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Embassy Row:  Afghan dreaming
by James Morrison

Washington Times


Afghanistan remains a troubled nation six years after the United States drove the brutal Taliban regime from power for sheltering Osama bin Laden after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Taliban elements regrouped along the border with Pakistan. Iran is suspected of supplying arms to the Islamic extremists. Poppy growers made Afghanistan the world leader in the heroin trade, and the government in Kabul is struggling to provide basic services to its citizens.

However, Afghan Ambassador Said T. Jawad insists that Afghans are better off today than under a regime that killed political opponents, stoned women for adultery, forced women to wear body-length veils and whipped them publicly for exposing so much an ankle, outlawed education for women, required men to wear beards, banned music, television and movies and even criminalized kite-flying.

"Six years ago, we didn't have a country," he told reporters from The Washington Times this week. "Six years ago, we didn't have a flag. Six years ago, we didn't have freedom."

Before the overthrow of the Taliban, he added, "we were completely deprived of even dreaming of a better life."

That changed on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the September 11 attacks. U.S. forces with British assistance and Afghan resistance fighters of the Northern Alliance opened an offensive that drove the Taliban from power within two months and sent bin Laden scurrying for the caves.

Mr. Jawad said Afghans "definitely" consider Americans as liberators.

"Six years ago, Afghanistan was occupied by terrorists, al Qaeda terrorists, who terrorized not only Afghanistan but used it as a base to terrorize the world," the ambassador said.

"Now we have an elected government. Children are back in school. We have come a long way, but our institutions are not strong enough to provide the services the people demand and deserve."

Mr. Jawad, who expressed his gratitude for U.S. financial assistance for his country, explained that Afghanistan still needs much more development aid from international donors. The army is being trained, but they need heavy weapons. Police are meeting recruitment goals, but they are underpaid. Schools, hospitals, roads, bridges — all need to be built.

The resurgent Taliban, based in Pakistan border areas, pose little threat against Afghan and NATO forces but a great threat against civilians outside of coalition protection, the ambassador said. He also accused Iran of trying to destabilize Afghanistan to get back at the United States for its efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"Iran would be better off leaving their differences with the United States outside of Afghanistan," Mr. Jawad said. "We are getting more and more reports of [Iranian] arms deliveries to the Taliban."

He added that the Taliban is gaining its strength only by "terrorizing the people, forcing them into submission" in towns and villages along the border.

As for the widespread illegal cultivation of poppies, Mr. Jawad said his government is desperate to find an alternative crop for farmers to grow. He explained that poppy fields spread like weeds and are easy to harvest. Poppy growers are also connected to organized crime and the Taliban, which is increasingly involved in drug trafficking, he said.

"Poppy is like money. If you need cash, you just cut it," Mr. Jawad said.

In spite of the massive needs in Afghanistan, the ambassador said he thinks the intentional community is more aware of the necessity to prevent the country from collapsing.

"Our institutions are young and fragile," he added. "We always risk the chance of becoming a failed state."

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