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Afghan envoy thanks America, They have everything they need except security, he says at a UNF forum
by John Carter

The Florida Times-Union


Five years after 9/11, Afghanistan has made strides against terrorism but is at a "serious crossroads," yearning to rejoin the family of nations, the country's ambassador to the United States said at a town forum Monday at the University of North Florida.

"We are so grateful for the United States in helping us defend freedom," said Said Jawad, a former exile who returned to work for his homeland four months after the 9/11 attacks. "Now we want to stand on our own two feet as quickly as we can, and not be a burden to the international community."

In a way, he said, his country is a victim of 30 years of war - in particular, a victim of the Cold War. During his country's resistance against the Soviet Union, he said, too many foreign fighters "and too many unwanted elements" infiltrated his country.

"No one thought of the consequences," he said. "We just needed to shore up our forces and win the resistance."

Though the extremist Taliban government was ousted shortly after 9/11, Taliban sympathizers, tribal militias and warlords continue to terrorize much of the country, he said, adding that terrorists have recently begun using suicide bombing as a "new and horrifying" weapon.

"That never happened before," he said.

But Afghanistan has established all the institutions needed for the emergence of a civilized society, said the one-time San Francisco-based legal consultant who was named Afghanistan's ambassador to Washington three years ago.

A new constitution was approved in early 2004, and elections for a new parliament were held just months later. About 2.6 million refugees have returned, and most Afghans think they are better off, he said. The per capita income has gone from $198 to $386 a year.

Still, he said, the country faces serious problems. Only 5 percent of residents have electricity, few have access to clean water, and although 6 million Afghan children are in school, only about 30 percent of schools have roofs.

Jawad, who speaks four languages, said when he returned to his homeland, he taught a university class and was shocked at the education level of the average Afghan citizen, the result, he said, of repressive regimens and decades of poverty and war.

But the most critical challenge for his country, he said, is one of adequate security. He said his government is forced to offer a prospective police chief $50 a month to do a dangerous job when they can make six times that driving for the Americans.

"And that police chief - I can't even offer him a car or a phone," Jawad said. "Often I can't even offer him a flag to help set up a symbolic presence of authority. It's very hard to recruit."

He said the Taliban ripped up most of the country's orchards and replaced them with poppy fields. And though the opium trade was initially suppressed after 9/11, there's been a recent resurgence.

For many Afghans, the ambassador said, it's a matter of tough choices.

"They must choose between life or death," he said. "So they choose life, even if it involves something illegal. But if we give them a choice that includes sacrifice and a dignified life, they will choose dignity. Right now, they are just surviving."

And the terrorists, he said, continue to burn schools.

"Their modus operandi is fear - always fear," he said. "But it's not that the terrorists are so strong, it's that the government is weak. We are just beginning a tough journey."


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