by: Batyrbek Alymkulov
Nine Brandt School students had the great opportunity to take part in the NATO Young Leaders Forum on Afghanistan in Bratislava from December 10th to 13th, 2012. Although some of us were stuck in Frankfurt Airport for the first evening due to weather-related flight cancellations, we reached Bratislava the next day and everyone was able to enjoy the event. More than 50 young people from different parts of the world came together in Bratislava to talk about the role of NATO in the past, present and future of Afghanistan.
We arrived in Bratislava at 8:00 p.m. via bus from Vienna Airport; the trip from the airport to Bratislava’s main station took around an hour and a half. Quite unexpectedly, some of us had the experience of buying the bus ticket, but not actually receiving a seat on the bus because it was already full – so some of us had to stand for the whole journey.
We stayed overnight in Abba Hotel Bratislava which is located near the Foreign Ministry of Slovakia, where our conference took place. The four star hotel had comfortable accommodations and tasty food.
The topic of the conference was very interesting and three days were not enough to discuss all aspects of the situation in Afghanistan. The conference contained two main parts: presentations/panel discussion and workshops. Dozens of future policy makers and those currently working for different organizations, together with Afghan students tried to find answers to the following questions: What did NATO do in Afghanistan over the last 10 years? Which problems does Afghanistan face today? What does the future of Afghanistan look like post 2014? Is Afghan society ready to take responsibility for the current situation in their country without foreign assistance?
Academic exchange, discussions, insights, learning, argumentation, hope and skepticism were the essential parts of the Forum. What was particularly noticeable was that the Brandt School students were among the most active participants at the conference.
The conference was organized by the Center for European and North Atlantic Affairs (CENAA) in Bratislava. Within the three days we had the honor of listening to several presentations from NATO, UNAMA, The World Bank and several other organizations.
On the second day we visited Slovakia’s Ministry of Defense for a reception dinner and to watch a documentary about the Slovak military in Afghanistan. We were also invited to the Parliament where we witnessed Slovakia’s Parliament voting on the country’s budget for next year.
Bratislava is a small and beautiful city with the Danube River passing through the city center.
Thanks to the Forum’s organizers we took part also in extracurricular informal meetings and explored Bratislava together with the other participants. The weather in Bratislava was snowy and cold, but with such interesting, intelligent, diverse and fun people, we couldn’t resist the temptation to go to out at night to clubs, restaurants and pubs to sample Slovak beer and other specialties.
I would like conclude by paraphrasing the words of an Afghan student. His name is Muhammad. He explained to me that ten years ago he was illiterate and worked as a watch repairman; now he is a student at American University in Kabul and a civil society activist. Despite of the many controversies regarding the situation in Afghanistan, intelligent students such as Muhammad give me hope that the situation in Afghanistan is on the road to a better future.