About the Author: Fleur Cowan is the Deputy Cultural Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy.
U.S. Embassy Rome recently hosted three impressive civil society representatives who shared with the Italian public their personal experiences in building a new Afghanistan. Jawed Nader spoke about agriculture, Rahima Housaini discussed prison reform, and Wazir Ahmad Khorami addressed human rights. Though they represented three different fields, they all shared a common view: Things are much better in Afghanistan now than they were under the Taliban, and the support of the international community is vital.
Jawed, Rahima and Wazir thanked the Italians and spent their time in Italy meeting with a range of people, from politicians and journalists to students and development activists. The fresh perspective of the three young activists attracted broad media coverage and public interest.
While in Milan, the group visited the newsroom of Yalla Italia, the biggest Italian website and newsletter dedicated to Muslim Italians. On Yalla's site, the Afghans published an Op-Ed-style column to address development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
At standing-room-only seminars, Jawed, Rahima and Wazir spoke to students at Rome's LUISS University and Catholic University in Milan. They discussed the role of civil society and the importance of protecting human rights. State-run TV TG1 -- which often garners an audience of 6.5 million -- covered the LUISS event, interviewing our Afghan guests and some of the Italian students as well. One young Italian expressed surprise in learning that "there is such an active civil society in Afghanistan…because the media doesn't talk about it and neither does the university." A second stated that “Afghanistan is doing a great deal to move forward, to recover, but it still needs international help.”
The three Afghan leaders also participated in roundtable discussions with representatives from Italian NGOs, met with members of the Afghan diaspora in Rome, and sat down with politicians from Italy's major center-left and center-right political parties. Representatives from both political parties expressed support for Italy's contribution to NATO, and invited Jawed, Rahima and Wazir to come back to Italy in the future to speak to European political youth groups.
The positive impact of Afghan voices speaking directly to the Italian public cannot be overstated. The Italian and European public need to hear directly from Afghan civil society leaders about why concrete support for the NATO mission must remain a priority. Jawed, Rahima and Wazir outlined extensive progress in their country, acknowledged that much work remains, and explained the need for continuing international support. They argued the cause with passion and credibility, as only three young Afghans who are rebuilding Afghanistan's society with their own hands could do.