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My Interview With Ambassador Jawad, And Yours

by Ed Morrissey


Earlier today, I had the opportunity to engage in some ground-breaking journalism -- a word that I do not toss around lightly. Not only did I get a chance to bring the story of Afghanistan to readers that gets little enough coverage, we could do so in depth with a lengthy interview with Ambassador Said T. Jawad. (Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, we started late and lost the last five minutes of the interview.)

Why do I consider this groundbreaking? In one sense, it breaks new ground because the Ambassador rarely gets an opportunity to speak in depth about the status of Afghanistan. Normally, all he gets are quick sound bites taken out of context, or a five-minute segment on a talking-head show in which he never gets the opportunity to speak about his country's experience in any depth at all. In this format, we can allow Ambassador Jawad to speak at length -- and if you listen to the show, you can see that the Ambassador has quite a story to tell.

The most groundbreaking aspect of the interview, I believe, is how the questions came to the Ambassador in the first place. Readers of this blog asked the questions in the comments section, and I selected the most germane and posed them to the Ambassador. His staff reviewed that thread and spoke about how impressed they were with the variety and depth of the questions. Afterwards, Ambassador Jawad said the one question I failed to ask that he wanted to answer was one about dirt-biking in Afghanistan's mountains, which he thought would be a marvelous idea, so I know they paid close attention to your input.

I think that's a remarkable process, one which seems very unique, and one which I will employ in the future. In my opinion, it brings the subject and the audience into a much closer relationship; it gives everyone a larger stake in the process and the product. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and please let me know your opinion on the result.

And for the record, they had the best tasting iced tea I have ever had, and not just because it hit 100 here in DC today.

To listen to the full interview, click HERE


Partial Transcript of Interview

CQ: I'm just going to start off with what appears to be the most pressing concern for Americans, the security situation in Afghanistan at the moment. It is obviously a difficult situation for Afghanistan [inaudible]. Can you describe how much control over the entirety of Afghanistan the central government has at this point in time, and where you see that [inaudible]?

Ambassador Jawad: On the security front we are still facing challenges but overall when the Taliban and terrorists are confronting the Afghan security forces or the international security forces they are not able to be a serious threat. They are losing in large numbers but they are successful in doing suicide bombings, roadside bombings, and others. The control of the Afghan government over the entire country legally is there. Afghanistan has an elected president, an elected parliament, but the capacity of the Afghan government to deliver services , to provide protection for the Afghan citizens, is still limited because of the limited resources we have received in the past five and a half years.

CQ: Limited resources in how, and how much of those resources have come from America and NATO countries, and how much more resources do you think that you'll need in order to improve the situation for your government?

Ambassador Jawad: The United States has been the leading partner in providing assistance to Afghanistan. NATO countries, Japan, India, some of the Gulf countries are also have been very helpful in the process, but the degree of the destruction in Afghanistan was such that the amount of investment that has been made in the past five and a half years to build the national institutions in Afghanistan has been not adequate. How much is needed in Afghanistan depends on how fast we make the necessary investment in Afghanistan, and how effectively we use the resources being available in Afghanistan.

First, there has been an underinvestment in Afghanistan, and second, some of the resources were not used in the most efficient way in Afghanistan, like many other post-conflict countries.

CQ: When you say that they weren't used in the most effective way, of course democracies have a way of being a little bit inefficient, it's one of the drawbacks of democracy that's certainly outweighed by the benefits, but is that what you mean in terms of inefficiency, or is it inefficiency in how it was provided from the United States or NATO or how it's been implemented by these countries that are taking part?

Ambassador Jawad: The existing funding mechanism favors a lot of the donor priorities, and contracts will go to major companies that belong to the donor community. At the same time I am very realistic about the fact the degree of the experties available in Afghanistan by Afghans is limited, so we were facing also a shortage of human capital in Afghanistan. A combination of both made the efficiency of the use of the funds rather limited.

CQ: And is that sort of a fallout from the educational breakdown that occured in Afghanistan, not only of course during the Taliban period, but the pre-Taliban period where there was the Soviet occupation and all sorts of other [inaudible] Your country was facing a tremendous number of problems over the last few decades. Is that where the human capital deficit comes from?

