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Week of November 26, 2002

Program 0248


World Hunger | Transcript | MP3

Britain’s Testing Trouble | Transcript | MP3

Britain’s Tuition Trouble | Transcript | MP3

Dee Dee Bridgewater | Transcript | MP3

Afghanistan Voices-Rebuilding | Transcript | MP3

Student Visa Troubles | Transcript | MP3

INS Issues | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

David Beckham: I think that the US could do its part to cut hunger in half in the world for less than two cents per American per day.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, America celebrates Thanksgiving as millions around the globe go hungry.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, Britain’s advanced testing controversy.

ESTELLE MORRIS: It’s clear that the perception was given to all three chief examiners that what they should take into account in setting this year’s grade boundaries should be more comparisons with last year’s grade boundaries than the quality of the students’ work in some cases.

PORTER: And the country’s university funding crisis.

TIM BOATSWAIN: We’re not in a position to fund subject areas where we have very small numbers of students. The problem is that students, I think, are quite concerned about going into higher education when they could end up with a serious debt.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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World Hunger

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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. As Americans gather to celebrate another abundant harvest, tables are laden with turkey or corn, lasagna or stir-fry, or oyster dressing and pie. Perhaps you’re dreading how to cram all of the leftovers into the refrigerator and the possibility of gaining additional pounds in the face of piles of cookies and grandmother’s famous chocolate cake.

PORTER: And yet, while the abundance of food causes American tables to sag, around the world many still cannot imagine living a life where they can eat as much as they like, whenever they like. Eight hundred and forty million people around the world do not get enough to eat, or about one in seven people. That’s according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program. Dr. Charles Riemenschneider is with the U.N.

Dr. Charles Riemenschneider: Seven hundred and ninety-nine million in the developing world, 30 million in countries in transition—the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—and about 11 million in the industrialized countries.

PORTER: In 1996, the United Nations set a goal of reducing the rate of people going hungry around the world by one-half by 2015. Progress has been made in a few places. China reports 74 million fewer people there are suffering from under-nourishment. The opposite is true for sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger is a growing problem due to weather-related problems—such as drought—mismanaged governments, and war. But a separate UN report finds HIV-AIDS represents the largest single threat to Africa, with one envoy telling the Boston Globe, it’s reasonable to argue AIDS is causing the famine. Dr. Riemenschneider says the UN estimates 25 million African agricultural workers will die of AIDS in the next decade.

Dr. Riemenschneider: These are people dying in the prime of their life and I think it really affects their ability for both agricultural production, but also it reduces the ability for their children to learn, because they have to go to work earlier.

PORTER: Without education, the children may not learn the best way to farm, or how to care for their land—expanding the future impact of hunger and stalling efforts to reduce malnutrition. More money is needed. The UN says investment in agriculture has been halved. Dr. Riemenschneider says this must be addressed because farmers in less-developed nations are most likely to not have enough food.

Dr. Riemenschneider: Beyond just getting people food, this is their livelihood, this is how they earn their income, so that they can afford other things, they can have economic growth, they can afford education, they can afford better health care. So I think we need to focus on improving their agricultural productivity.

PORTER: David Beckham, the President of Bread for the World, a Christian based advocacy group, says the amount of money needed amounts to mere pocket change.

David Beckham: I think that the US could do its part to cut hunger in half in the world for less than two cents per American per day.

PORTER: The images of starving children in Ethiopia inspired U2’s Bono to lobby to end hunger—and he’s won over unlikely allies, including staunch Republican Senator Jesse Helms and former businessmen like Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. David Beckham of Bread for the World says the growing political will is a hopeful sign.

Beckham: Both the US government and European governments have been moved partly by the fear of terrorism to see that just allowing hundreds of millions of people to be miserably poor all over the world is not in our own self-interest. So President Bush and Congress are taking steps to increase funding for effective programs.

PORTER: Bush has proposed to fund efforts to tackle health, hunger, and other development issues. To accelerate the process, Bread for the World hopes Americans will discuss these issues with their elected officials. The goal, to cut global hunger in one-half by 2015, still stands. Enough food is produced every year. It’s a matter of getting it to the right people and teaching farmers better methods. Hunger experts agree—over the past century, the United States has set a leading example for how agriculture and food distribution can be significantly improved.

