Preparing for 2014,when international troops are set to withdraw from the country,Afghanistan is raising what will be among the newest armies in the world from scratch literally. One of the first lessons its young recruits are imparted is on how to read and write. In 2009,when the training process started,over 86 per cent of the recruits were found to be illiterate.
Colonel Mike Minor calls the literacy initiative a cornerstone activity at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC). While Minor,a Canadian,heads the international training advisory group at the centre,the training to raise the Afghan National Army is led by Afghans themselves. A large number of the training officials are war veterans.
In 2009,because of the low levels of literacy,less than 35 per cent could pass weapon qualification.
Islamuddin Faizi,a retired army officer,heads the literacy operation,with 100 trainers teaching young recruits in 40 makeshift classrooms within the KMTC.
The aim is very modest reaading,writing and basic arithmetic. Recruits who put in 64 hours of lessons,apart from the initial army training,can pass Grade-I (Class I) and move to their units. Those who want can undergo 128 hours of lessons for Grade-II and those further keen can take up another 120 hours of lessons for Grade-III. The aim is to secure 100 per cent literacy among recruits by the end of this year.
I think it is no secret that any country with no education faces such challenges, says Brigadier General Aminullah Patyani,an Afghan war veteran,who heads the KMTC.
Apart from it (literacy lessons) being an effort at building the nation at the grassroot level,it is also a big recruitment draw for the Army, Faizi says,who is proud of his contribution towards helping Afghanistan resurrect itself.
The army,with its assured payment of salaries,is an attractive employer in the impoverished country. I come from a poor family and had no job. By working with the army,I get to serve my country, says Gulbat,an 18-year-old from Nangarhar province,who is among those getting lessons in reading and writing at the KMTC.
A soldier undergoing training is entitled to 8,500 Afghanis in stipend and gets 10,500 Afghanis (over $200) as salary per month when confirmed. This is similar to what an ordinary school teacher earns per month in Afghanistan.
The recruits and their officers are confident of keeping peace once the international forces move out. I am confident the regions handed over to us will be handled and secured well by the ANA, says Col Khoda Dad (Sorkhjoy),a combat trainer at the KMTC.
As part of the transition process,the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) have started passing on some of their responsibilties to the Afghan forces. Since October 2011,instead of joint counter-insurgency operations,it has just been extending help to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The successful handling of the deadly attack on Kabul on April 15 by the ANSF was a case in point.
International funding for the Afghan forces though is likely to continue post 2014. A plan is being worked out by NATO for $4.1 billion annual support.
The small steps towards building an army,meanwhile,are already leading to a visible change in war-ravaged Afghanistan. About 60 per cent of the 1.95 lakh soldiers in the ANA are now Grade-I level literate. In the rest of the country,this figure is around an estimated 24 per cent.
(The writer was in Kabul on a trip focusing on Counternarcotics and its effect on transition in Afghanistan,sponsored by the US Mission to NATO)
TERROR FOLLOWS OBAMA SPEECH OF HOPE
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA flew to Afghanistan for a dramatic six-hour nighttime visit that ended exactly to a year after the killing of Osama bin Laden. He signed a strategic partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and made an unusual television address from Bagram air base,telling Americans that after a decade of war,the light of a new day was visible in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan.
BARELY 90 MINUTES after Obama left Afghan airspace,the Taliban struck back with a car bomb at a compound frequented by foreigners in Kabul,followed by a firearms assault by suicide attackers. Seven Afghans were killed in the attacks. Soon afterward,the Taliban announced that their spring offensive would officially begin on Thursday.