If you want to become a lawyer in Afghanistan, you enroll in a university and major in Law & Politics or Shari'a, either of which grants you an undergraduate degree and allows you to practice law. Therefore, a solid and comprehensive legal education can set the groundwork for a correspondingly flourishing and effective Afghan justice system. One month ago, I became the Program Manager for an innovative legal education grant that has been quietly making gains for Afghanistan's future lawyers with very little fanfare since 2004 by educating Afghan law professors and encouraging them to change the way they teach. This unassuming yet groundbreaking program, administered by the University of Washington in Seattle, and called the Afghanistan Legal Educators Support Program (LESPA), celebrated two recent events that speak volumes about the range of work the United States is doing with our Afghan colleagues and partners to build up Afghanistan's justice sector holistically, starting with the education system.
First, last week, the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) awarded a new five year grant to the University of Washington to continue and expand LESPA. When the program began in late 2004, we expected it would be a fairly simple program to educate and confer graduate (Master of Laws or LL.M) degrees to Afghan law and Shari'a faculty. In the past eight years, the program has turned into so much more. LESPA administers legal English classes in Afghanistan and the United States to prepare faculty for matriculation. During the program, Afghan faculty participate in regular law classes, special tutorials, research and writing seminars, and clinical legal education experiences. After completion, LL.M graduates talk about how difficult the course work was, but also tell us how much they learned and plan to incorporate into their own teaching. In addition to the LL.M program, other faculty members have traveled to Seattle for shorter term study. The program works with legal educators from most university law schools in Afghanistan, including the Shari'a and Law & Political Science faculties of Alberoni, Balkh, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, Nangahar and Takhar universities. Since the program began, 229 Afghan legal educators, deans, and students have participated, including 36 women. Fifteen educators have already completed their advanced LL.M degrees at the University of Washington, with three more set to graduate this spring.
Upon returning to Afghanistan, graduates of the LESPA program actively collaborate with each other to teach and lead the next generation of Afghan law students. Graduates of the program have set up the first law-school affiliated legal clinics in Afghanistan, and most university legal clinics in the country feature a LESPA graduate serving as the faculty advisor. It is no coincidence that program alumni are at the forefront of scholarly and pedagogical reform in Afghanistan, and new program recruits cite the stellar reputation of the LESPA graduate network as a key element in their desire to participate in the program.
Second, the Jessup International Moot Court competition tapped two current Afghan participants of LESPA to serve as judges last month in the 2012 competition. To the best of our knowledge, they are the first Afghans to serve as judges for the international rounds of this prestigious competition. The two Afghans, Parwiz Esmati, a graduate of Alberoni University law and political science faculty, and Shamshad Pasarlay, a graduate of Kabul University Shari'a faculty, began their involvement with the Jessup competition in 2009-10, when LESPA supported and administered the national Jessup competition in Afghanistan. Both students excelled, and Parwiz was named among the top 70 oralists in the world at 2010's international competition, while Shamshad led his team to win the national championship and compete in the international rounds in 2010-11. Notably, in the 2011-12 national competition in Afghanistan, the coaches of four out of the five teams -- including the two finalist teams -- were graduates of the LESPA program.
As the new Program Manager, I've really enjoyed getting to know the current LL.M. students and some graduates from past years. They are optimistic, energetic, and very dedicated educators. As I look ahead to the next five years of this program, which will continue all the successful components of the past while adding Ph.D studies at the University of Washington and university partnership agreements, I'm both hopeful and confident. I know that these law professors and the students they teach back home will continue to reform Afghanistan's justice system from within.