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Back to the future

Friday, 17. May 2019

“If the younger generation has prospects, the ideologists don’t stand a chance,” says Nazir Peroz. For nearly 20 years he has worked with TU Berlin to build information technology structures in Afghanistan and train computer scientists.

An internet antenna is being mounted on the roof of the Faculty of Computer Science at Kabul University

After the end of the Taliban regime in 2001, there were around 6,000 students in the whole of Afghanistan. Today, there are approximately 178 universities, 38 public and 140 private, with more than 280,000 students. Thousands have already completed IT studies at university and are seeking to develop new vistas for their crisis-ridden country. Meanwhile, there are 25 million cellphone users; Facebook and Twitter have rapidly grown.

In 2001 at the Petersberg Conference, the German federal government passed an agreement to support Afghanistan. Native Afghan and TU computer scientist Dr. Nazir Peroz was one of the first, together with government officials and the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, to travel to his homeland, a country he hadn’t seen in over 20 years. What welcomed him was horrifying: “The country was war-stricken, the universities destroyed, there was no flow of news, no IT connection, the people were desperate. The ruling Taliban had suppressed all forms of higher education and branded entertainment and modern technology as ‘the devil’s work,’ forbidding it.” Since then, Peroz, head of the Center for International and Intercultural Communication at TU Berlin (ZiiK), and his team of students and research assistants have boosted the creation of information technology structures and education possibilities in the country - all with the support of the Federal Foreign Office and DAAD, and later the World Bank, the Ministry of Higher Education in Kabul, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). He is convinced: “Afghanistan needs three things for its reconstruction and connection to the modern world: education, education, education.”

The program, situated at Ziik at TU Berlin is called “Creation of IT structures at Afghan universities.” To date, five university IT centers have been established at the universities in Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Kandahar. They supervise the IT infrastructures on their respective campuses as well as training and continuing education,” explains Peroz. At the University of Kabul, more than 11,000 members of the university have already been trained.

“More than anything, poor countries and crisis countries desperately need commitment to education for the younger generation. Digitalization in education offers enormous potential,“ says Prof. Dr. Rita Süßmuth.

She held the welcome address on 14 May 2019 in the TU Berlin Atrium at an event celebrating almost 20 years of ZiiK, where German and Afghan honorees were also in attendance. Süßmuth, former president of the Bundestag, honorary senator at TU Berlin and ambassador for digitalization at the Einstein Center Digital Future, has supported the project for many years. In attendance were also many students and alumni of the two-year master’s program for Afghan lecturers at TU Berlin, a crucial component of the Afghanistan project.

Daniel Tippmann, communication scientist and project coordinator, has specialized in training technicians and system administrators both at a vocational and academic level. 

“We also work in African and other Asian countries,” he explains. “However, our primary focus is the Afghanistan project. When we arrived in Kabul, it had been reduced to rubble. We had to start from scratch - with the construction of the first IT center at the University of Kabul.” The master’s program at TU Berlin, an academic education according to German standards, followed later. Currently, the fifth generation of students is being trained. Afterwards - as contractually arranged - they will return to their country as ambassadors of education and peace.

Nazir Peroz has been honored many times in Afghanistan as the “father of IT” and is an honorary professor in Herat.  At the end of 2016, President Ashraf Ghani awarded him the Sayed-Dschamal-ad-Din Afghani Medal, the highest academic distinction in the country. While signing a Memorandum of Understanding to continue the program, Afghanistan demonstrated its gratitude to TU Berlin as well by presenting an official certificate of recognition and gratitude for its support.

In the future, ZiiK aims to focus on implementing the “National IT Strategy for Afghanistan” and develop a “National Strategy Plan for IT Security in Afghanistan,” a draft of which has already been given to the president. If you ask Nazir Peroz where his commitment stems from, he’ll candidly reply with the famous John F. Kennedy quotation: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Patricia Pätzold, "TU intern" May 2019

Two of 25

Khalid Siddiqi and Azita Azimi are taking part in the IT Master's Program at the Center for International and Intercultural Communication (ZiiK).

Khalid Siddiqi, 25

I received my bachelor’s degree from Kabul Polytechnic University. I then worked in the IT Competence Center of Aghanistan, one of the centers supported by TU Berlin. I was happy to be able to participate in the two-year IT master’s program in Berlin. After my master’s, I would like to work as an IT network specialist in Afghanistan. My parents were very proud as having an education is highly respected in my home country. The ZiiK team was very supportive, for example in helping me find an apartment. However it is hard to find friends outside of our group. But being here is a great opportunity for me and my goal is to return home as a teacher, as an IT specialist.

Azita Azimi, 24

I did my bachelor’s at Herat University in Afghanistan and then worked as a lecturer in the Faculty of Computer Science. I supported all students there, but helping female students is particularly important to me as throughout Afghanistan they are too quiet and subservient. This denies them many opportunities. So I try to make them more confident through education, particularly in the computer sector. I personally was very lucky that my family and teachers strongly encouraged me to study. Luckily, life in Afghanistan, particularly for women, has improved. There is still a lot of educational work to be done, but it is easier for women to study and even work in large cities now. When I return I will resume working as a lecturer at the university and try to encourage as many girls as possible to pursue the same path.


Always on the road

Dr. Nazir Peroz (r.) in Mazar-e-Sharif

Dr. Nazir travels to Afghanistan about three times a year to monitor the projects there, lead discussions, and gather information. His aim is peace for the country and a good education for the people, as he knows: “People who blow themselves up don't know what they are doing. They are controlled by certain groups and people with certain objectives. I am convinced: If the younger generation has prospects, the ideologists don’t stand a chance.” He is working for these prospects, with support on all sides. When the new well-educated generation has matured, the country will automatically be modernized. He also has great hopes for the joint UNESO-NATO SILK Afghanistan project, a virtual Silk Road, which is expanding high-speed internet connections between training and research institutions across the country and has already connected 18 universities with each other. Peroz is convinced: “A connected world will bring peace – including for Afghanistan.”


How it all began - hope for the future (part German, part English)


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