RCK member Joe Stabb introduced speaker Hakim Sohail, presently a visiting scholar at the University of Tennessee College of Law.  His work there includes researching strategies to improve the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Sohail and his wife and two children immigrated to the United States seven months ago from Afghanistan.  Mr. Sohail was trained as a lawyer and practiced in Afghanistan.  He had worked there for several years with the United States government until the U.S. left in 2021.  It took about a year and a half for him and his family to get here.  They missed several flights out of the country because of the huge crowds.  They ultimately went through Pakistan to get here.  Since August of 2021, about 100,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the U.S. Military.

He gave a brief history of what he described as the civil war in Afghanistan.  There have been decades of conflict, and the situation there is still quite fragile.  The Taliban took over the government of Afghanistan in 1996, and imposed strict Sharia Law.  After the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11 of 2001, the United States led an international effort against the al‑Qaeda group in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Ultimately this resulted in a new government, but still plagued by political insecurity and corruption.  The Taliban took over again in August of 2021.  They claim to have evolved, but in Mr. Sohail’s view, they are essentially still the same.  He indicated that international efforts are critical to maintaining civil society in Afghanistan.  But, he said that the international community is less engaged now than before.

Mr. Sohail contracted polio as a child.  He became determined to succeed on his own, and to become a role model for other disabled persons.  While in Afghanistan he worked with several agencies helping Afghans with various disabilities.

He participated with several others in forming the Rotary Club of Herat in 2012.  The Club was very active in several service areas, including water projects, distributing food to vulnerable families, planting trees, equipping high schools with science equipment and libraries, and conducting a soccer tournament for orphanages.  Their efforts included work on polio eradication.  There is still some polio in Afghanistan because of many Afghans’ reluctance to allow their children to be vaccinated.

Mr. Sohail and several other members of the Rotary Club of Herat had to leave Afghanistan after 2021, but they are still active trying to help the Rotary Club there.  Their motto has been “Not to Forget Afghanistan.”