Saturday, September 18

Ana Rodríguez, former advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Culture: “We cannot leave behind the people we have trained”


Ana Rodríguez barely hits an eye these days. From her home, located in the city of Cambridge, at whose university she works two days a week, the Sevillian spends her nights awake answering calls and WhatsApp messages or collecting the names of Afghan colleagues with whom she once worked in Afghanistan. and that today they ask for help desperate to leave the country.

In Afghanistan, Rodríguez worked for nearly seven years as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture, coordinating the reconstruction of the National Museum and managing the training of its personnel, as well as that of other officials of cultural institutions.

In addition to the museum work that the Spanish woman carried out in Dari -one of the official languages ​​of the country- Rodríguez combined this work with Spanish classes at the University of Kabul and with the upbringing of her three daughters.

It is late, but Ana Rodríguez continues to post on a board in the room the post-its with the names of Afghan collaborators, especially those who reside in the provinces and who are not on the evacuation lists prepared by the embassies or the Department of US state. “They are officials of the Afghan Ministry of Culture, people who have helped us for 20 years. They have to be there too. We can’t leave anyone behind,” he says.

However, Ana Rodríguez’s concern grows with the passing of the hours, due to the end of most of the evacuation operations. Several governments now speak of other “ways” or “humanitarian corridors” to continue taking more people at risk out of the country.

You have just learned that your colleagues from the Spanish department of Kabul University are already in Madrid. How do you feel after the maelstrom of the last few days?

It has been one of the few joys I have had recently. I am very grateful to the Embassy for having included them on the lists, but we cannot leave anyone behind, we would throw 20 years of training the best human capital overboard. It would be a monumental mistake to abandon them after the enormous sacrifice and effort that they and we have made. There are also our collaborators in the provinces, restorers in Herat, structural engineers, etc. These are people who are at risk today precisely because they have helped us implement projects.

But the window of evacuations is closing shortly …

Yes, and that is why I am distressed. University professors, intellectuals, all are trying to leave the country in any way, even crossing the mountains of the north or northeast. The Culture officials who left will not return. The question now is who is going to be in charge of the ministries, the schools, the universities? The contribution of those who have left will be essential for the formation of the compatriots who remain. It will be a challenge to continue teaching online, but the pandemic has shown that it is possible.

When you arrived in Kabul in 2002, the Afghanistan National Museum was missing the second floor because it had been blown up by the Taliban, what will happen now with your collections?

At the Museum they have told me that the collection is safe and hidden. It is unique in the world for its importance and variety, since apart from prehistoric, Hellenistic, Buddhist or Hindu pieces, Shahi also contains others from the Islamic period. We are talking about one of the best museums in Central Asia.

And what about the heritage outside of Kabul?

The key monuments of Afghan heritage are threatened even more than in 2001. For example, one of the minarets of the Musala complex (an Islamic architectural ensemble made up of five giant 15th-century minarets) in Herat is in danger of collapse. In a similar situation is the Minaret of Jam, from the Gurid civilization (12th – 13th centuries) – it is part of the List of World Heritage in Danger drawn up by UNESCO – which is located in a remote area in the heart of Afghanistan. Both minarets are jewels of Afghan cultural heritage and are at risk of collapse. Although the Taliban have said that they do want to collaborate with UN agencies, including UNESCO, in terms of aid, the truth is that it will be more difficult to implement projects with them.

What is already proving more difficult is education. Girls over 10 have already been sent home. What will happen in the schools?

It is in education where the international community has lost the war. The Taliban have been indoctrinating children for two decades in madrasas (Koranic schools) that are well financed and spread throughout the country, also abroad, in cross-border areas. What we needed was more money to finance education and less for other things like Defense, which has taken the budget disproportionately.

In fact, and according to UN data, about half of the population is still illiterate …

In Afghanistan what is lacking is culture. At least the United Nations, UNICEF, have very good educational projects spread throughout the country. Also the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which has been there since the beginning of the conflict, does an extraordinary job. In the case of cultural heritage, I am convinced that it has a fundamental role in the construction of peace and in the development of the country. From all your professions, be it archeology and conservation to crafts or arts, it is also possible to create jobs and livelihoods.

You mention that more help is needed, but the international community spent close to a trillion dollars rebuilding Afghanistan. The country is the largest beneficiary of EU development aid …

Yes, but that development aid has not taken into account the social structures of the country. Everything was based on projects from international NGOs or UN agencies, but little was invested in Governance, in strengthening the capacity of ministries, and training civil servants, especially in the provinces. In that we have failed. The obsession has always been Kabul. The government should have given more responsibility to these territories. In the end, it was not present in the most abandoned areas and that generated enormous disaffection on the part of the population.

That is why the Taliban took the north so quickly …

Of course. They have always taken advantage of that void. On this occasion, in addition, they have not only attracted Pashtuns, but other ethnic groups. They have been seducing Azaras, Tajiks, Nuristanis, etc. for years. In fact, part of the Uzbeks, the former warlords, who in the past were very combative, have also fallen into their nets. That is why they have advanced so fast, especially in the north.

The bad image of the government, defined as corrupt by many Afghans, has not helped either …

Corruption has existed from the beginning. When I was a counselor in the Afghan Ministry of Culture I worked with Omara Khan Masudi, the director of the Kabul Museum, a very honest man. We often said that any money that comes in should be reflected responsibly, transparently and based on mutual trust with donors. That is just what has not happened in other sectors. There has been no accountability, not enough bank statements have been shown, there have not been enough control mechanisms to help ensure the proper use of aid. That is why part of it has been left by the way …

Speaking of roads, how do you see the future of your Afghan colleagues in Spain?

I trust that Spanish civil society will turn to them. I would like universities to offer support programs, also to other university professors who are having a hard time. Days ago I spoke with the director of the Cervantes Institute, Luis García Montero, and he said that he was open to helping, in cooperation with AECID, the five readers of the Spanish department of the University of Kabul. It was great to hear it! After horrible days, with so much uncertainty, it was great news. The second good I received in a week to forget. I can only say that I am exhausted. It is all very sad, very, but we must have hope. For them, for the Afghans.



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