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Seven Questions: Saving Afghanistan
David Bosco
Foreign Policy Magazine

An emboldened Taliban could make for a bloody summer in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai’s government is struggling to fight back. NATO troops are arriving in the country’s southern badlands to help keep order. Will they be enough? FP spoke with Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, about the challenge of securing peace in a war-torn land.

FOREIGN POLICY: Is the Taliban reasserting control over parts of Afghanistan?

Said T. Jawad: We are definitely facing serious security challenges in the south. One reason is the support that the Taliban is receiving from the outside and the encouragement they are getting from the success of some terrorist activities outside Afghanistan. The terrorists are trying to see how committed and how powerful the NATO troops are. The international community has been slow in providing the Afghan government with adequate resources to provide protection to the civilians in the countryside. Narcotics play an important role in [fostering] insecurity. We are seeing clearly that in the five provinces where we are facing most security challenges, these are also the provinces where we have most of the narcotics.

FP: Are some Afghans sympathetic to the Taliban’s cause?

STJ: No. They have never been sympathetic to the ideology of the Taliban. That’s why the Taliban fell from power so quickly after the international community moved in. The problem is that the people have not seen the dividend of peace. Reconstruction—especially in some of the deprived provinces where we are facing security challenges—has hardly taken place. In some of the provinces, nothing has actually taken place. Gradually, people are becoming disillusioned or disinterested in the process [of democracy], and that’s exactly what the terrorists would like to see.

FP: Is there solid evidence of links between militants in Iraq and Afghanistan?

STJ: We do see a lot of foreign fighters in Afghanistan. A significant number of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan are foreigners. The Taliban are linked with facilities in Iraq and there have been exchanges of fighters between the two sides. This [trend] has increased in the last six or seven months. The Taliban have acquired more sophisticated explosive devices, and also their know-how has changed. Suicide bombing is a completely new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Religiously, suicide bombing was regarded as a sin, something that the teaching of Islam would not permit, and that’s why Afghans—who are really moderate Muslims—have never committed it.

FP: Is NATO up to the challenge of securing southern Afghanistan?

STJ: The Afghan government has been given assurance that NATO forces will perform as well as the U.S. [troops]. We welcome their presence. But in fighting terrorism effectively, the perception of the people is also very important. The people of Afghanistan will make up their minds about the commitment and capability of NATO when they see the [forces] in action. If NATO is coming to Afghanistan, it should come ready to fight.

FP: Is Afghanistan satisfied with the level of cooperation it is receiving from Pakistan?

STJ: We appreciate what Pakistan is doing. We consider terrorism to be a threat to [both countries] and, therefore, we expect sincere cooperation on behalf of Pakistan. Pakistan could do a lot more in controlling the infiltration of Taliban into Afghanistan, shutting down some of the terrorist training grounds, and making it [more] difficult for the Taliban leadership—who are living semi-openly in Pakistan—to operate out of Pakistan.

FP: How would you assess the capability of Afghan security forces?

STJ: The [Afghan National Army] is doing well. The challenge we are facing is with the Afghan national police force. While its [ranks] have increased substantially, its quality is very poor. Training is falling short and they lack equipment, including basics such as uniforms and shoes. When you look at the statistics of police officers killed, it’s very tragic. These people are really committed and they’re trying to defend their country, their homes, their villages. But they are completely exposed. They don’t have armored vehicles, they have almost no protection…most of them are using old AK-47s that were collected as part of the demobilization campaign. We have instances where terrorists [killed police at] point blank because their guns jammed.

FP: President Hamid Karzai has criticized U.S. military tactics that endanger civilians. How is his relationship with U.S. military commanders?

STJ: The common objective is to win the war against terror. You can win it only through the support of the population. As a soldier, when you fight a difficult and dangerous war, you may take actions that will damage your mission and your image. We are trying to work with the United States and their coalition partners to ask them to be more sensitive on cultural issues. In military operations, in order to avoid mistakes, it’s often better to take local people with you when you conduct operations. Keeping the goodwill of the people and ensuring that there won’t be unnecessary damage to their homes and villages is an important objective. We cannot win the war if [America] loses the population.

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