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Britain’s Testing Trouble

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MCHUGH: In Great Britain, students wishing to attend college must successfully complete a series of advanced-level exams. This year, scores of students didn’t make the grade. And as Suzanne Chislett reports from London, some are now questioning the grading system.

SUZANNE CHISLETT: The advanced or A-level courses are taken by hundreds of thousands of students every year who want to continue their school education after the completion of compulsory secondary exams at the age of 16. For two years, students attend classes and complete course work in an average of three specialized subjects before sitting for final exams. These tests are then given a letter grade, with “A” being the top grade and a “U” meaning failure. The results provide the basis for university acceptance.

[The sound of students arriving in a room where they will take the exam.]

CHISLETT: When results were handed out this past August they were declared the best ever. One in five achieved a top A grade and 94 percent passed the courses. But hundreds of students were left in shock that they hadn’t done as well as expected, and upon closer examination head teachers began to voice concerns that some papers had been unfairly graded—conspiracy theorists suggesting the move was deliberate. For the past ten years education experts have argued over whether the examinations are getting easier. In the 1980s the average pass rate for A-levels was 65 percent. In 2002 that had risen to 94 percent. If the pass rate continues increasing at that pace then by 2004 no one will fail. So this year when some students received much worse grades than expected, ministers and exam officials blamed each other for exerting pressure on the testing system. The government then ordered an independent inquiry to determine what, if anything, had gone wrong. It’s chairman was Mike Tomlinson.

MIKE TOMLINSON: I found no evidence offered by anyone that ministers had in any way indicated to anyone any information nor any desire about the outcomes of the awards this year. No, I did not.

CHISLETT: In a bid to shake up the entire system the British government official in charge of education, Estelle Morris, sacked the head of the watchdog committee which monitors exam procedures. The two had publicly fallen out during the course of the inquiry. The boss of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Sir William Stubbs, accusing the government of putting pressure on examiners to depress grades. And although neither was found to blame, Ms. Morris insists a fresh start is needed.

ESTELLE MORRIS: If you read the report it’s clear that the perception was given to all three chief examiners that what they should take into account in setting this year’s grade boundaries should be more comparisons with last year’s grade boundaries than the quality of the students’ work in some cases. Now my judgment is that confidence has quite obviously broken down between the QCA and its education partners.

CHISLETT: But confidence had also broken down between Estelle Morris and students. And just a week after the investigation findings were made public, she resigned as Education Secretary. Ms. Morris said she tried her best but that was not good enough and she wasn’t happy with her own performance in the fiasco. In the end, the inquiry ordered 100,000 papers to be re-marked and just under 2,000 students did receive higher grades. But for the majority of those, like James Lacey, they’d already missed out on a college place. It was too little too late.

[A receptionist at a college admissions department answers the phone and briefly talks with a student.]

JAMES LACEY: I was meant to get A, B, B and I got B, B, C in my subjects because in my psychology I got a U for my course work. And there was fourteen out of twenty got U’s for our course work, which is unheard of really. And the teacher told me that it was a good B if not an A.

CHISLETT: The British government is now considering a radical move—scrapping A-levels altogether. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the chaos of the last few months, but comes as a result of concerns that students are being forced to specialize at too young an age. One option under consideration is an international baccalaureate, modeled on the systems of other European countries, which would allow a broader education curriculum to be followed until age 18. Prime Minister Tony Blair was elected in 1997 pledging “education, education, education,” as his priorities. Speaking at the opening of a new school recently, he said the issue still topped his agenda.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: Whether you get a good education or not is not just your future determined. It’s actually the country’s future determined. Because today, nowadays, we look right round the world—those countries that succeed are those countries that invest in their young people, and those countries that fail are those that ignore that.

CHISLETT: In the short term Great Britain’s A-level system of exams remains in place. But many students and teachers now have little confidence in the system. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.

PORTER: The high cost of higher education in Great Britain, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Britain’s Tuition Trouble

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MCHUGH: It’s a theme often heard in the United States: the cost of a college education is skyrocketing. Now, the same complaint is often heard in Great Britain.

PORTER: The British government used to pay most of the cost of a student’s college education. But so many students took advantage of the plan, there soon wasn’t enough money to go around. As Max Easterman first reported earlier this year, British education grants are now becoming loans, and that’s causing problems for students and colleges.

