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AFGHANISTAN: 'We need a stable democracy that will never again victimize the Afghan people'
Karin Palmquist


It is the war the world forgot. After months in the headlines, Afghanistan was pushed from the front pages and prime network time by another war, that in Iraq.

At the donor's conference in Berlin on March 31 - April 1 of this year, 60 delegations - including all EU, G8 and NATO states - pledged a little under $4.5 billion to Afghanistan for this fiscal year. A total of $8 billion was pledged over the next three years. Generous as these pledges are, they are a fraction of what Afghanistan needs. Afghanistan had asked for $28 billion over the next seven years.

The country has the opportunity, and the will, to once and for all pull itself out of extremism and rid its economy of drugs. When met Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, his message was two-fold: look at how far we have come, and look how easily we could slip backwards if we lose the world's support.

"We've come a long way in two short years," Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad said. "We started out from zero. There is a roadmap for Afghanistan, for building national institutions, for elections and so on. So far, everything is in line and on time. We just adopted a new constitution on January 4, which is one of the most enlightened constitutions in the region, giving 25 percent of the seats in parliament to women. About 5.4 million children are now back in school, 35 percent of which are girls. There are now 370 periodicals published monthly in Afghanistan. A large part of those periodicals are published by women for women. The women in Afghanistan are the most liberal, because they know [if the Taliban were to return] they would be the first victims. The next major step for us is to prepare for the upcoming elections."

Afghanistan's top electoral official announced on July 9 that the presidential election will be held on October 9. The parliamentary election scheduled to be held at the same time as the presidential election was put off until April or May of next year.

Orchestrating an election -- the first direct election in the country's history - in a place where all infrastructure was virtually wiped out is a huge task, but the ambassador says, "The process is going well. We are registering 200,000 new voters per day. Out of eight million eligible voters, 5.8 million Afghanis have registered to vote; 38.2 percent of those registered to vote are women. This is a tremendous achievement."

The share of females amongst candidates running for office is between 12 and 15 percent. One of the presidential candidates is a woman.

Perhaps even more daunting was the task of introducing a new currency.

"It was one of the major accomplishments of the Afghan government," the ambassador said. "We replaced the old currency with a new national currency. For US$1 you got 58,000 of the old currency. Now the exchange rate is 50 Afghanis to US$1 and we have managed to keep inflation under control. Seventeen trillion of the old currency was collected over a period of three months, without one single security incident."

This is remarkable indeed, given the country's lacking road system. The money was transported from remote parts of the country by helicopter, sometimes even on donkey back.

Those are the achievements. Then there is the question of how the country will be able to continue to make progress.

"There is a consensus in the international community for helping Afghanistan. The support is strong for Afghanistan in the United States and Europe. The division comes when you talk about how much and how fast," the ambassador said.

At the NATO summit in Istanbul in June, France angered some of its NATO allies by putting in a veto against further NATO deployment in Afghanistan.

"A total of 29 countries are helping in Afghanistan through the Operation Enduring Freedom and through International Security Assistance Force [ISAF], which is in charge of the peacekeeping in Afghanistan. We believe an additional 3,500 NATO soldiers would be sufficient, provided they were deployed fast. It is very crucial to have these soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban is an organized terror organization. They have been defeated, but we still face challenges posed by the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. In addition to the threat posed to Afghan society, increasingly we also face challenges that are the result of the trafficking of narcotics. Criminals benefit from the lawlessness and are trying to undermine the stability in Afghanistan. Some warlords and local strongmen who see the establishment of the rule of law in Afghanistan as a threat are trying to cause problems for the Security Council.

"More and more [these groups] are coming into the mainstream. President Karzai's goal is to provide a chance for every Afghan to participate in the new Afghanistan, which is about peace and reconciliation. The president has chosen a conciliatory approach," the ambassador said.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai is sometimes said to lack support outside the capital of Kabul. The ambassador said the government's ability to deliver services to all parts of the country is limited, which undoubtedly leaves some regions feeling sidelined, but he remains confident President Karzai will win the presidential election.

"The process of building national institutions such as a national police force and a national army takes time. We can only stand on our own two feet if we build up our national institutions. This is why we have asked the international community to help us develop our army. Security services now provided by the international community could be provided by the Afghans themselves, at a much lower price. At present we have an army of 10,000 men. We need to bring that number up to 60,000," the ambassador said.

Further, "the police and the judiciary system need to be reformed. We need to build a civil system. We need to improve logistics. We're lacking in human capital."

"Our biggest hope is the international community," the ambassador said. "We are grateful for the assistance, but it does not match the president's and the people's needs and wants. The aid we have received we have consumed.

"Afghanistan is the main front in the war against terrorism. The world has left the job half-done. After the war with the Soviet Union, the world was guilty of leaving Afghanistan [to its fate.] We understand that there are crisis in other parts of the world, and that resources are limited and quickly absorbed. But the fact that we are on the right track, that we seem to be doing well, is working against us. The danger of crisis in Afghanistan is imminent.

"We need to make sure the drug economy does not take over the legal economy. The threat of narcotics is a common one. There is a clear connection between drugs, terror and lawlessness. It is a global menace that needs a global solution."

"Terrorism is a new phenomenon to Afghanistan," the ambassador continued. "The Afghanis were never extremists. The Taliban were overthrown by only 400 American Special Forces. The Taliban are alien to Afghan culture. That's why they were defeated so fast."

"We need to create a stable democracy that will never again victimize the Afghan people," the ambassador concluded.

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