Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
. . . Poets

Tom"s website

An interview by John Coyne
ONE OF THE PEOPLE to whom the news media and Congress have turned since September 11, 2001, is Tom Gouttierre (Afghanistan 1965–67). Gouttierre is director of the nation’s unique Center forPrinter friendly version Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Nebraska.
     For 37 years he has lived, worked, and studied Afghanistan — as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kabul, as a Fulbright Fellow, and then as Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation in Afghanistan. Gouttierre has made presentations on aspects of the war in Afghanistan, on US-Pakistani Relations, on International Terrorism, and on Human Rights in hearings before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations. He has been invited to present his views on Afghanistan and human rights issues in hearings before committees of the British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the Norwegian Storting, and the UN Select Committee on Human Rights. Since 1986, Gouttierre has served as the American specialist on Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and South Asia at the meetings of the US - Russian (formerly Soviet) Task Force (the Dartmouth Conference) on Regional Conflicts.
     Gouttierre speaks, reads and writes Afghan Persian (Dari), Iranian Persian (Farsi), and Tajiki Persian (Tajiki), and has published numerous articles about Afghanistan society, culture, and politics. He is the co-author of a two-volume language textbook (Dari for Foreigners); original Dari poetry, and had translated Persian poetry. Today he serves as the Dean of International Studies and Programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and as the Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
     We spoke to Tom recently by phone about his Peace Corps experience, Osama bin Laden, and Afghanistan today.
  Did you go into the Peace Corps directly from college?
Yes. I was raised in Maumee, Ohio, and worked in my Dad’s pastry shop. I got my Master Baking Certificate when I was 18, but I had never been anyway from Maumee until I went to Bowling Green State University. The college was 13 miles from Maumee and I never saw it before starting school. The first plane I flew on was when I went to Peace Corps training.
  Where were you a PCV in Afghanistan and what was your job?
  My wife, Mary, and I taught in Kabul. I taught English in a secondary school and also coached basketball. I was, in fact, the first male to be approved to coach girls. I also established the first high school girls’ league. We had four teams. And I coached the boys as well.
     In the ten years that I lived in Kabul, I also coached the Afghan National Basketball Team. This was during the time I was director of the Fulbright Foundation in Afghanistan.
  From your experiences in the region, where do you think the U.S. went wrong with Afghanistan? How did we get to where we are today?
   After the cold war, the U.S. dropped Afghanistan. We were no longer involved in the events of the country. We could have led the Afghan people to reconstruct their social structure, social fabric, infrastructure, and economy. It was a country that needed a Marshall Plan of reconstruction, because it looked very much like the financial district in New York City today, or Berlin after World War II. It had lost millions of people, and almost all of its trained talent.
  What about the region? Where have we gone wrong there?
  We have not had a good long-term policy relating to Central Asia, South Asia, and Afghanistan. Our government didn’t understand how to effectively work with the competing Afghan resistance parties after the Russians left. The last time we had a real policy concerning Afghanistan was under former Secretary of State George Schultz. James Baker did not have one, nor did Warren Christopher, nor did Madeleine Albright. I was waiting to see if Colin Powell would have one, but all that’s been pre-empted. Now we have a policy, but it’s been forced upon us by war.
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