Afghanistan's New Parliament Sworn In

Afghanistan's first popularly elected parliament in more than 30 years was sworn in Monday. Renee Montagne talks with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan today one day after his surprise eight-hour stop in Iraq. He was on hand as the country's first elected parliament in more than 30 years was sworn in. Warlords, tribal leaders, former refugees and women make up the 249-seat body. Joining me on the line from Kabul is US Ambassador Ronald Neumann.

Welcome.

Ambassador RONALD NEUMANN (Afghanistan): Thank you. Nice to talk to you again.

MONTAGNE: Give us, if you would, a sense of the moment here. I imagine there was a lot of pageantry.

Amb. NEUMANN: I wouldn't say it was so--more the pageantry, it's a poor country and the parliament is a simple building. The real color was the people who were there. You had every variety of Afghan tribal headdress. You had long beards. You had young women. You had people in business suits. You had people in traditional clothes. You had people with henna-dyed beards. So it was really the face of Afghanistan sitting there.

MONTAGNE: Your father was ambassador to Afghanistan in the 1970s and you visited there yourself. Do you have any thoughts about how the country might have come full circle?

Amb. NEUMANN: It is making a circle. It is certainly not back to a full circle, neither in repairing the destruction of years of war, nor in pulling back fully together the body politic. But I think the important thing about today was the number of people who were formerly fighting with each other and yet all of them were there together dedicating themselves to work in a new parliament. And that really is pretty impressive.

MONTAGNE: And there were women?

Amb. NEUMANN: I think the two things about the women that are very significant. One is that the election law required a percentage of women so that you have women elected from every province in Afghanistan, in some cases with lower votes filling the required seats. But I think what's really impressive is that in a number of cases, the women were top vote getters in their provinces, including some very outspoken reformers, which means that they got votes from men as well as from women. And I think that also shows that there's developing a new constituency in Afghanistan that is not just an ethnic guard, militia leaders constituency.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about those warlords and the smattering of former Taliban now in the parliament. What does this say about who's going to be running the country now?

Amb. NEUMANN: I think what it says is that to have a stable Afghanistan there has to be a coming together of all these different groups. You've got 25 years of bloodshed. Some of the warlords or militia leaders or former commanders, as they call them out here, have some dark deeds in their past. Some of them are also people that their communities regard as the only people who protected them from far worse abuses from the Taliban or from the communists.

I think the fundamental point is there is not some separate reservoir of Afghans untouched by the past who can take power. A stable country is going to have to come out of pulling all these people together to work on their disagreements and on their aspirations in a parliamentary way, in a political way and not with a gun.

MONTAGNE: When you talk about warlords, those with very dark deeds--I mean, dark deeds as in deaths of hundreds, sometimes thousands, in few of these cases--is this damaging to the reputation of the parliament of the government?

Amb. NEUMANN: This is a very open issue among Afghans themselves. They have recently agreed to what's called a transitional justice plan that holds open the possibility of criminal trials for people with misdeeds. At the same time, I think one has to recognize that no modern civil war has been without its measure of violent deeds, and I think if you're too purist in your approach or perhaps too urgent is more the question, you may destroy everything else. So the Afghans themselves I think are going to have to play the major role in finding that balance.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Amb. NEUMANN: You're quite welcome.

MONTAGNE: Ronald Neumann is the American ambassador to Afghanistan speaking to us from Kabul about the new parliament that has just been sworn in.

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