EASTERMAN: [speaking from inside a moving vehicle] Luten is an industrial town of about 200,000 people about 30 miles northwest of London. It’s home to a General Motors factory, a big medical research laboratory, and a thriving international airport. It also has one of the most academically successful of the new universities. It scored an “excellent” in quality assessment over the past six years. It’s top of the league for graduate employment. But last year it announced it was going to close its entire Humanities School and fire 55 teaching staff. So what’s gone wrong? I’m on my way now to Luten University to find out.

EASTERMAN: [now reporting from the campus] Unemployment is still low enough in Britain for students to conclude that a less-skilled and less-well-paid job now is a better bet than a large debt at the end of a university course. University recruitment is static. So here at Luten, they’ve begun what’s call “repositioning”: dropping academic courses, expanding vocational ones. Computing, sports science, and media will expand rapidly. English, history, politics will close. It’s responding to market forces, says, Tim Boatswain, the Provost Chancellor.

TIM BOATSWAIN: The problem is that our funding is really based on the number of students that come into the institution on a head count. And if we under-recruit we clearly lose that money and that money is taken off us for the next year as well. So though we might be able to survive an under-recruitment for one year, we can’t survive the loss of that money for the next year. And what we’ve had to do is look at those areas and reduce our staffing in those areas. So as I speak now there are colleagues under risk of redundancy.

EASTERMAN: How many?

BOATSWAIN: Fifty-five.

EASTERMAN: [Again reporting from a moving vehicle] Luten isn’t alone in having to make these hard decisions. As well as humanities, pure science, and engineering are becoming less and less popular in Britain. All in all 1,200 university teachers are being made redundant across the country. Their union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, isn’t convinced that repositioning is a good thing. It’s not only the job losses it’s worried about; it argues that closing down whole departments isn’t justified in the longer term. The union chairman here in Luten is Tony Dennis. I’m on my way to meet him now.

TONY DENNIS: The prediction of student demand for particular subjects is always an inexact science. You never quite know what’s going to happen from one year to another. And it seems to us that departments are being closed down when it’s at least feasible that in a number of cases demand will rise again within the next few years. But of course the demand won’t be directed at Luten University because they’ll be no departments for students to enter. Now, it seems a particularly cruel blow that the university that had been built up with a great deal of effort is now being thrust back to being effectively a local technical college, in our view.

EASTERMAN: The problem at Luten and at many other universities in Britain is that the university cannot fund those departments. The Provost Chancellor, Tim Boatswain, says that if it hadn’t acted now there’d have been even more jobs lost.

BOATSWAIN: The issue at the moment is that the funding mechanism is a short-term mechanism which depends on market forces: the number of students that come to your institution. And that’s fine as long as there is growth in the market and there are plenty of students. What’s happened this year is that the under-recruitment has been on such a scale that next year we would have had a serious deficit in funding if we’d not taken action.

EASTERMAN: You’d have been insolvent?

BOATSWAIN: We would have had difficulty in balancing our books. We’re not in a position to fund subject areas where we have very small numbers of students. The problem is that students, I think, are quite concerned about going into higher education when they could end up with a serious debt.

[sound of students talking in the background]

EASTERMAN: Debt is now a huge problem for British students. Many were unprepared for the amounts they’d have to borrow to cover their maintenance costs: on average ₤15,000—that’s $20,000, plus tuition fees of over $4,000. The culture in Britain is only slowly adjusting to this new situation where poorer students need to get well paid jobs to see themselves through. Employers are often wary of taking on people who need time free to study and sit exams. So many students then have serious difficulties. And the proof of that is here on the notice board in the student restaurant. Over 200 are threatened with exclusion for not paying their fees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I think it’s pretty much accepted that that’s what happens now. That you just get in debt.

EASTERMAN: How much debt are you running up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: Well, with my student loan I’m looking for about ₤12-13,000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I don’t think I, I know any student who hasn’t taken out a student loan. I think most people when they leave will owe at least ₤10,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: It will be very difficult to see your way clear, even just living at a very frugal existence, if you were to just live off the loan. So I mean you really and truly, you’re forced into a situation where you have to take at least part-time work. Most people are working 20 to 30 hours. And they’re trying to fit their studies in as well and it’s obviously not an ideal situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: You’d definitely be working more than you’d be studying. That’s what I’ve found. And I think if I wasn’t working I’d spend more time on my studying and probably do a lot better than I am at the moment.

