A Conversation with the Afghan Ambassador

Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United State, Said Jawad, talks with Ed Gordon about the return of the Taliban and a new, U.S.-led military effort to quell a violent insurgency.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. I'm sitting in for Ed Gordon.

President Bush wrapped up a whirlwind trip to Iraq yesterday. While there, he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to celebrate the completion of al-Maliki's cabinet. Back at the White House, the president insisted the U.S. still has a major role to play in Iraq's future.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: By helping this new government succeed, we will be closer to completing our mission; and the mission is to develop a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and a country that is an ally in the war on terror.

CHIDEYA: Though the president was talking about Iraq, his words easily described the situation in Afghanistan. Overshadowed by Iraq, Afghanistan has found itself in quiet crisis. The Taliban is regrouping; its attacks against coalition troops are building. More than 20 civilians died in rioting last month, after a U.S. military truck careened out of control in Kabul.

As a result, the U.S. is stepping up its presence and involvement in Afghanistan. NPR's Ed Gordon talked with Ed Gordon's Ambassador to the United States Said Jawad. Jawad sees similarities between his country's situation and Iraq's, but he insists the differences are more important.

Ambassador SAID JAWAD (Afghan Ambassador to the United States): Afghanistan is not Iraq. The achievement, the challenges in Afghanistan are different. Afghanistan was the first front in the war against terror. I think there is a lot of sympathy and consensus in the international community on the need to assist Afghanistan. No, I don't think that Afghanistan is being neglected.

ED GORDON, host:

How concerned are you about the growing sense of violence in the country?

Ambassador JAWAD: We do experience a spike in the terrorist activities in Afghanistan, and we are concerned to a certain degree. We see the deterioration of the security conditions in certain provinces - to be exact in five provinces in the south. And the reason for that is three-fold. One is the transition to NATO forces, the terrorists, the Taliban are trying to test that commitment and the capability of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. The second reason is that the international community has still been slow in providing the Afghan government with adequate resources to be able to protect the Afghans and to provide services all over the country.

And the third reason is that, unfortunately, the terrorists and the Taliban are still able to get funding and support from outside Afghanistan.

GORDON: Yet, there seems to be - at least I'm told - a growing sense of anti-American sentiment among the people, this sense of its been years now. Are we looking at, quote, “occupation.”

Ambassador JAWAD: There is a certain degree of frustration, there is no doubt, because all Afghans have not benefited from the dividend of peace yet. But there is certainly no anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan. But there is certainly no anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, because people of Afghanistan know exactly that rebuilding Afghanistan will not be possible without the partnership and the support of the international community.

People do complain. People would like to see an improvement in their daily life. But they are not asking for the United States to leave. They are asking for a strong partnership with the United States. They are asking for a better commitment, more efficiency in the use of funds, and also better governance on our part. If you are referring specifically to the riot that took place in Kabul a few days ago, it was mainly hijacked by criminals, by (unintelligible) and by groups with political motivations. And these kinds of incidents take place in many other parts of the world and truly does not show the general sentiment of the population.

GORDON: You talk about the support of the people. There is question as to whether or not President Hamid Karzai believes that he is receiving the kind of support that he should from the Bush administration, whether it's become a bit more tenuous than it was in the beginning of all of this. Can you give us a sense of how the president is feeling toward the Bush administration?

Ambassador JAWAD: No, we are grateful for the support that is being provided for Afghanistan, but the security situation has deteriorated recently. And, therefore, there is a need to look actually carefully and provide some urgent assistance that the Afghan government is asking. Specifically, we are asking for support to strengthen the capability of our National Police Force and to strengthen our capability to provide for better governance at the district level, to be present at the district level to prevent terrorist activities.

I think there is, more or less, a question of adjusting some of the assistance. We understand that there are other problems, there are other crises going on in the world, but we are grateful for what's been provides to Afghanistan so far.

GORDON: Mr. Ambassador, we talk about the involvement of the United States and the buildup of the military. Today, we're seeing Operation Mountain Thrust, which involves Americans, British, Canadians and Afghan troops in the fight against the insurgents of the Taliban. Talk to me about the idea that we are going to have to see continued bloodshed over the course of the next year or so many say, perhaps even longer, before we can see real stability in the country.

