Author:Hakimi, Mehdi J.
  1. OVERVIEW OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN AFGHANISTAN 86 II. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF AFGHANISTAN 88 III. THE AUAF LAW PROGRAM 90 A. The Early Days and the Legal Studies Certificate Program 90 B. The Bachelor of Arts and Laws (BA-LLB) Program Launch 91 C. Program Design and Legal Pluralism 92 D. Teaching Materials and Textbooks 94 E. Language(s) of Instruction 95 F. Faculty 97 1. Balance between locals and internationals 97 2. Monitoring and evaluation 98 G. Pedagogy 99 H. Legal Skills Development 101 I. Students 104 IV. MOVING FORWARD 106 A. Expanding Curriculum and Textbook Development 106 B. Expanding Practical Legal Education 107 C. Collaborating with Other Institutions 108 D. Graduate Programs? 109 V. DEMYSTIFYING PROGRESS 110 A. Institutional Support 110 B. Incrementalism 112 INTRODUCTION

    Afghanistan, the scene of the United States' longest war, continues to face daunting rule of law challenges. (1) Despite considerable international development assistance since 2001, Afghanistan remains among the most corrupt countries in the world. (2) In a country plagued by instability, corruption is deemed to present an existential, strategic threat to Afghanistan. (3) According to the former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Ret. U.S. General John Allen, the Taliban are an annoyance compared to the magnitude of corruption in Afghanistan. (4)

    Graft is particularly rife in the Afghan justice sector. (5) A key reason for the problems in the justice sector has been the poor state of the legal education system. Afghan legal education has long been characterized by a bifurcated model of training in the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLPS) and the Faculty of Sharia (FS), largely unresponsive to the country's pluralistic legal system. The dearth of legal textbooks critically analyzing the rapidly changing regulatory framework is further compounded by outdated and hierarchical pedagogical approaches emphasizing rote memorization and passivity. The result has been a supply of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges unprepared to navigate the formidable challenges facing the Afghan justice sector, debilitating corruption, and an elusive quest for the rule of law.

    Against this backdrop, a quiet, methodical, and radical approach towards legal education has been unfolding at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Launched in 2013, the Bachelor of Arts and Laws (BA-LLB) program at AUAF has graduated five cohorts and has emerged as an innovative center for legal education in the country. This article explores the AUAF law program in detail and parses the program's evolution, including successes and challenges, in deviating from the traditional approach to legal education in Afghanistan and, thus, presenting an interesting alternative to the flawed model of legal education that pervades the country. (6)

    The article will set the context by providing an overview of the legal education system in Afghanistan including current practices and challenges. Next, it will briefly discuss AUAF, the immediate environment and locale from which the law program sprung. The article will then take a deep dive into the various facets of the AUAF law program including initiatives prior to the degree-granting program, BA-LLB program design, emphasis on legal pluralism, and innovative teaching materials. It will also explore other key aspects including the language(s) of instruction, faculty, program monitoring and evaluation, pedagogical approach, skills-based training, and students.

    The article will also examine concrete measures to consolidate the program further and increase its impact. Two key priorities, at this juncture, are expanding the law program's curriculum and textbook development efforts as well as further emphasizing practical legal education. In addition, the law program should increase collaboration with other institutions, particularly Afghan universities. Launching graduate programs would be appropriate once reinforcement and consolidation have taken place.

    While still quite nascent and evolving, the AUAF law program has emerged as a successful and innovative model for legal education in Afghanistan. In doing so, the program has benefitted from a substantial degree of institutional support, at various levels, allowing it to truly own, design, and implement its curricular and programmatic activities. The law program's emphasis on an incremental approach towards growth, grounded in the realities of an evolving context, has been crucial to its success.

    As Afghanistan strives to revamp the justice sector and promote the rule of law, the encouraging experience of the AUAF law program may shed light on potential approaches towards improving Afghan legal education. The program's lessons may also prove instructive for institutions considering similar reforms in other conflict-affected and developing countries.

