The Wapo reports:
KABUL — In a country where the recent past has unfolded like a war epic, officials think they have found a way to teach Afghan history without widening the fractures between long-quarreling ethnic and political groups: leave out the past four decades.
A series of government-issued textbooks funded by the United States and several foreign aid organizations do just that, pausing history in 1973. There is no mention of the Soviet war, the mujaheddin, the Taliban or the U.S. military presence. In their efforts to promote a single national identity, Afghan leaders have deemed their own history too controversial.
“Our recent history tears us apart. We’ve created a curriculum based on the older history that brings us together, with figures universally recognized as being great,” said Farooq Wardak, Afghanistan’s education minister. “These are the first books in decades that are depoliticized and de-ethnicized.”
This is a fair attempt at educating students away from violence. After all, it doesn’t teach them that one side was motivated by equality and the other by conquest, or that life is amoral. Rather, it just omits the topic altogether. Two problems remain. One, it hasn’t necessarily been an amoral struggle for the last 40 years: the Soviets, mujaheddin, Taliban, and the US all had/have different motivations, goals and ethics. (It is the intellectual equivalent of positing no moral difference between the Persians, Thebans, Spartans and Athenians, among other Greeks, during the Persian Wars.) Understanding those differences is fundamental to understanding war. Which they will because, second, Afghanistan remains a tribal society in which much history is passed on orally through the generations. I would not be surprised to learn that in 1973 – when these history books end – students learned more history from their grandfathers than from their history teachers.
That being said, this is a fair attempt, and one against which I don’t have another and better solution. Omitting certain periods of Afghan history is better than reading Afghan history written by a foreign power. Attaullah Wahidyar, director of publication and information for the Education Ministry, said, “We aren’t mature enough to come up with a way to teach such a sensitive history." Until then, just omit it.