MAX EASTERMAN: Do you feel its fair that you should have to work as well as study?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: No, no. I think if I’m in full-time education then that’s all I should be doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I know people older than me who’ve been to university and they got a grant. And their three years were the best three years of their life and they just concentrated on their studies and finding out who they were. Coming to university really sort of develops who you are. And I think if you’re working and you’re worrying about money some of that is taken away from you, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: In a strange sort of way it’s creating a debt culture for the future. You come out of here. You’ve got debts and you were looking to buy a house, looking to settle down. You never get out of debt. The question is, what’s the point? You come to university to try and get a better life for yourself and you just end up in a trap.

EASTERMAN: Students who can’t pay their fees add to the university’s cash flow problems: over this last year to the tune of several million dollars at Luten. And the specter of debt or being thrown out for not paying fees damages the university’s image. Steve Kendall, Luten’s Director of Student Recruitment, says it is also damaging their ability to fulfill the government’s policy of recruiting students from social groups not traditionally involved in higher education.

STEVE KENDALL: We have found things more difficult in the last couple of years. And we do attribute a great deal of that to the introduction of the tuition fees. Because we think that the students that we’re trying to reach find it more difficult to get over the financial hurdle. There are traditions among working class people which are against getting into debt unless you are very clear about how it’s going to be settled. Within certain Asian communities debt would be seen as a, as a failure of self reliance, rather than a normal means of financing things. So I think there will be communities who are more deterred from taking part.

EASTERMAN: There are going to be other problems of adjustment at the academic level as universities reposition themselves to be more vocational in what they teach. Professor Alan Smithers runs the Center for Educational and Employment Research at Liverpool University. Government, says Professor Smithers, must change the funding mechanism so that it reflects the country’s long-term needs, not what students or universities or a particular industry happens to want now.

ALAN SMITHERS: We have to look at the situation in the United States, which operates a very successful mass higher education system. That means, I think, allowing universities to price their courses in relation to their particular demand. And then I think the state support for higher education will have to come in terms of buying a certain proportion of those places for subjects that it wants represented for particular groups of students, that it wants to see in the higher education system. But I think ultimately the higher education has be freed up so that it can attract its own income.

EASTERMAN: [Reporting from inside a vehicle] The Director of Recruitment at Luten, Steve Kendall, agrees that the funding mechanisms can’t go on in their present form. Nor, he says, can the academic timetable. If Britain is to shift nearer to the US model then universities have to think seriously about how and when they teach so that students can balance the needs of studying and earning a living.

STEVE KENDALL: We’ve gone through a rapid transition from a situation where higher education is effectively free at the point of use, to one where it is a paid for and consumed service. And whereas in the past I think we might have been able to say in a rather lordly way “We come first,” I think realistically we know now that we are one of two equally compelling imperatives on the student and that we are not going to be able to sustain the student with us unless the student can keep body and soul together through working. And I think that challenges the kinds of academic structures which the universities have in place. And one effect of this will be to move us away from the three-year, full-time undergraduate program, to something which looks more like the North American experience.

EASTERMAN: That is certainly what the government wants: a more flexible, self-financing system. Whether it will get it is another matter. The new federal structure in Britain looks set to undermine the project. The Scottish Parliament has scrapped tuition fees; the Welsh Assembly is going to follow suit. This has created the impossible situation that Scottish students at English universities get their fees paid whilst English students at Scottish universities don’t. The government has now accepted that the student loan system is too unpopular to continue. It brought out plans for a move to a graduate tax—an extra income tax payable over a graduate’s working life. This also elicited howls of anger from the majority of students. So that’s been dropped and the government’s thinking again. It hasn’t too much time to decide what to do if it wants to meet its target of half of 18-to-30-year-olds in higher education by the year 2010. A rock and a hard place. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman at the University of Luten.

[Musical interlude]

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Dee Dee Bridgewater

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MCHUGH: D.D. Bridgewater can do it all. She sings jazz, acts on stage, and performs in Broadway musicals. In 1984 she moved to France and has become a huge sensation in Europe. Common Ground Correspondent Reese Erlich caught up with Bridgewater during a recent tour. They talked about her music, her latest CD, and the changing political climate in Europe.

[The sound of “Speak Low,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

REESE ERLICH: In France they call her the Tina Turner of jazz. D.D. Bridgewater can belt out a song like Tina, and also looks 20 years younger than anyone else her age. Bridgewater first became famous performing on Broadway in The Wiz, and later in Lady Day—the story of Billie Holiday.

