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News and Views

A Conversation with Afghanistan's U.S. Ambassador


By John Hockenberry, Celeste Headlee

Guest: Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad

Thursday, August 13 2009

Shortly after taking office, President Obama made the war in Afghanistan a high military priority when he authorized 21,000 additional troops to be sent to the region. This move returned to center stage what had long been termed "the forgotten war." Today, as the presidential election in Afghanistan nears, the Taliban makes headlines, and the American troop presence grows, the world is paying close attention. To assess the situation in the region and to take stock of U.S.-Afghan relations, The Takeaway is joined by

Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan ambassador to the United States.

      "I think eradication is not effective because we have to prevent cultivation. Once   the poppy is cultivated it’s too late. If you eradicate you push the farmers into the hands of the terrorists and the Taliban. If you don’t, the money will feed the terrorists and the Taliban. And in order to prevent cultivation you have to give an alternative to the farmers." – Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad


Part I of The Takeaway’s conversation with the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Said Tayed Jawad.

John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: Helping us to understand what is transpiring in Afghanistan leading up to the elections, we are joined now by Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad. He’s the Afghan Ambassador to the United States. He joins us from Washington. Good morning, Ambassador.

Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad: Good morning, sir.

John Hockenberry : It is correct to say that President Hamid Karzai is the frontrunner, yes?

Ambassador Jawad: Yes. The indications are that he will acquire 45% of the vote if you held the election today in Afghanistan.

John Hockenberry : Now that would mean a run off? Or would that mean he would win outright?

Ambassador Jawad: That would mean a run off, because the Afghan constitution requires an absolute majority, meaning 50% of the vote or more.

John Hockenberry : Now isn’t that a sense of failure on the part of Karzai? To get an absolute majority during all that’s happened in his previous administration?

Ambassador Jawad: No I think this is a clear sign of success. If you could imagine in a post-conflict country where we are conducting an active war against the terrorists and Taliban and other elements where a lot of the expectations of the Afghan people could have not been met because of a shortage of resources and man power. If the president is able to acquire more than 45% of the vote, this is a clear indication. And keep in mind that there are 40 other people who are actually dividing the remaining votes among themselves.

John Hockenberry : React to a headline, if you don’t mind. Our partners, The New York Times, reported in a recent headline that the Afghan leader courts the “warlord vote”. And from your president’s running mate straight through to reported deals between other warlords around the country, is this a way of projecting credibility, especially since the Obama administration has suggested that maybe Karzai should distance himself from the warlords?

Ambassador Jawad: We should look at the history of the past seven years of Afghanistan. The warlords, the undesirable element in the Afghan society and government, were courted not only by the Afghan government, but by our friends internationally. So if there is a plan to sideline the undesirable element, the warlords and others, that burden should be shared by the Afghan government and our friends equally. Most of these warlords provided their services to our international friends when they came into assist Afghanistan in their fight against the Taliban. A lot of them are still working with the international community. So if you pick only one undesirable element because he is in the camp of the president and request the president to distance himself from that individual, it’s unfair. We have to have a partnership, a clear understanding, and a systematic approach on sidelining all of them.

Celeste Headlee for The Takeaway: Ambassador, this is Celeste Headlee. There are questions though about Karzai’s connection to some sketchy election practices. I read an article today where there’s one tribal elder saying that he’s being paid to purchase voter registration cards. And he claims that it’s Karzai’s own brother that’s leading the organization to buy votes. And there are a lot of concerns about the democratic process in this election as it goes forward.

Ambassador Jawad: Well, the concerns, if they are legitimate, we should all work to make sure they are not implemented. We should empower the Afghan election further, we should work with them more closely, to make sure there is no irregularity. If the initial polls, and there are a number of them, indicate that President Karzai has a wide margin over any other candidate, there is no reason for him to take any measure to undermine the credibility of the voting process in Afghanistan. If he is winning why would there be a need for him to rig the vote? As you have seen in the polls he has at least a 20% margin over the next running mate in Afghanistan. But all of us should work hard to make sure that this election is transparent. And if there are concerns I think they should be addressed to the election commission to our friends in the international community. There will be 600 monitors in Afghanistan. And even if some person is able to buy a few voting cards, but only one person will be able to vote once, no more than that.

John Hockenberry : Ambassador, I don’t know whether to admire or dispute your logic that if Karzai wins it is proof that he didn’t need to buy the election. The fact that you are winning in the polling isn’t necessarily an argument that you aren’t buying votes.

Ambassador Jawad: No, the point is that there could be all kind of speculations, statements from individuals. But there is a process in Afghanistan. There is an election commission. There is a toll free number that people can call and register a complaint. But at the same time it is not very difficult for the opponents of President Karzai to come up with these kinds of statements. But the point being there are processes in place both by the Afghan election commission, by UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], by our friends to address these issues. And as I said if the polls indicate a wide lead by the president he will have a vested interest to make sure this process is very transparent.

John Hockenberry : Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, ambassador to the United States, before we go, do you support increased U.S. troops as a continuation of the surge? We’ve already seen 21,000 more troops entering Afghanistan.

Ambassador Jawad: The current composition of the security forces in Afghanistan combines U.S. and Afghan security forces is not adequate to overcome the current security challenges. The long term sustainable solution is to build the capacity of the Afghan police force and the army. That will take time. In order to overcome the short- term obstacles, we do need additional U.S. troops.

