Jawad: 18 Months Enough Time To Train Forces

Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. Said Jawad says his country's security forces will be ready when American troops start withdrawing. President Obama says U.S. troops could begin leaving Afghanistan in 18 months. Jawad also tells Renee Montagne that his government is serious about rooting out corruption.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Karzai government in Kabul has welcomed the build-up of American troops. President Hamid Karzai says his country's own forces are not yet up to the job of securing the country. Thousands more will be trained as part of the new American strategy. For more, I sat down at the Afghanistan embassy with the ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad.

MONTAGNE: Does your government think that 18 months is long enough to train enough security forces in Afghanistan to begin taking over the security of Afghanistan?

Mr. SAID JAWAD (Afghan Ambassador to the United States): Yes. Even before the strategy was announced, President Karzai indicated that we will take the lead of the military operations in three years, and in five years we are ready to take the full responsibility of the security in Afghanistan. Today we are in charge of the security of Kabul, which is the largest province in Afghanistan. Almost one-fourth of the Afghanistan population live in Kabul.

MONTAGNE: Well, there will be people listening who will be hearing news over the last months of some pretty terrible attacks in Kabul, who will be thinking if the government's responsible for the security it's not doing a very good job.

Mr. JAWAD: Most of the attacks are in the form of a terrorist attack, unfortunately. Those will take some time to prevent. The struggle will be much longer than the 18-months. We - what we are looking for is to build our capacity gradually, and we are ready for that.

MONTAGNE: If NATO forces manage to clear and hold vast areas that are now problematic, controlled by the Taliban - one for an example, Kandahar - what is the first thing the Kabul government would do to give the people a stake in the government?

Mr. JAWAD: Depending on the provinces, if we speak about the city of Kandahar, the government in the city of Kandahar is fully functional, actually. But if you travel outside the city in remote districts, then you are facing the issue of either weak governance or in certain districts it's complete absence of the governance.

MONTAGNE: Or there's the shadow government that's the Taliban government.

Mr. JAWAD: That's true.

MONTAGNE: Providing better services - courts, a certain amount of justice.

Mr. JAWAD: I don't know if you can all this better services. The court is usually a mullah sitting under a tree and chopping people's hand. There's certain degree of order but there is also order in a graveyard. There we need to reestablish the rate of the government. Our plan will vary. So if it is in remote areas, we have to assure a food security and more importantly to have a functioning police force in there. After that will come a court system, clinics, schools.

MONTAGNE: It's fair to say that most Americans weren't paying attention to corruption in Afghanistan until this election. This election brought headlines about vote rigging, vote stealing and the like. Does the Karzai government and President Karzai understand how much damage has been done to public perception of Afghanistan here in America?

Mr. JAWAD: Yes, they do, and also they've heard very clearly the message about the need to improve governance and to fight corruption in Afghanistan. And in order to fight corruption effectively you need three factors. One is strong political will. President Karzai know that this is last term and this is his legacy for Afghanistan.

The second factor that's crucial to fight corruption is changing laws. To give you an example: high-ranking officials in Afghanistan are required to register their properties and assets.

MONTAGNE: Because that has been a big issue - some officials taking over land that doesn't belong to them.

Mr. JAWAD: Right. So this is a constitutional requirement. But at the same time, the penal code does not say what if they don't comply or what if they lie. So the law has to be completed.

And the other part is to build the necessary institutions. But all of that is taking place when we are under pressure. We have a number of high-ranking government officials, including ministers around the investigations, more than 600 arrested for abusing public fund or corruption.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Ambassador, what is for Afghanistan, in your opinion, the most important thing that the international community can do?

Mr. JAWAD: I refer your question back to the Afghan people. In a recent survey by Asia Foundation, the Afghan people have said that the most important problem for them is, first, security, second, unemployment, third, corruption. First and foremost, demand�

MONTAGNE: You don't think corruption's right at the top? It seems a lot�

Mr. JAWAD: No, no.

MONTAGNE: �of people talk about that.

Mr. JAWAD: Yes, they do, but 39 percent consider security a major problem and 18 percent consider corruption a major problem in their life. We will keep the population with us if we improve their safety and security for a new generation of Afghans.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Jawad, thank you very much.

Mr. JAWAD: As always, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Said Jawad with us yesterday at the Afghanistan embassy in Washington.

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