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News and Views

The Embassy of Afghanistan in 2008 - A Year in Review

Throughout 2008, the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. remained engaged in promoting Afghan art, culture, sports, politics and business. Here we compile some of the biggest and brightest moments for the embassy and for Afghanistan in 2008. All of these stories and more can be found at the Embassy of Afghanistan's website.

Official Visits

A number of senior Afghan officials visited the U.S. during 2008 to further strengthen the relationship between Afghanistan and the U.S.

In September, President Hamid Karzai came to Washington, where he met with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, senior administration officials, members of the U.S. Congress and spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In November he returned to the U.S., traveling to New York to give an impassioned plea for global interfaith understanding and peace at the United Nations.

Other visits included Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin D. Spanta, Minister of Defense General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Minister of Health Dr. Sayed Fatimie, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Mohammad Ehsan Zia, Minister of Commerce and Industry Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang and Director of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance Jelani Popal, among others.

Eight Afghan governors also visited the U.S. in April, traveling to California to meet Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of their three-week trip.

Ambassador Said T. Jawad

Ambassador Said T. Jawad was active throughout 2008, speaking at numerous institutions, traveling widely, speaking to the media and working with the U.S. government and Congress to ensure that the necessary resources reached Afghanistan.

In late November, Ambassador Jawad appeared alongside First Lady Laura Bush on NBC's "Meet the Press," where he had the opportunity to speak about the First Lady's important contributions to Afghanistan, the country's impressive achievements and remaining challenges, and what to expect from 2009. Ambassador Jawad worked closely with the First Lady - who traveled to Afghanistan in June - and senior officials in the Bush administration on issues of importance to the two countries.

Ambassador Jawad used the Fourth of July to thank U.S. servicemen and women for their important sacrifices for the Afghan people, congratulated president-elect Barack Obama on his victory in the November presidential elections, traveled to Brazil and Argentina for official business, received the Global Citizen Award from Roots of Peace, spoke alongside Mrs. Shamim Jawad at the Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington, D.C., visited the plant where Humvees destined for Afghanistan are produced, traveled to Qatar for the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, was profiled on VOA and in Monocle magazine (among many other media engagements) and emphasized security solutions at a number of speaking events.

In an effort to better use new tools to communicate Afghanistan to the U.S., Ambassador Jawad set up a Facebook profile and a YouTube page.

Relations with U.S. Congress

Throughout the year the Embassy of Afghanistan maintained close working relations with the U.S. Congress, briefing staff and members on important developments and assisting in delegations that traveled to Afghanistan. Various members of both the House and Senate traveled to Afghanistan and met with senior government officials, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Sen. John McCain; and Rep. Steve Israel, among many others.

Beyond advocating for a consistent stream of resources to aid in the development and security of Afghanistan, the embassy worked with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on legislation that would allow the designation of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If passed by the Congress, the ROZs will enable non-trade sensitive exports from Afghanistan and Pakistan such as rugs, gemstones and handicrafts to enter the U.S. duty-free. These exports would provide a compelling economic incentive for private sector investment in the two countries and become an additional source of jobs for the people of these two nations desperate for employment. In September Ambassador Jawad and Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Huqqani published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal advocating for the ROZ legislation to be passed.

Arts, Culture and Sports

In 2008, Afghanistan's cultural heritage was on display in the U.S. like never before. In May, the famed exhibit "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures of the National Museum, Kabul" opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The 228 artifacts, including the treasured Bactrian Gold collection, drew over 215,000 visitors during their four-month stay before moving on to San Francisco. In 2009 the exhibit will travel to Houston (February 22-May 17) and New York (June 23-September 20).

As part of the exhibit's opening in Washington, the Embassy of Afghanistan worked with Destination D.C. and various restaurants to highlight Afghanistan's diverse cuisine (Mrs. Shamim Jawad spoke to NPR about her favorite Afghan foods), the Department of Homeland Security repatriated a number of Afghan artifacts and the Harman Center for the Arts hosted a photography exhibit titled "Shakespeare in Kabul."

In other arts and culture news, Afghanistan's prized rugs were displayed at the World Market Center Home Furnishings Exhibition in Las Vegas, the embassy partnered with the Royal Netherlands Embassy for the photography exhibit "In Afghanistan," the world's first oil paintings were discovered in the central province of Bamiyan, "Afghan Star" became one of Afghanistan's most-watched television shows, author Hamid G. Naweed brought attention to the beautiful poetry of Rumi and Afghan author Khaled Hosseini was named as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People."

The year 2008 also saw a milestone in Afghan sports as Rohullah Nikpai won the country's first ever Olympic medal in taekwondo during the Beijing games. The Afghan national cricket team also performed impressively in global competition, and is looking towards qualifying for the 2011 World Cup.

Business and Investment

In 2008, there were a number of notable advances in business and investment in Afghanistan.

At the World Investment Conference in Ghana in April, the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) was recognized as the world's second-best investment promotion agency. In mid-October, the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan (EPAA) won the "Best Trade Promotion Organization from a Least Developed Country" at the World Conference of Trade Promotion Organizations in the Netherlands.

In investment news, Afghanistan signed a 30-year agreement with Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCG) for the right to explore and mine the coveted Aynak copper deposit in eastern Afghanistan, a deal worth almost $4 billion and expected to bring Afghanistan $400 million in annual revenues. Mining continues to be an area of substantial potential in Afghanistan, and in September Commercial Attaché Khaleda Atta and Trade & Investment Officer Murtaza Bahrami attended the quadrennial MINExpo 2008 at the Las Vegas Convention Center - the first time Afghanistan was represented at the expo.

Another area of growth that received attention in 2008 was wireless communication. In June, the two largest cellular communications companies, Afghan Wireless and Roshan, announced they had each reached two million subscribers. Afghanistan currently has over 5.4 million cell phone users out of a population of 32 million, and more than $1 billion has been invested in cell phone infrastructure.

In order to continue promoting investment in Afghanistan, the embassy worked closely with the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce to hold the Fourth Annual U.S.-Afghan Business Matchmaking Conference in October. At the conference, Ambassador Jawad promoted investment opportunities in Afghanistan while various panels helped enlighten the audience on current economic development issues facing Afghanistan, including talks on energy, mining and minerals, finance and insuring private sector investment. There were also discussions on opportunities in key sectors including agriculture, food processing, construction and infrastructure.

Charitable Causes

The embassy remained engaged with a number of charitable causes and institutions that have projects in Afghanistan, including the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, the American University of Afghanistan, the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation, the Ayenda Foundation, Thunderbird University and others. Both Ambassador Said T. Jawad and Mrs. Shamim Jawad also remained personally engaged in many causes and charities working in Afghanistan.

Public Diplomacy

The Embassy of Afghanistan also stayed actively involved in the field of public diplomacy. Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari spoke to many different groups and institutions, including universities such as Emory and the Utah Valley University, diplomats at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, U.S. troops at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and Ft. Polk in Louisiana, and think tanks such as the RAND Corporation. He was also quoted in the media and wrote a number of articles and letters on Afghanistan for publications ranging from Asia Times to the New York Times.

The embassy continued publishing and distributing its monthly newsletter (archives for 2008 can be found here) and began compiling and distributing positive news stories in a new web feature called "In Other News." The feature focuses on the stories of hope that exist in Afghanistan, whether it be children attempting to get an education, women opening new businesses or victims of violence struggling to recover.

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