This lesson plan was first published, in a slightly different version, in January 2001 as part of a collection, Conflict in Context: Understanding Local to Global Security.1
I have expanded and updated it to keep in step with recent events since the tragedies of September 11. The point of the lesson is to provide students with some background on the civil war in Afghanistan as well as a foundation for further study of the dynamics of civil wars occurring throughout the world today. By focusing on the specific case of Afghanistan, students can become familiar with the complexities of civil war in general, learning how civil strife can be affected by many factors. Students can use research skills to analyze factors that contribute to ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world.
The lesson, for secondary students, takes at least two class periods, but teachers should adjust the length of the lesson to the ability of their students. If the lesson is extended with discussions of current events or outside research, it could easily take a week. Class materials are the handouts in this article. Students can do further research with the use of the Internet, books and magazines at a library, and (for current events) daily newspapers. At the conclusion of this lesson, students will have met these learning outcomes:
• Practiced reading for understanding.
• Learned about the basic geography, history, culture, and politics of Afghanistan.
• Learned about the effects of the Afghan civil war on civilians, the infrastructure of that country, and the international community.
• Considered factors that contribute to civil wars in different times and places.
• Analyzed data and shared new information with classmates.
Explain to students that they will be looking at the civil war in Afghanistan as an introduction to the study of civil war in general. Ask students to define civil war (a basic definition is “a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country”) and to identify civil wars (past or present) that they have learned about. Brainstorm reasons why citizens might enter into combat with one another.
Assemble groups of eight students. Distribute copies of Handouts A-D to everybody. Each student should choose one handout to “specialize” in, coordinating with other members of the group so that all topics are covered. Students can begin reading the handouts, finishing them for homework. Explain the next day’s activity to them so they will be prepared.
The next day, have students discuss among themselves what they have read, each student taking responsibility for his or her chosen handout. (Research shows that people retain information better if they have explained it to another person). Write guidelines for these discussions on the board:
• Work together;
• Review the countries bordering Afghanistan and identify major landmarks in Afghanistan;
• Review the names of ethnic groups and significant events in Afghan history;
• Practice defining Afghan and Arabic terms and names.
After a twenty-minute discussion, ask the class for questions or comments. (Complex questions that arise might serve as topics for further research.) Then distribute Handout E. Within
each group of eight students, students should now pair up and select one of these four ethnic groups to report on, using all of the handouts as their source of information: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Pairs from different student groups may work together if they are researching the same ethnic group, to answer these questions:
• Which political or military faction in the Afghan civil war seems to derive support from this ethnic group?
• What outside nation or political party might be supporting or supplying this faction?
• Are most members of the ethnic group Muslim? If so, to which denomination of Islam do they belong?
Students should be prepared to discuss these questions with their original groups the next day. Tell the class that Handout E is crucial for answering these questions, but that all of the handouts contain relevant information. Each student should give a brief report to his or her group on what he or she has learned about the ethnic group.