D.D. BRIDGEWATER: I believe in entertaining. You know, I used to say I came from the Sammy Davis school of entertainment. You know. In the old days you used to had to be able to sing, to act, to dance, to do it all. And maybe part of the reason why jazz suffers as it does in terms of live performance is that there’s no show.

[The sound of “Youkali,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: For the past 15 years, Bridgewater concentrated her performances in Europe, where jazz acts are promoted like pop stars in the US. Bridgewater gets a serious budget to bring her musicians to perform in stadiums, theaters, and opera houses.

BRIDGEWATER: I was able to work there without having an album, without a record company, to do tour support. I liked it. I felt good there. I felt that I was in a lot healthier environment for my daughters who at the time that we moved there definitively, they were 14 and 8. I wanted my daughters to be at least bilingual. I wanted them to know another language. I wanted them to know another culture.

[The sound of “Youkali,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: For many years, African American performers fled to Europe to escape segregation in America. Black artists could earn a decent living and Europeans were perceived as less racist. While black Americans were treated better in Europe, Europeans always had their own prejudices. And says Bridgewater, the situation has gotten much worse recently.

BRIDGEWATER: There is a kind of rise of segregation and racist attitudes that did not exist in the ’90s, especially the early ’90s. I started feeling it around ’96, ’97, I started saying, you know, in my interviews when people would say, “Is there still racism?” I’d say, “Of course.” It’s just that the black person isn’t the bottom rung of the ladder. It’s the Arab.

ERLICH: And, says Bridgewater, racist attitudes are not limited to white Europeans. The Middle East conflict has spawned a rise in anti-Semitism as well.

BRIDGEWATER: I saw an Arab boy kick a Jewish boy, a Hassidic Jewish boy, who was, had his little cap on. And I was stunned. I was shocked that we’ve gotten to that. But we have gotten to that. It’s a global disease.

[The sound of “Bilbao,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: Bridgewater recently moved from France to a town near Las Vegas. But before she left Europe, she produced a CD based on the songs of Kurt Weil. The composer is perhaps best known for the Three Penny Opera and his other collaborations with playwright Bertolt Brecht. But Weil also spent the last years of his life in the Los Angeles area, composing some wonderful popular and jazz. Bridgewater says Weil did particularly well working with Ira Gershwin.

BRIDGEWATER: The lyrics and the stories that these songs tell are much richer, more profound than our staple of standards, you know, which come from the great American songbooks. And that’s not to put down the Cole Porters or even Ira in his working with his brother George. But I find that Ira’s lyrics, for example, in his collaborations with Weil are much richer.

ERLICH: Kurt Weil and Ira Gershwin really had fun with “The Saga of Jenny,” the story of a particularly cunning, fallen woman. D.D. Bridgewater has fun with it too.

[The sound of “Saga of Jenny,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

ERLICH: D.D. Bridgewater’s CD featuring the music of Kurt Weil is called This is New. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich.

[The sound of “Saga of Jenny,” a song from D.D. Bridgewater’s CD entitled This Is New.]

PORTER: In a recent segment on El Salvador, correspondent Chris Lehman incorrectly credited Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador with winning a Nobel Peace Prize. He was a nominee in 1979, but the winner that year was Mother Teresa.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Afghanistan works to build a modern state.

BASIR: Most of the roads which are between provinces are about 85 percent broken.

PORTER: Plus, tough new student visa regulations. And the future of the INS.

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Afghanistan Voices-Rebuilding

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MCHUGH: Afghanistan’s government has plenty of work to do as it tries to unify provincial warlords and build a modern state. In our third and final feature from Kabul, reporter Alastair Wanklyn finds out what Afghans themselves believe their problems are, and where solutions may lie.

[The sound of spectators cheering at a buzkashi match.]

ALASTAIR WANKLYN: Thirty men on horseback are tearing round a sports field in Kabul, kicking up clouds of dust. They’re competing to get hold of the carcass of a calf and to carry it around the field to victory. This popular but violent game is called by Afghans buzkashi: at high speed, buzkashi is a test of skill and stamina for both man and horse.

[The sound of spectators cheering at a buzkashi match.]

WANKLYN: Tens of thousands of eager spectators lining the sports field are celebrating buzkashi‘s resurgence. After the disappearance of the Taliban, tournaments appeared involving teams from across the country. But whereas the game reflects good-natured rivalry between regions….

