4 p.m. traffic in downtown Kabul. By then, any sense of home had vanished. Looking out the window, I saw we had pulled up next to a truck in which five men calmly sat; they were holding AK-47s. “Welcome to Afghanistan,” I thought to myself and tried not to feel anxious.
I quickly became immune to seeing guards with guns everywhere, to noticing the white blimp (a military security camera) overhead not far from AUAF, and to hearing helicopters flying overhead at night—all reminders that Afghanistan is a war zone. At the same time, there existed a real and tangible sense of peace and progress within the classrooms at AUAF. As I sat in the classes, every seat was filled and the students—male and female alike— challenged their professors. They demonstrated a willingness not only to learn the law but also to question the institutions that exist and consider how best to use a formal legal system in Afghanistan. Ultimately, ALEP would be of no value unless these students were intellectually curious and actively engaging with the materials.
During a standing-room-only question-and-answer session about the curriculum and our textbooks, the Afghan students did not shy away from offering constructive feedback. Many shared requests regarding the future development of the curriculum. A common theme was that they wanted more classes, case studies, and reading materials. Students even offered insight into expanding the reach of the legal texts outside of AUAF—many seeing the development of the rule of law beyond Kabul as a critical step in stabilizing Afghanistan.
From our very first conversations with students at AUAF, we were asked very pointedly, “What will happen in 2014?” This question became a theme throughout the week. What would happen to Afghanistan, to ALEP, and to them, the students who want to contribute to developing the legal system in their own country? I cannot say what will happen in Afghanistan after 2014. Many believe the withdrawal of the U.S. military will lead to a complete dissolution of any security or stability, while others have faith in the Afghans to manage their own affairs. I also cannot predict what will happen to each one of the students at AUAF. But many of them are enrolled in the legal studies program for the very reason that they want to stay—to contribute and provide a way for Afghanistan moving forward.
What I can say, however, is that ALEP is committed to staying in Afghanistan. In fact, in September, ALEP received approval from the State Department to continue working toward creating a law degree program at AUAF with a $7.2 million grant, the largest federal grant ever to come through Stanford Law School. Ultimately, ALEP’s deepened commitment in Afghanistan is due in large part to the AUAF students themselves. They possess a desire to contribute to the building of the rule of law, regardless of what happens after 2014. After spending a week in Afghanistan, engaging with students and professors and observing classes, I left with no doubt in my mind that ALEP and AUAF will remain an active and committed force in building the rule of law there, even after 2014. SL
Ingrid Price, JD ’13, is an executive director of ALEP. She has an MPhil in international relations from Cambridge University where she researched civil-military relations in Afghanistan. She has spent time working with the U.S. Mission to NATO and the United Nations Foundation, and throughout college she volunteered with the International Rescue Committee. Ingrid is a 2008 Truman Scholar and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Utah in 2009 with a BA in political science.