A Conversation with Afghanistan's Ambassador to the U.S.
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In a visit to Kabul, yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Secretary Rice praised the Afghan leader and congratulated him on Afghanistan steps towards democracy in the four and a half years since the fall of the Taliban. Despite some progress, Afghanistan still faces many hurdles. A resurgent Taliban has mounted a serious military challenge to governmental authority in parts of the country this year. Regional warlords control other parts of the country. Widespread cultivation of the opium poppy continues. Critics say the Karzai government suffers from corruption and has yet done little to improve the lives of the majority of the population. In just a moment, Afghanistan's Ambassador to the U.S. joins us. So if you have questions about security, the economy, about relations with Pakistan, Iran and the United States. The coming change to a NATO led military force about the drug trade or the economy, give us a call.
800-989-8255, that's 800-989-8255. Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad joins us in Studio 3 A. Nice to talk to you again.
Ambassador SAID TAYEB JAWAD (Afghanistan Ambassador to the U.S.): Thank you very much. Nice being here.
CONAN: President Karzai has had some strong words for Pakistan. Of late he says the country has not done enough to help find al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents along its border with Afghanistan. How serious a concern is this?
Ambassador JAWAD: Terrorism is a serious threat for the stability of Afghanistan, for the stability of the region and for global security. We appreciate what Pakistan has done so far especially in fighting al-Qaida. But they can do a lot more and effectively controlling the cross-border infiltration of Taliban into Afghanistan. We think that terrorism in Taliban is a serious threat not only for Afghanistan but also for the region. We see the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan in trade and commerce and more interaction. That's why we continuously ask more sincere and broader cooperation of Pakistan.
CONAN: Are elements in the Pakistani government aiding the insurgency, the Taliban?
Ambassador JAWAD: The fact is that there are terrorists camps operating inside Pakistan and the fact is that there are terrorist infiltration taking place from Pakistan, and also that the government of Pakistan is trying hard to fight this menace, this problem. The military is a very powerful institution in Pakistan. It will be hard to imagine that matters of significance for the national interest of Pakistan for regional security for global security will take place inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the government and that's why we ask President Musharraf to be more assertive and to help us better to fight terrorism.
CONAN: President Musharraf also General Musharraf still the head of Pakistan's armed forces?
Ambassador JAWAD: That's true.
CONAN: Pakistani officials, Secretary Rice's same visit. She stopped off in Pakistan then as well. But they said Mullah Omar, the previous head of the Taliban, the previous of the Afghan government, is in Afghanistan. Are they right?
Ambassador JAWAD: It's an important fight when against terrorism. The fact that Mullah Omar is inside Afghanistan or just across the border in Pakistan doesn't change a lot. If we knew for a fact that Mullah Omar is in Afghanistan and if the international community knew it, he would've been arrested by now. We really don't know for sure that where he is. But if you're looking for him, and making statement of the nature well he is on the other side of the border, that's not the responsibility but the fact is that the network that supports Taliban and Afghanistan is mainly based outside Afghanistan border.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation and well begin with Sarah calling from Vienna in Virginia.
SARAH (Caller): Sir, I guess I need to ask you a hard question. Do you, I would say you would believe your country can tolerate the resurgence of the Taliban, but do you, frankly, see it as a realistic notion that President Karzai and the government will hold together given the Taliban's recent move into the South of the country and the increases in attacks?
Ambassador JAWAD: Yes ma'am, certainly the Taliban are a threat to the security of Afghanistan. They're a threat to global security, to regional security. There's a strong determination by the Afghan people to make sure that Afghanistan will never again go to the days where the country was in danger for its population and for global security. The Afghan people are strongly determined to benefit from the partnership that they have right now with the international community. And the Afghan is building the national institution, the security institution necessary in order to fight terrorism.
And our friends in the international community, the United States and many other countries, and I want to emphasize that there is a strong consensus on the need to help Afghanistan. It's not just United States, there are many other countries. In fact, 61 countries are financially helping Afghanistan, 35 countries are having troops in Afghanistan. So by this kind of large partnership that's out there, and the commitment of the people and the commitment of the Afghan government, the Taliban will not succeed, certainly in Afghanistan. We will have a hard summer ahead of us, but by the end of the summer…
CONAN: But by the end of the summer you hope to have…
Ambassador JAWAD: We will, we hope that the insurgency will be significantly reduced.
CONAN: Sarah, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: Let me ask you, you talked about your friends in the international community, and the United States, of course, played a critical role in the overthrow of the Taliban. Do you think the United States is in this for the long haul? Do you think the United States is going to continue to provide money, to provide troops and support for Afghanistan?
