Four years after the ouster of the extremist Taliban government , Afghanistan is moving ahead but needs investment and expertise to recover from 30 years of war, the country’s ambassador to the United States said during a Nov. 14 luncheon at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
“Afghanistan has come a long way but the journey has just started,” said Said Tayeb Jawad, a former exile who returned to work for his homeland in 2002. The one-time San Francisco-based legal consultant was named Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington two years ago by then-Interim President Hamid Karzai. “We would like to join the family of nations once again and stand on our own feet as soon as possible,” he said.
In an address to about 100 faculty, students, staff, and donors, Jawad spoke of his country’s strategic role in the war on terrorism. “Global security is one concept,” he said. “In order to fight terrorism effectively, better investment in Afghanistan is needed to stabilize the country and make [it] a safer place for Afghans and, therefore, global security.”
Afghanistan has established all the institutions needed for the emergence of a civil society, Jawad said. A new constitution was approved in January 2004, presidential elections took place in October of that year, and elections for a new parliament were held two months ago. “The constitution we have adopted is the most liberal in the region,” he said. Although problems abound—Afghanistan is the poorest country in Asia, only 6 percent of its residents have access to electricity and only 22 percent have clean water—the ambassador expressed hope for the future. About 3.6 million refugees have returned home, he said, and 86 percent of Afghans think they are better off today than four years ago, according to an Asia Foundation survey.
Émigrés are the leading investors in the country, Jawad said, noting that an Afghan American recently pumped $150 million into the country’s nascent cell phone system. Many others, including Jawad himself, have heeded President Karzai’s call for émigré professionals to aid their homeland. Other international expertise is also moving in: Eleven foreign banks have opened for business and 60,000 skilled workers from Pakistan and Iran have moved to Kabul. “We are trying to reconnect the country by building roads and the communication system,” Jawad said. “Reconnecting the country is important for national unity but also for the fight against terrorism and narcotics.”
Tackling the profitable opium trade is a top challenge facing the government and its greatest obstacle to national reconstruction, Jawad said. “Its proceeds feed into terrorism and lawlessness,” he said. In the past, horticulture comprised 70 percent of Afghanistan’s exports. But 30 years of war decimated a generation of farmers and destroyed traditional farming. “If you have a vineyard or orchard, you have to have a prospect of 10 years,” the ambassador said. “If you don’t have a sense of hope, you grow poppy seeds. It takes three months to harvest poppy. You can put it in a bag, take it with you and become a refugee again.”
While terrorists and the Taliban are defeated in Afghanistan, Jawad said, they are not eliminated and they continue to attack what he described as soft targets: schools and mosques and aid workers. But in the last two days, a U.S. soldier and NATO peacekeepers were killed in attacks, which police blame on al-Qaida. To help counter this, efforts are under way to build a trained national army and police force. More than 36,000 soldiers already have been trained. While the country is grateful for foreign military assistance, the ambassador said, “It’s our job to defend our country.”
The country’s leadership also allowed lower-ranking Taliban to join the government; three former officials have been elected to the new parliament. “This was a decision that was difficult to take,” Jawad said. “But we want to deny terrorists a recruiting ground. We are trying to pursue a policy of reconciliation. We cannot afford to have another circle of violence and another circle of revenge.”
At the end of the address, FSI Director Coit D. Blacker reiterated a formal statement initially made in August inviting President Karzai to visit Stanford.