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Ambassador shares Afghans' greatest fear
By Sally Connell
The Tribune

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States told a crowd of 200 at Cal Poly on Thursday that Afghans fear any talk of the United States leaving the country prematurely.

Said Tayeb Jawad said the country clearly remembers its descent into a Taliban-led world of extremism after the United States disengaged from Afghanistan at the end of the Soviet occupation.

He told the crowd of Cal Poly students, faculty and area residents that the southwest Asian country needs the United States' help to improve its health care system, train its army and police and rebuild infrastructure.

"The biggest concern that Afghans have about the United States' presence in Afghanistan is that the presence might be short lived," he said during an interview before the speech.

Jawad appeared on campus at the special invitation of Maliha Zulfacar, a Cal Poly ethnic studies professor born in Afghanistan, as part of the campus' celebration of International Education Week.

"Cal Poly students really live on a big island," Zulfacar said. "But when students hear about what is going on in other parts of the world, they get concerned, they get involved."

Jawad said that women are dying in childbirth at incredible rates. Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates and the lowest life expectancies of any nation in the world.

But he also said the country has made great strides since the United States went to war in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, the country's former Islamic rulers who had strong ties to terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Jawad returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after living abroad for 20 years. He was appointed ambassador in 2003 after serving various posts in the government.

Jawad spoke about advancements made in the rights of Afghan women. He said more women are attending school and 29 percent of the Parliament members are women, but there is tremendous catching up to do.

"You can provide all the rights you want to in a constitution for women," he said. "But that won't do enough unless you provide education to the women, enable the women to have an income."

Zulfacar met with Cal Poly President Warren Baker and Jawad and asked Baker to support the idea of two English-speaking Afghan women studying engineering at Cal Poly, fulfilling their lifelong dream.

"We said we'd help to see that gets done," Baker said after Jawad's speech.

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