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Continuous reconstruction
Bill Cleveland
Georgetown Voice

On Monday, Georgetown University hosted the "Afghanistan-America Summit on Recovery and Reconstruction," a half-day affair in Gaston Hall that featured speakers from Afghanistan's two year-old government, several American officials, and a panel of journalists from American publications. Conspicuously absent were any Afghan college students; in January, the University brought six students to campus as a part of a similar program, and three of them promptly disappeared. But the University remains unfazed in its commitment to development in Afghanistan, and has now hosted a number of these discussions on the country's future.

Monday's speakers addressed security, economic development, private investment, women's rights, and a host of other issues whose solutions have not come easily. They cited some bleak statistics-the life expectancy in the country is 45, they still need 2,500 new schools, and the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world-and hinted at the larger problem: international interest has clearly waned. As Said Tayeb Jawad, the appointed Afghan ambassador to the United States, noted: "Further investment is needed."

Jawad's request for investment certainly has governmental support. The country offers an eight-year tax holiday to any investors, and as another minister, put it, "Afghanistan's private investment laws are among the most liberal in the region." But if any private investment flows to Afghanistan, it will only come in response to some semblance of security. So far the country has reverted to a civil war, with the central government seemingly unable to consistently control much territory outside of Kabul and a variety of warlords fighting over the northern part of the country. U.S. military forces are currently engaged in Operation Mountain Resolve, an offensive in the Nuristan and Kunar provinces.

Afghanistan's woes are compounded by the resurgent opium poppy industry. The Taliban may not have been good for much, but they were tough on drugs. Now that the Taliban's rule has been replaced by a combination of a weak central government and a variety of regional rulers, opium poppies are once again being grown in huge quantities, particularly in southern Afghanistan. According to a report released last month by the United Nations, this year Afghanistan could produce almost 4,000 tons of opium, worth approximately $2.3 billion.

Against this backdrop, United States Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans visited Afghanistan last month, after a stop through Iraq to introduce the new de-Saddamed currency, and relayed a message to the Afghan government that the Bush Administration has repeated many times: "We won't leave until the job is done."

Taken literally, this statement is true, so far. As national attention has turned wholly to the war in Iraq, our troop concentration in Afghanistan has dropped to 9,000. But our troops remain. So does the job of rebuilding Afghanistan. Our goals are to bring this country in central Asia private investment, industrial development, democracy, and feminism. All of that takes a lot of time, and is extremely expensive. According to minister of foreign affairs Abdullah Abdullah, within a few months the Afghan government will have distributed all of the money pledged by donor nations last year. The $87 billion recently approved by Congress does include over $10 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but it will be difficult to use that money to rebuild the country if it still isn't a viable state.

But President George W. Bush feels otherwise. In a speech delivered last week at the National Endowment for Democracy, he outlined his vision for global democracy through aggressive foreign policy, and in the process painted a picture of progress in Afghanistan:

"With the steady leadership of President Karzai, the people of Afghanistan are building a modern and peaceful government. Next month, 500 delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral parliament, set national elections next year and recognize Afghanistan's Muslim identity while protecting the rights of all citizens.

Afghanistan faces continuing economic and security challenges. It will face those challenges as a free and stable democracy."

There are no obvious political dividends to be reaped from declaring a second conquering and reconstruction of Afghanistan, so if Bush is already chalking it up as a win, the only thing left is to leave. An expansion of United Nations operations in the country could give the United States a window of opportunity, and UN officials have been discussing an increase in the number of peacekeeping troops. But a car bomb exploded outside the UN compound on Tuesday, doubtless making the UN question whether its personnel can safely operate in Afghanistan. It's looking as if conferences on the reconstruction of Afghanistan may become a permanent fixture at Georgetown. Next year, expect to hear more of the same.

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