[The sounds of Afghan President Hamid Karzai giving a speech]

WANKLYN: …Afghanistan’s leadership is finding it’s no game trying to unify the country. Assassins have taken the lives of two government ministers, and have narrowly missed killing both the head of state, President Hamid Karzai, and his defense minister, Mohammed Fahim. Despite being popularly chosen by Afghan tribal and political leaders, Karzai cannot appear now in public without heavy American security. That’s because some regional warlords feel little pressure to relinquish power to the central government. But warlords have been a feature of Afghanistan’s history for centuries, and Afghans say it’s hard for outsiders to understand that any solution must have this tradition at its heart.

BASIR: My name is Basir. And I live in Kabul. I studied my school for 12 years in Kabul. And when Russians came here, and when here was fight in Afghanistan, I left Afghanistan and went to Pakistan. And when Taliban left the power I came back here. To Kabul.

WANKLYN: Basir has worked as a school teacher. While here in Kabul and in exile he’s seen first hand the problems created by warlords and other regional commanders. But he believes there is a solution.

BASIR: I think if the central government of Afghanistan is something satisfactory for the commanders, I think they will give their arms to the central government. For example, a person will say when Taliban were in power in Kabul, I was fighting against them. I was in mountains. I had very difficult times in past. Now, because of my struggles, because of my words, I should be given some rights in the government. If the central government gives them posts in the defense ministry, and also in the interior ministry, the commanders will give their arms, and their guns, to the central government.

WANKLYN: Some warlords have already taken up posts in the Kabul government. But some provinces remain under-represented, and in some disputes between factions continue to simmer. One stop-gap solution is to deploy across the country a well-equipped peacekeeping force, similar to the one currently in Kabul. The International Security Assistance Force, as it is called, comprises around 5000 soldiers from mainly European countries. They patrol the streets and confiscate any weapons they find held illegally. President Hamid Karzai has called repeatedly for ISAF’s expansion beyond Kabul’s boundaries. And it’s something Basir Ghani says Afghans would welcome too.

BASIR: As Hamid Karzai says, the ISAF powers, soldiers, should go to provinces, it is a good idea. Because the soldiers, or the force of ISAF, is trained better than our people, to keep the peace in villages, in cities. They might have studied colleges, or in universities, but our people practically learn something.

[The sound of trucks revving up their motors.]

WANKLYN: Afghanistan’s geography poses a challenge to any administration, because the transport infrastructure is generally poor. Nearly all of the nation’s roads are unpaved—usually rutted and often either axle-deep in mud or dust or blocked by ice and rock falls. Basir says better transport infrastructure is one area where foreign money might best be spent.

BASIR: The roads which lead between provinces, most of the roads which are between provinces are about 85 percent broken. Even the roads in Kabul city were broken, but now the Japanese are working and they have constructed many roads in Kabul city. But for long roads, we need a lot of money. We need a huge amount of fund. If it is provided by a country or by United Nations, the roads or the highways between provinces can be constructed. And it is very important for the people, for the business, for education, for everything it is important.

[The sound of children in school.]

WANKLYN: In Kabul city, girls schools have opened for business again. In urban areas there’s no shortage of enthusiasm to learn, and some schools are fortunate enough to be receiving donated books and buildings. But Basir, himself a school teacher by training, says renewal in Kabul is by no means matched for Afghans living elsewhere.

BASIR: As you know, Afghanistan has very little cities as compared to villages. Education from the beginning has been improved in cities, in Kabul city, in Jalalabad, in others. But from the beginning very little attention is given, or has been given to the provinces, and especially to the villages. If you go to some provinces, for example to Ghor Province, maybe you couldn’t find a college there. And the destruction of Afghanistan as I think, happened because of the lack of education in Afghanistan. This is the main reason. The people who fought against each other, the people who killed each other, they didn’t have enough knowledge, they didn’t have enough science. If they still remain uneducated, I am sure they fight again with each other and they destroy the country again.

[Sounds of people in a busy restaurant.]

WANKLYN: In a dark, smoky restaurant in downtown Kabul, Basir is sitting down to a meal with friends.

BASIR: Afghanistan, you know, is famous for preparing food—Kabuli food. It is tasty and powerful, very energetic. We people like rice and steak.

