Talking with Tom Gouttierre (page 2)
Talking with Tom Gouttierre
page 1, page 2
 
What did the Afghans want?
  A lot of them would have been happy to see the removal of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, and the Pakistanis from their country. The Taliban does not represent the average Afghan. If we have to go into Afghanistan, we need to remember that there are many there who would like to cooperate with us, with whom we could work in the future, so that we could help preclude a repetition of these circumstances.
 
  How do we do that?
  The key is an aggregate working with the UN and by working directly with the Afghans. Working towards reconstruction. If we don’t, we’ll face the same problems there, as well as, in Pakistan.
     We need more people-to-people involvement. We need more of the kind of work done by Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright scholars. You listen to the media and everyone is asking, why do they hate us? Well, they hate us because 30 years ago we stopped communicating with them. We pulled out of their lives and their country.
Do you think that former PCVs from Afghanistan have anything to
Contribute to understanding the country?
  Of course. The Third Goal. No one in this country understands the positive aspects of the Afghan culture. Afghanistan is a beautiful country with a rich culture, but you don’t see that today. Former Volunteers can put a face on the Afghans.
What was Afghanistan like when you were living there as a PCV?
It was a very different country. Women were not wearing a veil. There were actually more women in college than men. There were women in the government, women as cabinet ministers. Women were equal. Also it was a time when everyone went to movies, went out dancing. There was no religious or gender concentration. Afghanistan was a joyful place.
  
Have you ever seen bin Laden?
No, but I saw his compound in Kandahar, and I once saw his motorcade. I have maps in my office of his training camps in Afghanistan.
When was it that you saw his motorcade?
I spent several months studying him for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1996 and ’97. At the time I used my sources to confirm for then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Bourtros-Ghali that bin Laden had indeed returned to Afghanistan after leaving Sudan.
Could the Taliban throw bin Laden out of Afghanistan?
No, it’s more likely that he could throw them out. The Taliban have become a junior partner in the strategic plans of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani extremists.
How have the wars with the Russians and today touched you?
Well, I no longer have the houses I lived in when I was in the Peace Corps and with Fulbright. They are all rubble. I have also lost so many good Afghan friends, in the war and because they have become refugees.
What do you try to achieve with your International Studies Program at Omaha?
We started here in Omaha in 1973 and today we have 160 students majoring in international studies. We have over a thousand international students studying here, and about 500 of our students studying overseas. The International Studies Program has an undergraduate degree in international business and commerce, secondary school teaching or government service. We have 160 majoring in international studies at the college.
What do you tell your students to do when they graduate?
I tell them to join the Peace Corps. I tell them to apply for a Fulbright. I tell them to go out into the world. It is what I did and it has made all the difference in my life. Remember, I started as a baker in Maumee, Ohio, and if I could leave home, anyone can. The Peace Corps was my ticket to a wonderful and eventful life.
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