Hali Jilani

I come from an ethnic Afghan family. Both my parents started their lives with a deeply entrenched sense of responsibility and service to the societies in which they lived. My mother is a direct descendant of the founder of modern Afghanistan and my father of a venerated warrior chieftain who is even after several centuries, Afghanistan’s poet laureate. My father started his illustrious military career in the British Army and ended it after the demise of the British Empire in the post Emperial ashes of today’s Pakistan. My parents relocated to the volatile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight for human rights, democracy and a resolution of the “Durand Line” – the arbitrary border drawn by the British, dividing Afghanistan. In an aside, this is the region we are having problems with today because of the same ongoing unresolved issue!

Having been tortured as a prisoner of war of the Japanese during WWII as a young Captain, my father’s sense of responsibility was indelibly defined by an activism involving a phenomenal degree of courage and perseverance. It was this that was instilled in us at a very early age. My childhood effectively over at ten, my formal training began. As a family, we spent half a year in Pakistan – it had the English speaking schools and the rest of the year in Afghanistan, where my mother trained us “in the Field” politically, militarily and “socially.” Our vacations consisted of traveling to various countries in the region, with a drilling in the history, archeology, anthropology and politics of the area. These included all the countries of the Middle East and South Asia. This is my somewhat unorthodox education and training.

In the meantime, political turmoil swirled around us. My parents hid Bengali families, persecuted by Pakistani authorities in the basement of our house – until safe passage was arranged to the newly created Bangladesh via Afghanistan. For the rest of my teens, my parents were either incarcerated in some form or busy surviving assassination attempts. My father was nominated “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International.

I started college at fifteen and moved to Europe where I attended the European campus of the University of Maryland after which I entered Medical School. During this period – ’88 and ’89 – I returned to the Afghan border to fight in the Afghan war effort against the Soviet Union. I participated in active combat and later after the Soviet defeat, headed an Afghan women’s hospital. It was at this time that I noticed the creeping infiltration of the Saudi element into Afghan and Pakistani Society. The likes of bin Ladin were being trained in CIA run camps in a place called Akora Khattak – half an hour from where I was based. The Americans I approached were seemingly unmoved by the misgivings that people like myself voiced at the time.

By the time I returned to Europe, I had no income left to pursue the end of my medical education. I became involved in human rights and NGO type work with various church groups and other Afghan and Pakistani based non profits. This entailed dealing with issues pertaining to Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo as well. At the same time to supplement my income, I worked in advising private think tanks and companies on the region and on matters relating to counter terrorism and defense issues – this was as a result of both the training I had received as a girl as well as my fighting experiences. My parents had moved to the US by the early 80s and I became an American citizen in February of 1988. I visited my family in the US almost every year until I actually moved here in the Spring of 2000. I worked for a private group as a Consultant and helped set up a counter-terrorism course (first responder) for the Department of Justice. In the meantime I joined the United Nations Association in Washington and found it very well suited to the development work I had been involved in thus far. I set up their Asia and Middle East desk and was working for an affiliate (United Nations Foundation) on land mine issues, when the horror of September 11, 2001 occurred. All this time, I regularly visited Afghanistan and Pakistan and worked consistently on development projects with local NGOs.
It was then that I decided to forget about the stable 9 – 5 job and to focus exclusively on working in conflict resolution with an emphasis on the predominantly Muslim World. I had also – since coming to the US – been analyzing for select Members of Congress and the DoD. In November 2001, after attending the Bonn Conference, I worked in rural Afghanistan, returning a few months later in 2002. All the while, I worked closely with dissident groups from Iran, but more intensively from Iraq. In my analysis for DIA, I concentrated on “Leadership issues” that helped define and support “democratic” Leadership in Afghanistan.

My work in Iraq started from the time we invaded in the Spring of 2003. I got to Baghdad a couple of days before Iraq officially fell in April 2003. At the instigation of US Military Commanders, I worked as a Civil – Military liaison, between the US Military and Iraqi community. My area of operations was in the predominantly Sunni Triangle. During my 3 1/2 years in Iraq, I was witness to corruption, incompetence and a flagrant disregard for the tenets and principles of both our constitution and basic democratic thought, on the part of US civilians in charge in Baghdad’s “bubble world” – the Green Zone. This combination of ignorance and arrogance might have been offset if other Americans working in Iraq (mostly uniformed military) had more knowledge and training in what they were dealing with. During this time, I attended a “military fellowship” at MIT from 2004 -2005.

In the meantime, I have lost too many marines, soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians. For myself a lot of turmoil and suspicion was/is caused by religious divisiveness and misunderstanding, exploited by politicians and clerics on both sides. As a result I continue my work with the Military – primarily Officer training in the Marine Corps, Army and NATO on counter terrorism, cultural intelligence and international affairs. I have incorporated the “Institute of Cultural Intelligence” (ICI) and hope to create a “culture of excellence” and bonding across barriers – equipping individuals representing US interests abroad, with the tools necessary to become enlightened and effective global emissaries.

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