Ambassador JAWAD: We have to win the war against terror for the sake of Afghans and for the sake of global security. And how fast the United States could reduce its military presence in Afghanistan depends on how quickly we are able to build our national institutions. So if a larger investment is made in Afghanistan to build our police force and our national army, then the pressure on the international community, on the United States and others, will be relieved. It's really a matter, right now, a matter of making an investment in Afghanistan in order to enable the people in the government to stand on their own feet, and the government to be able to deliver services in order to relieve some of the pressure on our friends in the international community.
CONAN: At some point in the summer, the date has not yet been set, but at some point, military command for the outside forces in the southern and eastern part of Afghanistan will shift from the United States to NATO. There has been some concern that the NATO-provided forces, from countries of Western Europe and Canada, would be largely nation-building forces interested in projects like that, not combat forces. Is that a concern?
Ambassador JAWAD: Well, the United States will still maintain a large military presence in Afghanistan. The United States will be the country with the most soldiers in Afghanistan. The number of the U.S. troops will be reduced by something like 2,000 - two, three thousand soldiers. And the military forces that belong to NATO that's being deployed right now in Afghanistan, Canadian and Britain and others, they have proven to be capable, good soldiers.
Of course, there are some uncertainties. There is some concern about Afghan, about the political commitment of NATO. We are certain that military-wise they will be able to carry out the mission, but politically we are hoping that they remain committed and fight this war to the end.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is, let's go to Emmett. Emmett calling us from Portland, Oregon.
EMMETT (Caller): Hi. First of all, my respects to the Ambassador.
CONAN: Thank you for that.
Ambassador JAWAD: Thank you.
EMMETT: But I would like to say that I was in Afghanistan in 2003. I'm ex-military. And I remember while I was there seeing the massive fields of poppies. And at the time it wasn't a major concern, because we were still fighting a lot of al-Qaida and Taliban, but I was curious what the Afghani government and their coalition allies are doing at this time to destroy that economic motivator for those areas and set up alternate means (unintelligible) for the people who make their living off the drug trade.
Ambassador JAWAD: I didn't get the question. Instead of what? I'm sorry, the last part.
CONAN: What was the last part of your question?
EMMETT: The last part is, I curious what the Afghani government and their coalition allies are doing at this time to create alternate economic motivators…
CONAN: For the farmers?
EMMETT: …for the people…
EMMETT: …for the people who make their money off the drug trade.
CONAN: Yes. Ambassador?
Ambassador JAWAD: It's a very good question. We are exploring some alternative crops in Afghanistan, such as cumin, rose, and others. But experience shows that usually an alternative crop does not work. What we need to do in Afghanistan is alternative livelihood. It's just, as part of a program, provide other means, other alternatives for the farmer. Get some of the farmers off farming overall by having them being busy in large infrastructure building projects.
But in addition to that, we know also from the experience that there is no silver bullet solution for the problem of narcotics. There is - we have to have a coordinated approach of, on one hand, providing alternative livelihood, on the other hand implementing eradication of the poppy fields, at the same time building the national institution, the judicial system, the police force, enhancing international and regional cooperation. Because the proceeds of narcotics feed into international terrorism, feed into local lawlessness in Afghanistan.
So for us it's a matter of national interest to fight narcotics, but we have to do it in a coordinated way. And it will be difficult to just emphasize one approach, for instance alternative livelihood, or eradication. We have to develop all strategies, which we are doing right now, to focus on all five elements of eradication, reform of justice system, and international and regional cooperation, and also information campaign.
CONAN: Yet, isn't this, this poppy business, I mean, not only does Afghanistan poppy translate itself into a large percentage of the worlds' heroin, which of course afflicts the entire planet - there's a supply and demand problem as well as that, of course - but its also, as you just intimated, it provides funding for your political enemies inside Afghanistan - we often refer to as warlords. It also supplies funding for your enemies, the Taliban. Why isn't this priority number one, to choke off this economic lifeline?
Ambassador JAWAD: It is. It's a been priority number one for the Afghan government, for our partners in the international community, but like terrorism it's a difficult fight. We have been fighting similar wars in other parts of the world, in Latin America and other countries, and it has been taking a long time.
We have also a very good examples and models where this fight has been successful, in Asia, for instance, in Turkey. And the way that it was successful was truly through sustained economic development and building national institution. Instead of focusing just in one season on one aspect of the strategy to fight narcotics.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Emmett.
EMMETT: Thank you very much. And thank you Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador JAWAD: Thank you.
CONAN: Said Tayeb Jawad is Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States. He's with us here in Studio 3A. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. And you're listening to special coverage coming to you from NPR News.
And, another caller. This is Robert, Robert calling us from New York City.
ROBERT (Caller): Yeah.
CONAN: Go ahead, Robert.
ROBERT: Oh, hi there. Ambassador Jawad, you guys were just talking about reconstruction and everything. And you know, I agree with you 100 percent. The country needs to be rebuilt, and that will lead to, you know, hopefully eradicating the poppy problem and all of that over time.