    In addition to the long-term impact of well-designed legal education initiatives on the rule of law, such interventions are highly cost-effective. With the annual cost of the AUAF law program roughly equaling the annual cost of one American soldier in the Afghan war, such innovative programs are worthy of consideration. (7)


    In addition to rampant corruption, decades of conflict have ruined the necessary foundations to support a well-functioning justice sector. In particular, the legal education system remains in poor shape despite significant investments by the international community. (8)

    While small strides have been made, the Afghan legal education system faces numerous challenges. A key hurdle stems from the country's dual system of legal education. Universities train law students through two streams: Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLPS) and Faculty of Sharia (FS). (In this article, "Faculties" will be used to refer to both the FLPS and the FS). Students in the FLPS are immersed in state laws and codified rules with some exposure to Sharia principles. Conversely, the FS focuses mainly on Islamic law. Both undergraduate programs are designed to be completed in four years. (9) Graduates of both schools are eligible to become lawyers, prosecutors, and judges. Moreover, to further complicate the legal education scene, graduates of official madrasas--religious schools outside the higher education system--can also enter the legal profession. (10) This partition in Afghan legal education--and concomitantly diverse trainings, perspectives, and aptitudes developed in the FLPS and the FS--consequentially impact the quality of graduates and their relative preparedness to enter the legal profession." Indeed, this bifurcation in legal education, and the competition and incongruences between the Faculties, have persisted for decades.' (2)

    Attempts to standardize legal education, including unifying the schools of law and Sharia or, at least, providing some common training for graduates of both schools, have failed. (13) Harmonization of the legal curricula has been elusive due to persistently tense and acrimonious relations between the two Faculties. (14) Furthermore, mechanisms to evaluate the quality of legal education offered by various institutions are practically absent. Coordination among relevant bodies, such as the Ministry of Higher Education, Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA), justice sector institutions, and universities, is also seriously lacking. (15)

    In addition to the above hurdles, a World Bank assessment of the Afghan higher education system in 2007 highlighted that "curricula, teaching materials and pedagogical methods are grossly outmoded," and there is "heavy reliance on dictation as the principal way of imparting knowledge." (16) These issues still persist despite the rising number of Afghans pursuing post-secondary education. (17) The Faculties are also plagued by these general deficiencies.

    Outdated textbooks, ineffective pedagogical approaches, emphasis on theoretical knowledge and rote memorization, absence of faculty evaluation and accountability, gender imbalance among faculty and students, and lack of donor coordination on legal education initiatives pose formidable challenges to Afghan legal education. (18) Indeed, the highly theoretical approach to pedagogy and dearth of practical legal training have defined Afghan legal education for decades. (19)

    These problems are becoming more pronounced with the proliferation of private universities across Afghanistan. Following the lifting of restrictions in 2001, at least 130 private universities operate in the country. (20) Quality control is a major challenge across both public and private universities. (21)

    A detailed analysis of these challenges is beyond the scope of this paper. (22) However, in discussing the AUAF law program, comparisons, contrasts, and references will be made to the traditional and prevalent system of legal education. It is against this general backdrop that the law program at AUAF was established and has been growing.


    Established in 2004, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) is Afghanistan's first nationally accredited, private, and not-for-profit university. (23) The university is chartered under the Afghan Constitution and Ministry of Higher Education of the Afghan government. (24) AUAF's mission is to provide "world class higher education that prepares leaders to meet the needs of Afghanistan and the region." (25) Opened in 2006 with an initial enrolment of fifty students, the institution has more than 1,700 full- and part-time students today. (26)

    AUAF currently offers four undergraduate programs (Law, Business Administration, Political Science and Public Administration, and Information Technology and Computer Science) and one graduate program (Master of Business Administration). (27) In addition to degree granting programs, AUAF runs a number of "centers of excellence" including the...

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