U.S. Troop Withdrawal Worries Afghan Students

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet with President Obama at the White House Friday. Renee Montagne talks to Ehsan Ullah, director of the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, about what Afghans are saying about the proposed withdrawal of NATO and U.S. military forces from vulnerable areas of Afghanistan.

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Those decisions about U.S. troop levels will have an impact on the lives of people in Afghanistan, especially in places where the Taliban insurgency remains active, like Kandahar. Kandahar is, of course, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. And to find out more about what Afghans are thinking about the U.S. drawdown, we reached Ehsan Ullah Ehsan, who is the director of a school in Kandahar, the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, which has offered, for several years, instruction to girls in computers, English and business management.

Good morning.

EHSAN ULLAH EHSAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So what is your sense of the confidence that people have in President Karzai's ability to maintain security without large numbers of U.S. troops?

EHSAN: You know, there are U.S. troops in many other countries and Afghan forces are working on maintaining security, peace, yet there is still a war going on. There are still difficulties, so people think that alone Afghan government is not fully ready to take full security of Afghanistan and provide the right kind of governments and justice.

MONTAGNE: At your school you are educating and have educated hundreds of girls, and one interesting thing about this school is you were training girls and young women to work, which is something very different in Afghanistan. What are the young women, the girls in your school, saying about this transitional moment? Are they concerned?

EHSAN: Well, those girls are still studying. They are very committed girls, and they continue to stay committed. What the girls - what we think - we see more crimes, of kidnaps, we are afraid of - bribe-taking, administrative corruption, and women(ph) rights violations. So if all of these are put together, the achievements over the 11 or 12 years that Afghanistan have made, my students and we, the teachers, feel we may lose unless international community continue to work with us and with the Afghan government.

MONTAGNE: Well, you're saying stay engaged, but clearly the troops are going to be leaving.

EHSAN: Exactly. We are not asking the international community to be directly underground, but we would like them to continue to train our forces and to continue to stay with us, providing either air support, providing logistics, providing advice, and working with our neighboring countries.

It is, yes, expensive for U.S. to keep all those forces here, troops in Afghanistan, but we would still ask that they leave behind some of the forces to help us because we cannot do it on our own.

MONTAGNE: Are you seeing any indication that Afghans, you know, like yourself, educated, working all these years to help Afghanistan progress, do you see any indication that people are, in a sense, packing their bags, you know, preparing for the worst?

EHSAN: You know, look, everything has been affected. It's in everybody's mind. When you do anything, they live for 2014. There are also people who are optimistic and they think, well, good things will happen. But this uncertainty, you know, is prevailing, because many people have become unemployed. With the international community there were lots of people employed. But there are also people who are happy when there is a war. They are happy when there is a chaos. They are happy when they control people like us, when they rule on us. So yes, there are people who are packing up because they say that if these warlords and drug lords and the Taliban and extremists come back, that would deteriorate, you know, the situation.

I hope it doesn't go that way. I hope the international community, especially the government of the United States of America, stay engaged with us and control these people and continue to control these people. We need international support very badly.

MONTAGNE: Ehsan Ullah Ehsan is the director of the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies. Thanks very much for joining us.

EHSAN: Thank you very much for having me.

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