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Serving his country from afar;
Edward Epstein
The San Francisco Chronicle

In the saga of Said Tayeb Jawad's forced exile and sudden return to his homeland and his current posting as ambassador on Washington's leafy Embassy Row you can see the wild roller coaster ride of the last quarter century of Afghanistan's history.

As a 23-year-old law school graduate from a well-to-do family, Jawad fled Afghanistan in 1980 in the wake of the Soviet invasion. He ended up in the Bay Area, where he continued his schooling, became a U.S. citizen, landed a good job and settled into a comfortable life with his wife and son in the Oakland hills.

Then came the grisly events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan aimed at ousting the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies. Jawad felt compelled like many other Afghan emigres to help his homeland and its new president, Hamid Karzai.

With no previous government experience, Jawad was pressed into service first as the president's press secretary, then as chief of staff and now as the holder of Afghanistan's most important overseas post: ambassador to the United States, the Karzai government's main patron and protector.

Jawad says his mission in Washington is threefold. "One is to echo the really good news about Afghanistan's reconstruction and the war against terrorism," he said. The second is to get more private investment in the country, an uphill struggle as long as there are reports of terrorist attacks and warlordism.

The third is to keep working on his fellow Afghan Americans to keep them involved in the country's rebirth and future hopes for stability.

The new job, which Jawad took up in December, is probably the most personally wrenching of all the posts he has filled for Karzai in the whirlwind of the past two years.

Under international law, the 46-year-old Jawad had to give up his U.S. citizenship, at least temporarily, to become ambassador. His wife, Shamim Jawad, and their son Iman, 14, had stayed behind in Oakland while he went to Kabul and hitched their star to Karzai.

Shamim Jawad, a financial consultant for the giant TIAA-CREF mutual fund company, sold their home with its view of the Golden Gate Bridge in November and moved with Iman to an imposing mansion in Washington's swank Kalorama neighborhood, which is still undergoing remodeling after years of sitting empty while Afghanistan's wild situation was sorted out.

"It was a hard decision to sell our home," the ambassador said in his vast and still sparsely decorated office. "And it was a hard decision to give up my citizenship. But it was a technical decision because in this way I could serve my country and U.S. interests better.

"The good news is that U.S. and Afghan interests coincide. We are fighting against terror and tyranny," he said as an attendant brought tea to go with Afghan pistachios and sweets served for guests.

The United States provides about $1.2 billion a year in official foreign aid, and scores of nonprofits are working in Afghanistan on projects involving education, health, women's rights and economic development. The country also remains at the fore of President Bush's war against terrorism, and the multinational coalition operating in Afghanistan expects to spend about $10 billion there this year.

U.S. forces have just launched Operation Mountain Storm, a spring campaign in the southern and eastern stretches of the California-size nation that reportedly has capturing Osama bin Laden as one of its objectives.

Since arriving in Washington, the Jawads have been on a whirlwind schedule. The ambassador, who says his workday starts at 6 a.m. with calls halfway around the world in Kabul, has been trying to meet with as many members of Congress as possible, from both parties, to keep intact their support for Afghanistan.

Jawad, who speaks English, German, French and two of his tribal nation's main tongues, Pashto and Dari, will meet with Karzai in Berlin at the end of March for an international donors' conference designed to garner billions of dollars more in pledges for Afghan reconstruction.

He has also seen off a delegation of U.S. businesses, including representatives of Motorola and Coca-Cola, to Afghanistan, despite the dicey security situation in most of the country, and he works regularly with other Afghan Americans who so far have been the biggest foreign investors in the nation's shattered economy.

Shamim Jawad is active in women's issues, a primary focus of the Karzai and Bush administrations since the Taliban forced women from any role in the workplace or schools. A few million girls are now in school.

Carefully mirroring her husband's bipartisan approach, Shamim recently hosted Washington screenings of the acclaimed Afghan movie "Osama," the story of an Afghan girl who poses as a boy to get work so she can help support her family. One showing was co-hosted by first lady Laura Bush, the other by Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The ambassador seems aware that by giving up his citizenship he has significantly deepened his commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan. He'll stay in Washington, or anywhere else Karzai needs him, "as long as the president deems it necessary," he said.

But when needs to get away, there's still the Bay Area. His parents live in Concord, and there are other relatives in the area always willing to welcome him home.

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