Despite its landlocked, dead-center location within the United States, UNO outdoes many of its university peers in international involvement by working towards broader mindsets at home and advancing education across the globe. The university’s Center for Afghanistan Studies experienced devastation as the affiliate office in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, was destroyed earlier this month.
Operating since 1972, the Center for Afghanistan Studies (CAS) is one of UNO’s first international endeavours. The CAS website states that its mission is to “promote and facilitate programs, trainings, faculty development and academic research on Afghanistan and the region and to promote awareness among UNO students, and Omaha community members on Afghanistan and the countries around Afghanistan that share similar rich cultural heritage, sociopolitical and economic interests, traits and values.”
According to Director Sher Jan Ahmadzai, CAS has advanced higher education in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and made a particular difference among female students and teachers.
On Aug. 3 at 7:55 p.m., the CAS affiliate office in Kabul suffered severe damage from a car bomb targeting another building which, along with an ensuing gunfight, killed eight people and wounded many more. None of the office staff were injured, and a security guard barricaded himself in the building’s basement.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which, despite the death and destruction caused, did not succeed in its intention of killing its presumed targets, including Afghanistan’s acting defense minister.
The attack is a particularly worrying incident in a surge of violence enacted by Taliban extremists across Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the U.S. military. As the Taliban continues to gain control of major Afghan cities and the land in between, the country becomes increasingly dangerous to any foreign activity within its borders.
Even before the bombing, the future of CAS’ work in Afghanistan was jeopardized—the furthering of education and gender equality does not easily coexist with the Taliban’s brand of extremism. As it stands, the future of CAS is uncertain—the work it does is massively important, yet the dangers are mounting.
“I wouldn’t call it the end of a chapter—we are assessing everything,” Ahmadzai says. “Of course the overall security situation in Afghanistan does affect not only us, but everybody else.”
“Unfortunately, this incident has made us rethink our efforts. We’re reassessing our situation over there to see if we can continue,” Ahmadzai says. “The security situation is worsening every day, every moment, every hour.”
Though U.S. troops have been pulled out and Afghan cities fall by the day, the U.S. military seems to think that Kabul has a decent chance to repel the Taliban.
“No potential outcome has to be inevitable, including the fall of Kabul,” says Defense Department spokesman John F. Kirby.
“It’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening there,” says Ahmadzai. “Every day there are security developments that definitely affect our presence and the presence of anyone else in Afghanistan.”
Regardless of how the situation plays out, CAS has achieved incredible progress in Afghanistan and the wider region.
“We are proud of what we have been doing with Afghanistan and in the region. We’ve provided assistance to thousands of students and thousands of teachers,” Ahmadzai says. “We’ve helped make a difference in their lives.”