WANKLYN: Basir and his dining companions believe with continued foreign assistance their nation stands to make a fresh start. But the battle-damaged artillery, tanks, and armored vehicles littering the Afghan countryside are a reminder that some foreign prescriptions have failed Afghanistan in the past. And some of its neighbors still consider Afghanistan to be a source of trouble, exporting drugs and militancy. Even with a new administration in Kabul, there’s suspicion in neighboring Iran, Pakistan. and the states of former Soviet Central Asia over whether the new regime will prove to be a good neighbor. But Basir says it’s time critics softened their language.

BASIR: Their statements were right, some time ago. But now as you see, people do not have guns—in Kabul city, they do not have guns, in villages. They do not cultivate opium and drugs in provinces. Now Afghanistan is going towards positive aims which are respected and which are liked by international community. I hope and I am sure that if the situation continues like this, after five, or after four or five years we will not have opium, we will not have drugs, and we will not have arms, and crimes in Afghanistan. If this attention was given some time ago, we could have a good Afghanistan, we could have a good country now.

WANKLYN: For Common Ground I’m Alastair Wanklyn in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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MCHUGH: Coming up next on Common Ground, student visa red tape.

PORTER: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

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Student Visa Troubles

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PORTER: Hundreds, possibly thousands of students hoping to study in the United States are stranded overseas, unable to get into the US either to start or continue their studies. This is the result of stricter security measures implemented after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Three of the terrorists entered the US on student visas. Now, males between the ages of 16 and 45 from 26 Muslim nations are required to undergo background checks.

MCHUGH: Ahmed el Gaili, a Sudanese citizen, was two years into a law degree at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he found out that the renewal process for his student visa would not be completed in the six weeks before his next term started. Prior to September 11th, the process had taken about a week. Applying from London, the post-September 11th environment was very different.

AHMED EL GAILI: Four weeks later I got my passport back without a visa, which was certainly an unfortunate and unpleasant surprise, with an explanatory note that if I wanted to pursue my application further—as if I wouldn’t—I should schedule a personal interview.

MCHUGH: The first interview available was two weeks later, it went well and the consular officer learned that Ahmed had been studying and working in the US since 1993. He was still hoping he might be able to get that visa that day, and still make it back to class. But the consular officer then informed him, his application had to be cleared in Washington.

AHMED EL GAILI: As if to comfort me when I asked her if, you know, all my credentials and my length of stay in the States matter or not, she said, “No, it’s not personal.” And it’s ironic that it’s not, because it’s my personal life that is being turned upside down, but it was quote, unquote, “not personal.”

MCHUGH: Ahmed has long since missed the start of term at Harvard. He considers himself lucky—after a last minute scramble, a law school in London accepted his late application. He’s hoping to transfer back to the United States in January. But this is a common problem. As classes got underway at American University in Washington, ten students were missing. Fanta Aw is Director of the International Student Services office.

FANTA AW: We have ten students who were students here over the last two years, that went home over the summer holidays to visit family and friends and are still at home because they have not been able to get their visas issued as of today.

MCHUGH: The students effected are from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Iraq among others. Aiko Shimizu, a student from Japan understands the need for stricter regulations, but is pained that her counterparts from some Arab countries are missing their studies.

AIKO SHIMIZU: All the students, regardless of nationality, they’re all here to study and that’s the primary goal they have. And they have worked very hard to get into this, the university they are studying in. You know, taking standardized exams and putting all the money together to get in to university. So I think it’s very unfortunate.

MCHUGH: Students aren’t the only ones who must deal with the new and complicated regulations. Now all US schools and universities must submit information about every foreign student to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, using a new Internet-based system called SEVIS. The schools must then tell the INS when the student arrives, where they are living, and if they are attending classes. The INS created SEVIS, with help from both the State Department and the Justice Department, after being ordered to create such a system by Congress. But at a recent congressional hearing where officials from all these agencies were present, some lawmakers questioned how SEVIS will help.

Congressman Robert Scott is a Democrat from Virginia.

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT SCOTT: If you have a terrorist who’s going to be careful with his paperwork, how will all of this operation protect us from terrorism?

MCHUGH: INS Deputy Commissioner Janet Sposato explained that this is just one tool for law enforcement agencies.

INS DEPUTY COMMISSIONER JANET SPOSATO: In and of itself, SEVIS is not a system that is intended to prevent terrorism. It is intended to track people and their immigration status as a student. So if a terrorist is scrupulous about attending class and maintaining his status, there’s nothing in this system that will help us. However the State Department and the INS have other processes in place in which they’re doing their best to prohibit the admission of people who are suspected terrorists.

