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The Challenges of State Building in Afghanistan

Wabash College Online
06/13/2006

Ashraf Haidari ’01 came to Wabash in 1997 as an Afghan refugee fleeing the Taliban. He returned to campus Saturday as First Secretary of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC.

"Thanks to my Wabash education, I am now a diplomat in a free and democratic Afghanistan," Haidari told alumni and faculty during a session entitled "The Challenges of State Building in Afghanistan." But in the wake of increased violence in his country, he also sounded a note of urgency, calling for the international community to do more to help Afghanistan economically and militarily.

"The threat is very clear," Haidari said as he described increased attacks in the nation's southern provinces. With Afghan troops and police undermanned and poorly equipped, newly deployed NATO troops limited in their role, and terrorists pouring over the border from camps in neighboring Afghanistan, a security vacuum is developing. The Taliban are filling the gap.

"The Taliban were not captured or killed one-by-one," Haidari said of the U.S. efforts to drive the regime from Afghanistan. "They were dispersed into Pakistan. Now the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are joining with terrorists from other countries to fight the coalition forces.

"In fighting Afghan troops and police, the Taliban have a great advantage," Haidari said. "Government troops have old weapons, and are no match for well-equipped terrorists, who are acquiring advanced weapons and better communications systems from abroad. They are attacking soft targets and run back into safe sanctuaries across the border.”

A thriving drug trade also is fueling Taliban efforts.

"Afghanistan’s drug problem is the result of thirty years of war and destruction. Worth $30 billion on the black market, drug money is going to terrorists," Haidari said. "Terrorists thrive when there is no security in a country, and so do drug traffickers. Now the two are joining hands."

The Afghan government's efforts to eradicate the opium poppy crop through alternative assistance has met with limited success. Haidari said the effort has been under-funded, which undermines the credibility of the government.

"The people are still hoping, still waiting," Haidari said, referring to an October 2005 ABC News poll that found 91 percent of Afghans preferred the current government over the Taliban. "Unlike in Iraq, we have the support of the people. That's our greatest asset."

But Haidari is concerned that hope could turn to bitterness if improvements in the economic and security situation don't come soon.

"Abandoning Afghanistan again would be disastrous for global security," Haidari said.

"There can be no justice without human capital, which Afghanistan direly is lacking," Haidari added. "The education I received here at Wabash equipped me to help my country, and I urge Wabash to continue to admit international students to make a difference in the world."

The First Secretary was especially pleased to hear that a student from Afghanistan will join this year's freshman class.

"With what he learns here, that student will have an immediate impact on the future of Afghanistan."

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