Increasing Ties Between the United States and Afghanistan

Posted by Evan Ryan
March 25, 2015
President Barack Obama Shakes Hands With Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani At The End Of Their News Conference At The White House

In a joint statement released by the White House and the Afghan government yesterday as a result of an Afghan delegation’s visit to Washington, “President Obama and President Ghani agreed that Afghan prosperity depended on the development of the country’s human capital”.

A new generation of educated leaders is essential to ensuring the success of this transitional period in Afghanistan and beyond. The U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Program develops these leaders by creating a global network of people who understand the United States and can be partners in solving global challenges.

In 2003, the Fulbright Program was reestablished between the United States and Afghanistan after suspension in 1979. Since then, over 450 Afghan students have pursued professional and graduate level study in the United States. These Fulbrighters have used their exchange program experiences to succeed back home, becoming faculty, leaders, mentors, and role models at Afghanistan’s universities, in government, and in other organizations throughout the country.

In academic year 2014-15, there are a total of 132 Afghan Fulbright Students, including new and second year students, studying in the United States. Here are some of their stories:

  • Mohammad Fahim Rahimi received his Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Anthropology from Kabul University in 2005. Among his many accomplishments, he was appointed Curator of the National Museum of Afghanistan in 2007, rising to Chief Curator in 2012. He is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Anthropology and Heritage Preservation as a Fulbright Scholar.
  • United Nations Youth Courage Awardee, Nangyalai Attal, grew up in the Afghan countryside, walking 10 miles to high school each day. Born to extremely supportive parents, Attal managed to graduate from Kabul Education University with a bachelor’s in English Language and Literature, established the first school for girls in his house, and worked with the Afghan government, among other accomplishments. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Human Resources as a Fulbright Fellow at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
  • Sami Mahdi is Afghanistan’s leading media executive and winner of the prestigious Knight International Journalism award in 2012 for “revolutionizing his country’s media landscape”. Mahdi has held many other high level management positions in Afghanistan, including Director of News and Current Affairs for 1TV where he developed the groundbreaking TV programs, Nigab and Kabul Debate Live. A graduate of the Law & Political Science Faculty of Kabul University, he is currently working toward his Master’s Degree in International Relations from the United States.

The Fulbright Program is an important resource for U.S. engagement with frontline states and transitioning democracies, helping countries like Afghanistan build capacity within institutions, ministries, and civil society. Afghanistan’s new president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is a Fulbright alumnus himself and understands the significance of international exchange programs and people-to-people diplomacy.

President Obama announced yesterday that over the next five years, the United States will increase the number of Fulbright scholarships available to qualified Afghan students and academics by 50 percent, making it one of the largest Fulbright programs in the world. This means more opportunities for a diverse group of Afghan participants to experience the U.S., and more success stories, experiences, and follow-on projects to be shared throughout Afghanistan, leading to lifelong collaborations.

About the Author: Evan Ryan serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Follow Assistant Secretary Ryan on Twitter @ECA_AS.

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