MCHUGH: Deputy Commissioner Sposato admits there will likely to be problems implementing the SEVIS system by the January deadline, but it’s an on-going process that will improve in time. However many of those involved in this process, both university staff and their students question whether targeting the approximately 300,000 foreign students for special scrutiny—as opposed to the 3 million foreign visitors who arrive in the US yearly—is an efficient way of trying to track down terrorists. Universities are also concerned they’ll miss out on precious revenue, if students decide that trying to study in the US is simply too much trouble. Foreign students add about $11 billion a year to the US economy. And the students themselves, who bear the brunt of the policy, see it as shortsighted. Again, Ahmed el Gaili.

AHMED EL GAILI: If you’re an American and you’re trying to work out, how can we react to the gap between us and the Muslim world, you first start by asking the question, well, what type of Muslim and Arab students come here to the US? And invariably it is the liberal Arab and liberal Muslim Arab who shares some, at least some values with America, and wants to come here to build up on that shared system of beliefs and values and probably go back and be an instrument of change in his or her society.

MCHUGH: The State Department says embassies around the world are working hard to complete the checks as soon as possible. And officials from both the state department and the INS say they are optimistic that all the problems relating to student tracking and visas should be ironed out for the next semester.

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INS Issues

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PORTER: The foreign student issue is just one of the many thorny questions the Immigration and Naturalization Service is facing. The man at the helm of that agency, Commissioner James Zigler, had been in office just over a month when the attacks took place—and suddenly he was faced with much more than just a new job.

MCHUGH: Zigler is now working to lead his agency by walking the thin and newly transformed line between openness and security. He spoke to an audience of immigration scholars and embassy representatives at a recent Washington event. Judith Smelser reports.

JUDITH SMELSER: INS Commissioner James Zigler lists five challenges his organization faces in the post-September 11th world. The first three concern border security and other ways to keep the bad guys out. But the last two address the need to keep letting the good guys in.

INS COMMISSIONER JAMES ZIGLER: The fourth challenge is being eternally vigilant to protect civil liberties while securing our people from the threat of terrorism. In 1774 Thomas Jefferson said, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” This belief that we are born free with unalienable rights, rather than rights provided by the government, is the cornerstone of American democracy. The fifth challenge we face is to remain committed to America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants. The events of September 11th were caused by evil, not by immigration. We can and we will protect ourselves against people who seek to harm the United States. But as a society, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of judging all immigrants by the actions of terrorists.

SMELSER: In that context, Mr. Zigler believes the new SEVIS system of tracking foreign students does not represent too much government interference.

ZIGLER: Frankly, this is a system that I know has had some criticism, but I think it makes an awful lot of sense. It makes sense because what we have is a lot of kids that were using this mechanism just to get into the United States, come here, and disappear into the woodwork—not to come to study. Well, that’s not the terms of the visa in which they’re coming and they need to be held to those terms, and that’s what the system, what the SEVIS system will do.

SMELSER: Zigler is quick to list all the initiatives and programs that have been put into effect since September 11th—from consulting with Native American tribal leaders on border security in the Southwest, to developing a better way of tracking foreigners when they enter and exit the United States. But he admits the fundamental question is how to implement those programs without hindering people who want to come to the US and provide much-needed labor.

ZIGLER: Not closing our borders to people to coming in—tourists and businesspeople and that sort of thing, and protecting that part of our tradition—with identifying those people who are coming to do us harm. And it’s a real conundrum. The old saw here, and it’s true, is better intelligence, better data sharing among agencies of that intelligence, and identify hopefully with the entry-exit that I mentioned earlier, we will have a better handle on the coming and going of people, the patterns that exist. And I think the idea that we can make our society 100 percent risk-free is not realistic. And what we’ve got to do is do the best job we can in recognizing that nothing is risk-free. Life has risks. I go out and get in a car, I take a risk.

SMELSER: Tension between security and openness in immigration policy will continue to be debated—but Commissioner Zigler won’t be in the middle of that debate much longer. He’s leaving his post sometime before the end of the year. The Bush administration wants to incorporate the INS into a new Homeland Security Department. Congressional legislation is still pending. But philosophical and practical questions will continue to surround the immigration issue for many years to come. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelzer, in Washington.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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