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Investing in Afghanistan falls short: Afghan ambassador talks of the need for more money
Ed Koch
Las Vegas Sun

Wall Street plans to invest $20 billion in developments on the Las Vegas Strip over the next five years. For roughly that sum, war-torn Afghanistan could build an economy and stabilize a country where rising violence threatens U.S. interests, a senior Afghan official said Monday.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, said in an interview with the Sun editorial board that $27 billion in foreign aid over five years would be enough to build roads and power plants and other systems. But Afghanistan currently gets just $2.4 billion a year in international assistance, including just $1 billion from the United States.

The aid is vital if Afghanistan is to build an infrastructure to attract a high level of foreign investment, Jawad said. Without it, the economy will continue to suffer and the nation will risk continued instability.

Compared to amount of money flowing to Iraq, $27 billion doesn't seem remarkable. The United States is spending hundreds of billions of dollars for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq. President Bush has approved $19.8 billion in emergency aid to rebuild levees and provide housing to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

Jawad was in Las Vegas to speak to the Las Vegas World Affairs Council, which hosted his visit. He came to the Sun before delivering his speech.

In the interview, he was careful not to complain about the level of foreign assistance. His main theme was one of hope and progress. He lauded the U.S. efforts in his country and said American troops enjoyed broad support, despite U.S. attacks on terrorist hideouts that have claimed scores of civilian lives.

"Afghanistan values its partnership with the U.S.," he said. "We are trying to build bridges with the international community and increase global security."

But when pressed about the level of aid, he paused and chose his words carefully: "If we get the money to rebuild in a fast way, we can do it sooner, but if we get it in smaller portions the (United States) commitment will take longer."

Jawad said that while sentimental support for Afghanistan is strong on Capitol Hill, the aid is "not always enough."

"We have a lot of challenges, yet we have a lack of capital and a lack of resources," Jawad said.

Afghanistan still lacks infrastructure, including roads and power. Just 6 percent of the country's 25 million people have access to electricity.

But there has been progress, Jawad said. Private-sector money from 3,000 investment projects has built two five-star hotels in Kabul and provided more than a million people with cell phones, he said.

Still, Afghanistan remains the world's sixth poorest country.

In addition to the slow flow of reconstruction money, terrorists are bombing and burning mosques, clinics and schools in five provinces that border Pakistan, where the Taliban has refuge.

"In the last two months there has been a strong spike in terrorist actions," Jawad said.

During his speech at the Four Seasons, Jawad painted a more disturbing picture:

"In Uruzgan ¦ a district that covers hundreds of square miles, we have 10 to 15 police officers, all poorly trained, ill-equipped, unpaid for months, with old and outdated light weapons and two clips of ammunition. They are very vulnerable."

Jawad said President Hamid Karzai's "Clear, Hold and Build Strategy" is being carried out to defeat the Taliban and thwart the illicit narcotics trade that blossoms from the poppies that are grown in Afghanistan's farming community.

The plan calls for clearing the country side of terrorists with large scale attacks, holding the region with local and international forces and building projects to give the people hope their lives will improve.

The success of that program appears to hinge on the planned increase of NATO troops from 9,000 to 21,000 by November. To date, 36 countries have troops in Afghanistan and 41 countries are helping to train and equip its national army.

More than 60 countries are helping to rebuild Afghanistan, which was devastated by its war with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s and by the U.S.-led forces hunting down the Taliban following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Jawad called stemming the drug trade "our highest priority."

"There is no quick fix or silver bullet solution for the international problem of narcotics in Afghanistan," Jawad said, noting that 143 metric tons of opium and 35.5 metric tons of heroin were seized and destroyed by the government last year.

Politically, the country continues to grow stronger, Jawad said, noting that there was an 86 percent turnout for the presidential election.

Afghanistan, he said, also has a democratic, liberal constitution, a new parliament and women are becoming empowered. Women make up about 27 percent of Afghanistan's Parliament.

Education is improving too, Jawad said, noting in the Sun interview that 6 million children have returned to school. But just 29 percent of those schools have roofs and children have to share textbooks in classrooms with 50 or more kids per teacher.

The lack of qualified people “ "human capital," Jawad calls it - remains a major stumbling block on the road to recovery. And there is a fear the United States will leave before Afghanistan is ready to stand on its own.

That, Jawad said, would be a setback for all freedom-loving people.

"If you fail to win the war in Afghanistan," Jawad said, "you will fail to win the war on terrorism."

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