My concern is with the Afghan-American community, and why hasn't the Karzai administration, in his trips over here, yourself included, why haven't you guys been saying publicly to the Afghan-American community, who ultimately has not been here since '79, to organize themselves into a viable pro-Afghan, pro-American lobby group on Washington. Because, you know, Bush is going to be gone in '09, and the issue of having long-term support, you know, you know, God forbid that our support for Afghanistan disappears with the Bush administration, but, you know, the history of our country shows that at times we lose our compass.
So what I want to know is why isn't the Karzai administration, when they're here, telling the Afghan-Americans, who obviously pay attention, you know, guys, you need to organize a pro-Afghan, pro-American lobby in Washington?
Ambassador JAWAD: Thank you very much. This is a very good suggestion, and I appreciate your concern.
President Karzai has visited the United States many times and he has addressed Afghan-Americans at large forums, one of them at Georgetown University, in fact, where more than six, seven thousand Afghans were present. And we have been asking our friends, Afghans living in here, to organize themselves politically. But the problem is that we are just seeing the second generation of successful professional Afghans emerging here: as attorneys, as doctors, and others. The first generation that came here, they were really working extremely hard…
Ambassador JAWAD: …to put their lives together, to send their children back to school. And especially by not having a tradition and a culture of political activism back home, and because of the communism and dictatorship and others kind of shying away from political activities, the first generation has kind of missed this opportunity. We do see a tendency among the younger Afghan…
ROBERT: One thing on that note, real quickly, that, you know, the Afghan-American community between, say 20 and 35, you know, the whole community is quite, oh, let's say patriarchal of sorts. The parents, the grandparents, have a lot of the control over the families. If there was a nudge from the Karzai administration, publicly telling the community that it's okay to organize, and obviously, you know, no one, you know, in the world of lobbying, you know, I'm not talking about an actual foreign agent lobby, but a real pro-Afghan, pro-American lobby organized by the community, I think it would go a long way if someone in your guys' administration said that to the community, because I think a lot of those people in that bracket, you know, they want to be politically motivated, but…
CONAN: Okay Robert.
ROBERT: …the way the whole community is structured here, that it needs to come from the top down, to those, because I mean the Afghan-American community, kudos to them, you know, I've met hundreds of them, and so many of them are dynamic, young people. So…
CONAN: I think we got the suggestion, Robert. I think we've got the picture. Thanks very much for the call. I just wanted to give somebody else a chance before we have to run out of time.
ROBERT: Yep, thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. And let's see if we can get one last call in. This is Wolfgang, Wolfgang calling us from Princeton.
WOLFGANG (Caller): Hello, do you hear me?
CONAN: Yes, you're on the air, Wolfgang. Go ahead, please.
WOLFGANG: Yes, hello. I'm actually an old friend of the Ambassador and am very concerned with Afghanistan. And first of all, wanted to congratulate the Ambassador for all the good work he has been doing. I'm extremely concerned about the increasing security problems we have also in the north. The Germans have suffered considerably in their PRTs. And that's one part of the question.
And the other part is, parallel to this, I hear more and more voices from Afghanistan who claim that President Karzai and his government, in spite of all their good work, have really not fulfilled all the aspirations, and apparently the situation is degrading rather than improving.
CONAN: Do you get such nice questions from all your friends, Mr. Ambassador?
Ambassador JAWAD: No, I appreciate very much Wolfgang's question. He's been a great friend and supporter of Afghanistan, and Princeton has been a great institution.
His concerns are legitimate, actually, and on the question of security, yes, we do see a spike in terrorist activities in Afghanistan. And I think the reasons are four-fold. The first one is the transition of - to NATO forces that terrorists would like to test the commitment and capability of the NATO forces and scare them off if they could.
The second reason is that the resources provided to the Afghan government in order to build a national institution - deliver services, protect the people, be present all over the country - has been limited. Therefore our capability of serving our people has been limited.
And the other reason is that the Taliban and the terrorists still actually acquire a very sophisticated weaponry, explosive device, and other equipment from outside Afghanistan, and that's why we are asking our friends to cooperate better and more.
CONAN: And in 30 seconds, the loss of public support.
Ambassador JAWAD: That's really not true. It's a challenging job. President Karzai was elected by the people of Afghanistan, and right now we all - Afghans and the international community - are facing challenges, but we are confident that we will overcome these challenges by the end of the summer.
CONAN: Wolfgang, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
WOLFGANG: Thank you.
Ambassador JAWAD: Thank you.
CONAN: And Ambassador, thank you for your time today.
Ambassador JAWAD: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
CONAN: Said Tayeb Jawad is Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, and he was kind enough to join us here today in Studio 3A.
You've been listening to special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
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