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The ABC's of Neo-Imperialism: Educational Development Aid in Afghanistan

Education has traditionally been understood as cardinal to curating a society endowed with specific civic values and ideological leanings. This dispositional conceptualization of education has historically allowed it to be appropriated by political ambitions. The imperial era saw the emergence of a civilizing mission that dubbed the colonised as a ‘savage’ and the coloniser as a ‘liberator’: an ideological justification for colonisation that aided in satiating the public consciousness. Missionary schools cropped up across the colonies and actively instilled values of subjugation within the indigenous children during times of conflict. In the contemporary world, there remains an overt understanding of colonial structural dismantling yet under the banner of globalisation there emerges the harrowing paradigm of ‘neo-imperialism’. This term encompasses subtle forms of political, economic and cultural domination asserted by the developed nations upon the developing nations specifically through the use of education.


Afghanistan has long been the victim of neo-imperialistic ambitions through foreign interventions under the guise of conflict resolution and prevention. The decade of 1960 witnessed France and Britain actively restructure the local educational curriculum, introducing European civic values of modernity and the implementation of French and English as languages of the educated elites. The reformed educational system actively argued the local traditions to be archaic and regressive, advocating for western apparel and mannerisms: a mission that was haunted by echoes of the 19th centuries colonial civilizing missions. In the decade that followed, this curriculum went through another phase of rigorous restructuring and the Soviet imposition began: Russian became another elitist tongue, and Soviet propaganda became rampant in school curriculum.


With the US intervention the curriculum once more underwent meticulous reconfiguration and echoed the values typical to the American social civic understanding. However, this was prevaded by US sanctioned Jihadist literature: the ABCs were taught through terrorist allegories. The conflict that emerged in the light of Soviet centred radicalization, then, served as grounds for America’s neo-imperialist civilizing mission. The Afghani women became the face of America’s ‘liberation reasoning’, and many images of educational development aid projects featured young girls. A university was eventually set up where English was the mode of instruction and the curriculum was actively serving American interest on the land.

High school in Kabul, Afghanistan (2015). [VOA]

The long term impacts transcend the mere identity crisis that neo-imperialistic tendencies curate. The society that emerges from this educational system begins to negotiate their reality on American neo-imperialistic grounds: the progressiveness of Afghani society, in the post-USA pull out from the region, has been evaluated in the context of the veil and female social engagement. The veil has long been employed by the US as a symbol of religiously sanctioned oppression, however, in many regions across the globe, including Afghanistan the veil is not religiously governed but rather has social implications. The contemporary lens has been actively engineered by the American ideological interpretation of an indigenous piece of clothing. The classroom segregation was another extremely sensationalized headline, and remains interesting when one reviews the US aid backed schools that have been operational for nearly a decade now: many schools were actively gender specific to remain cognizant of local values. The decade long US educational intervention has created a society that appears actively alienated from discourses that are contextual to their reality rather their evaluations remain geared from a pseudo-western lens.

In this picture obtained from social media, students attend class under

new classroom conditions at Avicenna University in Kabul, Afghanistan

Sept. 6, 2021. (Reuters)

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6 Comments


zenababid-23020417
zenababid-23020417
Dec 10, 2022

The collapse of the US-backed government of Afghanistan under Ashraf Ghani immediately after the withdrawal of the US troops is clear evidence that the "democratic government" was just a puppet in the hands of the US. The coverage of Afghanistan in the media is another example of how American imperialism was being propagated. Women were used as the face of the new Afghanistan that was being built, which was a bastion of freedom and liberty where women were now being more western and thus free.


All the while, the US was carrying out drone strikes in the free country and calling civilian deaths as collateral damage. America also conveniently forgets its own role in the creation of the Taliban, where…

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I agree. This only further highlights the complexity of the role education plays within conflict regions. In many it is the very tool used to create the instigators of the conflict yet simultaneously it has been adopted by the local resistive groups, such as the Hazara community, to fight against oppression: a tool of protest and resistance.

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Now, the inevitable victory of the Taliban looks like a disaster from the point of view of primacy and liberal internationalism. Not only does it mean that Afghanistan will move back beyond the borders of the liberal international order, but it also shows that the United States has failed horribly to uphold, police, and defend the LIO, which is now being called the "rules-based order." Because of this, the question was raised: If the US failed so badly to set up and defend a liberal order in Afghanistan, how could Washington be expected to protect the liberal order around the world from threats from countries like the People's Republic of China, which are much more dangerous?


But there is another…


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It is an interesting perspective specifically because in many ways two of the three mentioned international actors, America and Russia, historically, have tampered with the educational sector of the region to gain hegemony. With introduction of China, I believe a far more harrowing fate awaits Afghanistan and in many ways Pakistan.

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I'd like to add that neo colonialism has also played a big part in exploiting countries nowadays, and consequently, their education system. Many countries, like African ones, suffering from this phenomena are already the victims of a post colonial hangover. This is exacerbated by big powers investing in them to extract vast reserves of resources that they could not have extracted on their own without help. In doing so, they divert the youth of these underdeveloped countries from the classrooms to the mines because, at that point, the only future they can see is one of profit, as they choose wellbeing in the short run (no matter how dangerous) instead of wellbeing in the long run. As for a long…

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Thank you for bringing up the resource exploiting aspect. I was not aware of this implication and this has only made me realize how the current education system, globally, is deeply embroiled in political agendas serving one ideology or another. In many ways a tool of indoctrination and subjugation. Your comment puts into perspective the approach policy makers should opt for when addressing dilemmas pertaining to the education system on a national or global level: education cannot be viewed in mere isolation, rather the socio-economic and political realities of a region can gravely complicate the experience of the student and hence policies sought for conflict resolution must remain cognizant of this reality

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