Ambassador Jawad: Certainly. I went to Kabul University School of Law in the 1970s. We were taught in French and the students were able to absorb teaching in foreign languages. Different schools at Kabul University were affilated with various univerities abroad, like Sorbonne, MIT and others, but because of the Soviet invasion and the war the education system in Afghanistan collapsed, and what remained of the educational system became extremely politicized on both extreme right and extreme left.

A lot of the capable Afghans who were educated are even now in their late 60s and 70s, and most of them left the country. So the collapse of the educational system along side with the culture of poverty, living as refugees, have forced a lot of Afghan people to lose really the long term strategic view and vision of rebuilding of the country. Unfortunately when people live as refugees, they acquire the habit of getting handouts, free lunches, free meals. All of themn affect the ethics of people.

CQ: And of course when you're living as a refugee it's hard to plan for the future because there's really no structure for them to make those sorts of plans. They're not settled, they don't have homes, and so shouldn't the first priority of the United States and the western nations contributing in Afghanistan be to get people out of the refugee status throughout the country and try to get them into more stabilized communities where they can make those sorts of plans and build those sorts of educational infrastructure as well as other infrastructure?

Ambassador Jawad: Certainly. In Afghanistan, fortunately 4.5 million refugees have returned back to Afghanistan, an important evidence of the confidence of the Afghan people in the political process, but yet neither the Afghan government nor our donor community have been really ready to welcome these refugees, to provide them with adequate housing, schools and others. If we want to end the cycle of violence and revenge anywhere in the world, we have to treat human beings as human beings, not as a number in a refugee camp, to provide them an opportunity to be back in their village, to have a life of dignity and honor, will certainly enhance the chances of their children [not?] becoming hateful and revengeful.

CQ: Somewhat along those lines, I think Americans don't really understand the interaction of the different tribes of Afghanistan and how that relates to how that relates to how they interact within natitonalities of Afghanistan, and what special issues that presents to the government. Can you explain to the listeners a little bit how tribal politics plays into these issues that you're seeing, and what the government of Afghanistan is trying to do to establish more of a national outlook rather than a tribal outlook?

Ambassador Jawad: Afghanistan is a mosaic of different cultures, tribes, religions even, and that diversity if generally a source of strength, as it is in the United States when you have a peaceful environment. But, in an environment where violence is introduced, where extremism is introduced, where [inaudible] is introduced, some of these tendencies could very destructive. What we have done in Afghanistan is try to channel the richness of the Afghan culture, history and tribal heritage and others in a positive way. The good thing is that Afghan people are very much united. The country has extremely different tribes, different ethnic groups and others, they are very much among themselves, and they would like actually to see the country prosper through partnership with the international community because they know that isolation and fighting each other will bring really deep misery, the way it did to Afghans in the past 30 years.

CQ: Some critics in our country who are opposed to intervention in this region say that long lasting democracy is really not a possibility for Afghanistan, for Iraq, or other nations in that region, and that we should be directing our efforts in different directions. Some of my readers have asked, first off, do you find that criticism [inaudible], and secondly, how would you respond to those critics?

Ambassador Jawad: If democracy means having the peace of mind of going to bed without fearing the secret police, if democracy means having an opportunity to send your daughter to school, if democracy means the possibility of having a decent medical treatment, and being able to express your mind, this is what every human being deserves and demands.

What we are doing in Afghanistan is what of course the Afghan people demand. They would like to have security. They would like to have their village to be connected to the next city so they can prosper economically, so they can sell their products to the markets. All of these measures are the nation of human beings. We all demand freedom. We all hate dictatorship. I don't think that anywhere in the world anybody is either trying or it is possible to impose democracy... Democracy is not imposed, it is a value of a human being. What is being imposed is dictatorship. What you are doing in Afghanistan is trying to prevent others to impose dictatorship and despotism to the Afghan people. [The Taliban are] are teaching people what kind of clothes to wear, schools to go, and this is what you're trying to do, is to end despotism and dictatorship. You're not imposing democracy, you're preventing others from imposing dictatorship on the Afghan people, and to the region, and if they get their way, to the world.