Ambassador JAWAD: Well, after the regrouping of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the fact that they are moving around right now in five provinces in large number, there is a need to start a large scale military operation, which is underway. It has started actually already in some provinces, and it will move on this week to certain areas in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand Provinces. We will certainly see some hard summer ahead of us. There will be bloodshed. The fight against terror, globally, continues. And Taliban are determined to cause trouble for us in Afghanistan; and we are determined, and so is the international community, to make sure that peace and stability return to Afghanistan.

We prefer peaceful ways. We would like to see consensus and integrate all political forces in the political process in Afghanistan. But when terrorists are killing our clergies, when they are burning down our schools, when they are bombing our clinics, there is no other option but to confront them militarily. And that military operation is a combined effort of Afghan security forces, the United States coalition forces and NATO; and I think will improve significantly the security in Afghanistan, provided that we have adequate resources to enable our police forces to move in after the terrorists are chased out from the villages.

GORDON: Isn't that the large question, the idea that we've been hearing for years, and particularly over the course of the last 10 months or so, a reduction of U.S. troops being replaced with NATO troops. And there is a concern that NATO may not be able to provide the same type of military might that the United States does. Therefore - that juxtaposed with the spike in violence we're seeing from the Taliban may find you taking two steps backwards rather than forward.

Ambassador JAWAD: This is a very good question. I think NATO has the military might to be an important force in Afghanistan. I think the mission in Afghanistan is very crucial for NATO. NATO cannot fail this mission, because the important war going on in the world today is the war against terror. And if NATO cannot fight this war or does not want to fight this war, then there will be a serious question about the use of NATO.

There are some doubts about the political will of some of the NATO members to stay committed and conduct the war in a more resolute way. We have been assured - we, as the Afghan government - that NATO countries will be committed and they have removed the so-called national caveat that reduces some of the efficiencies of their operations. But the Afghan people, you are right, still have their doubts, and I think the NATO countries should prove on the ground that they are as committed and as capable as the U.S. forces when it comes to fighting terrorism.

GORDON: Two more questions for you, Mr. Ambassador, one of an economic nature. But first, the continued concern about the Pakistani border being an entryway for the Taliban, harboring Taliban fighters there, and just the relationship between the two countries; talk to me about how optimistic, if at all, you are about trying to make headway there.

Ambassador JAWAD: We have done a lot of progress with Pakistan. We are trying to convince Pakistan that peace, prosperity, and stability in Afghanistan is an important asset for Pakistan, for the region; and a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan will be political partner and a good economic opportunity for Pakistan. We see the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan in trade and commerce and interaction, and we are hoping that Pakistan recognize this opportunity.

We don't live in the past. We had forgiven and forgotten what happened to Afghanistan. We are looking forward, but we are also have some serious concern about the continued operation of terrorist camp inside Pakistan and the support that the Taliban leadership are getting in Pakistan.

GORDON: Finally, Mr. Ambassador, there's always the question of when you reach stability the want to have an economic system that allows for all to share in the wherewithal of a country. I understand that poppy production is up in the country and that, of course, brings its own concerns, but you have been in discussions with a number of people here in the United States trying to find alternative crop to cultivate there. How has that been going? And will it, quite frankly, be as lucrative? And will you be able to convince people that this is the direction to go in the future?

Ambassador JAWAD: Yes, we are experimenting a number of alternative crops, including rose to produce rose oil or rosewater, saffron, cumin and some other products, as well as we are trying to introduce soy and soybean in Afghanistan. But to introduce alternative crop is just one part of fighting narcotics. At the same time, we have to provide for alternative livelihood to get some of the farmers out of farming completely. We have to strengthen the capability of the Afghan National Police Force. We have to reform our judicial system. We have to accomplish a (unintelligible) of the regional cooperation with our neighbors. So in other to fight narcotics effectively, there is no silver bullet solution. There is no one crop that could substitute completely poppy or alleviate the problem completely. We have to work on a multidimensional program that will emphasize development and also law enforcement capability.

GORDON: Mr. Ambassador, we thank you so much for your time. Greatly appreciate it.

Ambassador JAWAD: Well, it was a pleasure being with you. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Ed Gordon speaking with Afghanistan's Ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Coming up, if you thought gas lines were a thing of the past, think again. Economists say we could face '70s-style stagflation. And a powerful union pledges to help New Orleans' neediest residents. We'll discuss these topics and more on our Roundtable, next.

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