Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indoctrinating Children

An award winning documentary, "The Sweetest Embrace: Return to Afghanistan", was screened at Tsukuba-U workshop today. Directed by Najeeb Mirza, a Canadian-Afghan and sponsored by CIDA, this film was about a couple of Afghan youngsters who had been returning to their villages in Afghanistan after 16 years.

They had been taken away by the Soviets to an indoctrination camp in Tajikistan during the 1980's. The Soviets, having realised that it was going to extremely difficult to teach Afghans the virtues of communism, decided to take hundreds of six-year-old's to purpose built schools in Tajikistan and other communist block countries. As the children grew up in a foreign land, Afghanistan descended into chaos and the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

The film brought out the tragedy quite vividly. In the discussion that followed it turned out that such large scale relocation's had been going on for decades in all the East European and Central Asian Republics.

Apparently the Soviets were not the first to come up with this idea. The Ottoman Empire was based on the strength of the children taken away from newly conquered territories (the 'boy harvest' or 'Devshirme' system)to create the elite corps of soldiers and administrators - the Janissaries - who formed the backbone of the empire.

The Americans too tried doing the same thing with children from Vietnam.

Unfortunately, like most other South Asian and African countries, Afghanistan too is a creation of colonial cartographers. The Durand line arbitrarily splits the Pushto tribes between across two 'nations'. The Hazara's, Tajik's and Uzbek's view the Pathans with suspicion and animosity.

When loyalties are split along ethnic or tribal lines, the question is - how effective can foreign educated protege's be, in forging a national identity?
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