Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Project on 'Engaging Afghanistan' Aims to Fill Gaps in Expertise and Public Engagement

April 2, 2010

The Watson Institute is developing collaborations among researchers, policy makers, and the media for more meaningful public engagement on Afghanistan.

The Social Science Research Council and its initiative on Academia in the Public Sphere: Islam and Muslims in World Contexts are providing a two-year, $100,000 grant to support the project, known as “Engaging Afghanistan: Creating Avenues of Engagement between Academics and Thank Tanks, the Media and Policy Makers.”

The project aims to redress the current shortfall in expertise on Afghanistan, according to project co-directors Michael Kennedy, director of the Watson Institute, and Shiva Balaghi, a fellow at Brown’s Cogut Center for the Humanities. Among the specific needs identified are studies on the effect of America’s militarized foreign policy on diplomatic efforts; democratic transitions and institution-building; regional implications of stability; and cultural outreach to Afghanistan’s civil society.

At the University, a Brown Afghanistan Working Group of faculty with expertise in a wide array of academic disciplines and geographies has committed to deepening its research on Afghanistan, organizing a variety of educational and cultural programs relating to Afghanistan at Brown, and coordinating outreach efforts to policy makers, practitioners, and the media within their fields of expertise that bear upon the current crisis in Afghanistan.

“Expertise on Afghanistan remains insufficient to meet the policy needs the US faces in this critical region,” Balaghi said, citing as one cause the history of areas studies in academia and its lack of clarity on Afghanistan’s place among the overlapping world regions of the Middle East, South Asia, and Russia and Central Asia.

Added Kennedy: “Building contextual expertise around Afghanistan is essential for many reasons, but thinking strategically about how to extend that expertise is critical.”