CQ: So you don't see, and the Afghan people don't see, the American effort and the Western effort in Afghanistan as some sort of an imperial effort to colonize Afghanistan in a certain direction?

Ambassador Jawad: Certainly not. You and I, Afghans and Americans, were partners in fighting the Soviets. Our biggest complaint was that you left us when the Soviets were gone. So we were asking for your engagement, we were demanding that. There is so much extremism introduced in the small nation of Afghanistan, that we as Afghans would not be able to save our country without your assistance. It took 9/11 for you to come back to assist us, and we appreciate this very much and we have to work together to prevent another 9/11. That would be a disaster for us, for you, for humanity. But definitely the engagement of the international community in Afghanistan is very much welcome. Of course there are frustrations. When the military operations are conducted in a way that civilians die, or when the expectation of the Afghan people are not met, but there is certainly not resentment. The hope of the Afghan people is to rebuild their country through the partnership of the international community.

CQ: Some critics in the United States say that we helped create the Taliban, and we helped create Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the fight against the Soviets, and then, as you said, we sort of left without taking care of the problems. Do you see that as partially America's responsibility, having created the effort to push the Soviets out, that we enabled the extremists and then failed to protect you against them later on?

Ambassador Jawad: When the war against the Soviets started, there was a need to economically support the Afghan people and also ideologically. And one ready and available ideology was extremism. Not only the United States but also Islamic countries in the Middle East sent a lot of their unwanted elements to fight in Afghanistan. I think the short term objective was to defeat the Soviets, which seemed impossible back then. Nobody thought there would be a post-Soviet Afghanistan at the beginning. I remember some people said we would fight until our last Afghan. But it did happen, through the courage of the Afghan people, and the commitment of the international community. I think in many instances in international politics we sacrifice the long term priorities for short term gain. It was a short term gain to defeat the Soviets, but we are paying a very high price for that right now in Afghanistan and many other places.

CQ: There's a very real danger that domestic political pressure here in the United States will force an American withdrawal from Iraq before its government is ready to stand on its own. Based on what we've just been discussing, does that sound familiar to you, and secondly, are you concerned that the American commitment is also going to dissipate for Afghanistan now?

Ambassador Jawad: Through my discussions with Americans here, military Americans as well as the Administration and Congress, I think people are making a distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq, which is really good for us. I'm really not concerned about the possible withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. It will come one day, that the job of defending Afghanistan is ours, it is our country, there is no shortage of commitment or courage in Afghanistan, to defend Afghanistan and defeat terrorism in Afghanistan and in possibly the region. What we need is new investment in Afghanistan and Afghans, by building our national police force, national army. And then, we would rather have your boys and daughers who are doing a heroic job in defending Afghanistan to come back home and live in the safety of their own country. I'm sure that the United States will not leave Afghanistan until the Afghan national army and police force are built and the Afghan government has acquired the necessary capacity to deliver services and provide protection to the Afghan people.

CQ: What is the status of the national army in Afghanistan, and the security forces there? Again, with Iraq, we've had a lot of attention being brought to how many brigades are online for the Iraqi army, we don't seem to have the same sort of focus here on the Afghanistan army, and security forces there. What is the status of your forces?

Ambassador Jawad: The Afghan national army and police forces are not yet where they should be. We are in fact paying a price for doing too little on this front. The target of the Afghan national army is at 70,000. So far we have trained about 35,000 Afghan national army, which are performing very well in fighting along side NATO and US forces very effectively.

In the area of police force, where the target is about 55,000, the job is not even half done and not complete all. The quality of the Afghan national police force is not as good as it should be and the quantity is also suffering. There is a new focus on rebuilding the Afghan national police force and the army. The United States will be committing a substantial amount of money in the next two years to rebuild the Afghan police force and the army.

CQ: I know that other NATO nations, I believe Germany is involved in building the forces, they're doing the training. Is there a need for a bigger commitment than what you've seen thus far in recruiting people for the army, as well as training them, from Western nations such as the United States?