John Hockenberry : Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan ambassador to the United States, thanks so much for joining us. Talking about the need for more troops in Afghanistan and the set up for the election next week.

Ambassador Jawad: My pleasure.

Part II of The Takeaway’s conversation with the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Said Tayed Jawad.

John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: Joining us to talk about the significance of the heroin trade and the opium crop inside Afghanistan is Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan Ambassador to the United States. And he joins us this morning from Washington. Good morning, Ambassador.

Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad: Good morning, sir.

John Hockenberry : How important a domestic issue is controlling the heroin trade and the opium crop in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Jawad: It is the most important issue for the Afghan people, the Afghan government. The effect of narcotics not only decays the political system in Afghanistan, it effects the health and well being of many Afghans.

John Hockenberry : But what is the plan to do that? The New York Times has charged there’s widespread cooperation among warlords within Afghanistan and the president. And you have even said on other occasions that it’s not just the Afghan government that cooperates with the warlords, there are others, including the U.S. government, I presume. How can the drug trade be curtailed if there maintains a sense of cooperation with warlords in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Jawad: The drug trade is directly connected to the Taliban and terrorism. I feel that in today’s Afghanistan, six provinces in Afghanistan produce 90% of the opium. And these are the six provinces in the south where most of the fighting is taking place. These are the provinces where the government of Afghanistan is not in full control. Especially, Helmand province, which heavy fighting is taking place right now lead by the U.S. Army – uh, Navy. And we have more than 7,000 British troops helping us out in our crucial fight in Helmand – produces 60% of opium. So, if we are able to establish the rule of law and the control of the government in the provinces then the issue of narcotics will be resolved. We don’t have the problem of narcotics in northern Afghanistan and central Afghanistan where the Afghan government is in control. In the past, too much emphasis was on the reallocation of poppy fields. What we are working on now — and the U.S. is putting a lot of emphasis — to emphasize interdiction and also providing alternative livelihoods to the farmers.

Celeste Headlee for The Takeaway: The United States officials have said that about 80 million dollars a year goes from the drug trade to fund terrorists and insurgent groups. And they’ve also said that the fight against the terrorist organizations is totally separate than the fight against the drug trade. And I’m wondering, first of all, what do you think about that number – 80 million dollars a year – is that accurate? And, two, are we talking about two separate fights?

Ambassador Jawad: 80 million is a conservative estimate. It could be more than that. We think one third of the terrorists and the Taliban are financed from the proceeds of narcotics in Afghanistan. I think we should not make a distinction between terrorists and narco-traffic. Narco-traffic as in narcotics in Afghanistan. The reason that we fell behind in the battle against narcotics in the past seven years was the fight against narcotics was not part of the mandate of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. If the proceeds of narcotics then we should — all of us — we should fight narcotics as hard as we are fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

John Hockenberry : Ambassador Jawad, what are the alternatives from the perspective of the people making the money from the opium trade? What are alternatives? I mean you mention interdiction. You say eradication hasn’t worked. But they’re going to have to grow something.

Ambassador Jawad: Absolutely right. I think eradication is not effective because we have to prevent cultivation. Once the poppy is cultivated it’s too late. If you eradicate you push the farmers into the hands of the terrorists and the Taliban. If you don’t, the money will feed the terrorists and the Taliban. And in order to prevent cultivation you have to give an alternative to the farmers. That alternative could be a new form of crop, but in most cases it is to add value to the existing crop. For instance, in Kandahar, if a farmer is growing pomegranate or grapes, what needs to be done is investment in processing that grape or pomegranate into juice or jam or packaging it properly so we can export it to larger markets in the Gulf countries or Europe, somewhere where the farmer will get more value out of this crop. It’s basically adding value to the existing crop by investing more into processing facilities.

John Hockenberry : But who is going to invest in Afghanistan when its difficult for the Karzai government to guarantee that those investments wont be siphoned off into the kinds of corrupt practices that have plagued the governments so far?

Ambassador Jawad: Most of the investments are done by the private sector. The private sector has nothing to do with the government. And most of the investments are done right now by NGOs and contractors of the international community. That is neither part of the government nor is the government of Afghanistan is truly involved in the private sector. Our constitution requires, actually, a market economy, so the government is trying hard to stay away from intervention in the market. These investments need to be primarily by the private sector but somehow supported by loans and guarantees and access to credit by our friends.

John Hockenberry : But, for whatever reason, the investment isn't happening. You say the government isn't involved. OK, it’s a private sector initiative, why isn't it happening then? There must be a reason. Either its security or corruption.

Ambassador Jawad: No, it is security in most cases. Of course, it’s security. If you have an opportunity to be in a factory in a neighboring country where electricity is readily available; the roads are in better shape. So why would you invest in such a difficult place like Kandahar and Helmut? And that’s why there is a need, actually to support these kind of investments by providing easy credit for instance to the private sector, or improving infrastructure such as roads or airports and other, so that these products could get out from the farm to these more lucrative markets much faster.

John Hockenberry : Again, which leads back to the issue of security. It’s a challenging chicken-and-egg argument to improve the situation in those provinces. Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan Ambassador to the United States, thanks so much for joining us.

Ambassador Jawad: My pleasure, thank you.


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