Ambassador Jawad: Germany started training the Afghan police force, but it was a more conventional approach of building a police academcy, and doing it slowly and systematically, the way it's done in Germany, but we really need to actually fill the gap and send many police officers to different parts of the country to fight against terrorists. It's not a traditional job of police officers like here to issue citations or something like that. It's a different approach. The United States is again taking the lead in training the police force. NATO overall is playing a very important role in Afghanistan in the fighting but also in the training, gradually, and also in equipping the Aghan national army, particularly countries like Canada, Britain, Australia are doing a very good job in Afghanistan.. Germany, many other countries, in fact 36 different countries have a military presence in Afghanistan, and 40 countries are contributing in the military operation in Afghanistan either directly or indirectly.

CQ: Do you feel that Afghanistan has been shortchanged in terms of support following the invasion and occupation of Iraq?

Ambassador Jawad: Afghanistan is shortchanged, that's for sure. I don't know if it was after the Iraq invasion, because after the Cold War when the Soviets were gone we were also shortchanged, there was no Iraq back then. There has been underinvestment in Afghanistan. I don't know how much of that relates to Iraq, but certainly you would have not been in this position that we are right now had we invested adequately in the past five years in Afghanistan.

CQ: I want to go back to the education system, because this is-- Between 9/11 and the point in time where we came to Afghanistan, there was certainly a lot of awareness of the Taliban's very dictatorial rule, especially in terms of educating women, girls, in Afghanistan, and a lot of the readers are concerned that that changes, obviously, and they're very interested to find out what the commitment is to educating Afghanistan's women, and where you're at with that, and where you hope to be.

Ambassador Jawad: One of the important achievements of the Afghan people and the Afghan government is to provide the equal opportunities for Afghan women through the constitution, which is one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. But, more importantly, through educational opportunities. Six million boys and girls are going to school today in Afghanistan, and 35% are girls. This is a very good investment for the future of Afghanistan. While the number of Afghan women participating in the political process, or going back to school-- as a matter of fact, 12% of the state employees in Afghanistan are women, which under the Taliban wasn't there. While the number is significant, the quality of education in Afghanistan both for boys and girls still suffers. A lot of the schools in Afghanistan are still under a tent or under a tree. The curriculum needs to be revised, but more importantly, in order to recruit better qualified teachers, we need to pay more. We are paying only $40 a month to a teacher, and with economic opportunities that exist in Afghanistan, in [inaudible] illicit economy, it's very hard to recruit qualified people to be a teacher by just offering them $40. Same thing is true about the police force. We are offering $70 a month to a police officer, and it's very hard to get a tough job of fighting Al Qaeda, narco trafficers, and warlords, and everyone else, and just getting paid $70 a month. So, it is very important for our partners in the international community to help us out, pay adequately the Afghan civil servants, the Afghan teachers, and the Afghan police officers.

CQ: In order to build the infrastructure, we should be assisting the pay structure, assisting in salaries, for these people so that we can attract them. Is teaching a dangerous job in Afghanistan? We've heard some stories of schools being targeted by Taliban remnants in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Jawad: It is. It is a courageous job. A lot of people who are doing it are committed and believe in what they're doing. As I mentioned, teachers are sometimes teaching a half day or full day under the hot sun or in a tent, and in the cold winter in Afghanistan. It is both a physically and mentally, economicially, but also security-wise a challenging job. If we continue the work that we have started, we should be able to once again have 40% of Afghan teachers to be women, the way it was before the Soviet invasion. 40% of all the teachers in Afghanistan were women.

CQ: And of course there are cultural issues that don't exist here in the United States for the most part, that people just choose not to send their daughters to school because of cultural and religious values, so when you get to a point where you have 35%, 40% of your student body being girls, that's a fairly significant achievement, I would think, in a very short period of time.

Ambassador Jawad: Absolutely. The impediment that exists right now is not so much cultural, it's security concerns. Like any other parent, if you have to send your little girls to travel three miles, possibly through mine fields, or with lack of roads and everything else. So our priority right now is to build more, smaller schools in Afghanistan, instead of bigger schools, to make sure that the distance between the home and the school is diminished, so the parents are more willing to send their little girls to school.

CQ: Are you concerned about the possibility of a coup in Pakistan by the same radical groups that created the Taliban? This is obviously something that is very close. Pakistan is your neighboring country and a lot of the people who cross the border back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan, they're very closely related to each other. Is that a concern for the Afghanistan government at this point in time?

Ambassador Jawad: Not so much. We think that the Pakistani army is a very strong and capable institution, and they will be able to control Pakistan for a long time. They are in full control of Pakistan. We have in the past raised the issue of how wise it is for the mlitary to support extremism. This is a separate issue, but I don't think that Pakistan is in danger of falling into the hands of the extremists. The extremists in Pakistan are a small minority. Despite the many changes that have taken place in Pakistan in the laws and others still they are not able to organize more than 9% of the votes in Pakistan. We think that if their political leadership in the civil society in Pakistan is strengthened, they will be able to fight the danger of extremism. What we need to focus on is to make sure that institutional support for extremism ends in Pakistan.

CQ: How do we end extremism in that area of the world? Certainly since 9/11 and even before that we were engaged in sort of a lower level conflict with radical extremists from that region. What needs to happen, what does the West need to do, what do Muslim nations need to do to end the threat of radicalism in that region, and are we on the right track at this point in time?

Ambassador Jawad: First, the leadership of Islamic countries, particularly the moderate clergy, the people who truly believe in the values of Islam, which is based on peace and understanding, should be a lot more outspoken about [inaudible]. Second, both the governments in these regions and our international partners should invest more in education, and in educational opportunities. This is the best way, the real way, of making sure that in the long run, children are not brainwashed. Many of the schools, certain of the madrassas for instance, in our part of the world, are teaching hatred. The reason parents are sending their young kids to some of these madrassas is economic opportunities that they have there. They're fed there, they're given clothes and everything, but over there instead of really getting acquainted with the real values of religion and humanity, they are turning into killing machines. So if we provide better opportunities for education, and also invest in the long run in civil society in this country, assist more-- as I mentioned the extremists are a small minority but they have a very strong voice right now. But the voice of civil society in moderation in most of these societies are not heard clearly. More support is needed for them.

CQ: You mentioned support for education. Who is supporting the madrassas that are operating now, that are, like you said, turning these people into killing machines? Where do you see that support coming from, and how do we push back against that?

Ambassador Jawad: Not all the madrassas are actually hate factories.

CQ: Just the specific ones that are causing the problem.

Ambassador Jawad: Sources are coming from a variety of inside and outside individuals and institutions. Some of them are small donations from individuals and others that we might not be able to get control of. But also some larger amount of the money is coming from the greater Gulf countries. With the price of oil being so high, there's a lot of excess money. It will be very beneficial for our friends, our partners in these countries to make sure this money will not make their into these institutions, these sources. Because, extremism and hatred is not a tool that you can control. We know from experience in the past that once these guys learn to hate humanity, they're not going to stop, they're not going to use it in a selective way, say against Americans or Europeans and others. They are equally dangerous for their own society.

CQ: The key to this, I think, is to build an economic structure in Afghanistan that supports an educational infrastructure that is independent of these types of personally funded madrassas and that sort of thing. What industries do you see in the future for Afghanistan? What do you think Afghanistan can excel in, in the global market?

Ambassador Jawad: Agribusiness. Afghanistan is some of the best producers of fruits in the world, and since we are facing the challenge of narcotics in Afghanistan, I think any kind of investment in agricultural business, packaging, and getting the Afghan agricultural products, basically fruits and nuts and others, to the international market, buying Afghan products such as rugs and others, but more important, in the long run we are working right now on acquiring investment in the areas of oil and gas. Copper, we have the second largest copper mine in the world. Minerals are a big opportunity in Afghanistan.

Overall, if we have a more stable region in that part of the world, the location of Afghanistan is an important asset. With the completion of the ring road in Afghanistan, the country could become a roundabout of Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, connecting resourceful countries with a lot of energy and oil and gas to the north of Afghanistan. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and many others, to the countries that need energy such as Pakistan and India down in the south.

CQ: A lot of people have talked about the issue of opium trade in Afghanista. You've referred to it a few times in this interview as the narco business. It's a major problem I know for your government, for governments around the world. Is there a way that the West could leverage that in order to keep the crops from entering illegal narcotics? I mean, opium is a basis for legitimate medicine as well as illegitimate drug use. Should there be some sort of effort to outbid the people who are trying to buy these crops, or steal these crops, for the narco business?

Ambassador Jawad: This is one of the proposals, actually, being submitted to the Afghan government, also discussed at the international level, either to buy the opium or legalize the trade. It is one option. I personally think it will be very difficult to implement in Afghanistan for the reason that right now, only 8% of the arable land in Afghanistan is cultivated with poppies. So if we start buying that, chances are many other people will go and cultivate poppies. And also I believe that we should not remove the moral and the ethical impediment of getting into substances that is basically killing Afghans, killing everyone else all over the world. Therefore, I think if we decide to buy crops, we should buy the legitimate crops in Afghanistan. We should buy, like the subsidized prices that are paid here in the US for some of the agricultural products. We should buy pomegranates, apples, or wheat and many other products in Afghanistan at a subsidized price, thereby providing an incentive for the farmers to grow legitimate crops.

CQ: I have to tell you, here in the United States, subsidized agriculture is quite a controversial issue. I think that in Afghanistan it would probably be-- I think people would understand the priority of getting other things fixed first, and the academic arguments about subsidizing agriculture can wait until later. It does sound like a pretty good plan. Is that something that you are working with countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, to build some subsidies into those agricultural efforts so you can keep people from growing poppies?

Ambassador Jawad: This is part of the plan that includes also making available loans to the Afghan farmers at a very soft term so that they don't have to acquire loans with interest rates that are sometimes more than 100% from the trafficers, and therefore being forced to grow poppies because they cannot repay with any other legitimate crop. This is part of it, but we also have to build the infrastructure of Afghanistan, especially the roads. Even if you convince a farmer to grow apples or pomegranate or something else, if there is no road to take it to the market, there is no cold storage facility, there is no market at all, it is difficult for him to do it in the long run. He might do it once or twice, but he will change his mind. So, fighting narcotics in Afghanistan or anywhere in the world is truly a matter of economic opportunities. If you look at the example of Turkey, they succeeded in eliminating opium in Turkey by development. If you emphasize only one aspect of the fight against narcotics such as eradication, like in Columbia for instance, then you will be in it for a long time. You have to fight narco trafficers, eradicate the poppy fields, build the institutions, provide for alternative livelihoods, and work closely with the countries that are either benefitting or are involved in the trafficing, in the processing and production of illicit drugs.

CQ: Ambassador Jawad, you said something here, and I just want to make sure that people understand it. A lot of people who are growing poppies are being forced to do so because of basically what we would call in this country loan sharking. They are being forced into a type of slavery in order to pay off the ever increasing interest on loans where the rate is 100% or more. Is that the main problem? Is that how the drug trafficers really lock in that poppy crop?

Ambassador Jawad: They come in the winter, when the farmer really doesn't have a source of money, they need the money. They will give them loans with a very high interest rate. But also as I mentioned, when a farmer grows opium, the crop is like cash. You can harvest that deadly crop and put it in a plastic bag and it will be sitting in a corner of a room for two or three months. It is not like grapes where you have to market it in a matter of a week, or turn it into juice or something, otherwise you will be losing the entire year. And especially if there is no agro-processing facilities, to turn for instance that grape into juice or a raisin or something else, then you'll be losing your entire harvest of the year. But, when you grow opium, and you harvest that, and you just put in a plastic bag and it will be sitting in a room without even needing a refrigerator or anything, and when you need to sell it, it's like a piece of a cake, you just cut a piece of it, it's almost cash. You go to the market and you sell it. So all these factors affect the mentality of the people who are growing poppy. And again, we have some of the best orchards, in Afghanistan, vineyards particulary in Kandahar, in the Shomali Plain, but when you have vineyards, you have to have a mindset of five to ten years. Some years you might make it well, some years it might not be so good, you should have to pass it to generations, to your son or family.

But when you grow poppy, all you need is three months. You grow it, you harvest it, and as I mentioned, you put in your pocket and you become a refugee again if needed. So we have to make sure that people are replanted in their home and in their village, like other plants. They grow their roots back into their home and village and they feel that yes, there is a future of five to ten years, and therefore I'm going back to rebuild the vineyards of my father or restore the orchards of my family.




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