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07 February 2002

Text: Lawmaker Says Security Is Primary Need in Afghanistan

(Urges continued support for interim government) (1710)
One of the leading human rights supporters in the Congress has told
fellow lawmakers that after his trip to Afghanistan he believes that
country needs a large and continued infusions of humanitarian aid,
strong support for the interim government, and security assistance in
order to overcome years of Taliban misrule.
Representative Joseph Pitts (Republican of Pennsylvania) gave a report
of his January trip to Afghanistan to the House of Representatives
February 6.
Pitts said it was vitally important that the United States and the
international community continue to support Afghanistan's interim
administration, led by Chairman Hamid Karzai.
Pitts, a member of the Helsinki Commission, warned that it was "vital
that the international community ensure that the Bonn Agreement is
fully implemented" and that the Loya Jirga, or traditional Grand
Assembly, be constituted in June 2002.
Humanitarian aid for Afghanistan is critical, he added.
Pitts, a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, told fellow
lawmakers that the United Nations has estimated the international
organization would be feeding "8 million people within Afghanistan,
not to mention refugees in neighboring countries, in the next three
months to help avert" a humanitarian crisis there.
Security is the primary need in Afghanistan, he told fellow lawmakers.
"Unless there is security, no amount of effort will ensure that the
new government leaders can implement the very necessary changes in the
country," Pitts said.
Economic development for the war-ravaged nation must come about
"primarily through developing the agricultural sector of society," he
said.
"There are tremendous needs in Afghanistan, but there also is a
tremendous amount of hope and an expectation that this time will be
different," said the Pennsylvania Republican.
Pitts, who is a member of the House International Relations
Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, went on a trip to
Afghanistan in January with Representative Frank Wolf (Republican of
Virginia), the co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus,
and Representative Tony Hall (Democrat of Ohio), chairman of the House
Democratic Caucus Task Force on Hunger and founder of the
Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors.
Pitts, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is the founder of the Religious
Prisoners Congressional Task Force, which has advocated for prisoners
of conscience in various countries.
Following is the text of Pitts' February 6 speech from the
Congressional Record:
(begin text)
AFGHANISTAN TRIP REPORT
JANUARY 2002
HON. JOSEPH R. PITTS
HON. JOSEPH R. PITTS OF PENNSYLVANIA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Wednesday, February 6, 2002
Mr. PITTS. Mr. Speaker, I recently returned from a visit to
Afghanistan with Congressman FRANK WOLF and Congressman TONY HALL. We
were greeted with warm, friendly smiles wherever we went, from
meetings with Interim Administration officials to hospitals, schools
and orphanages. There is a hope in Afghanistan that the country will
be different and new opportunities and life will emerge out of the
terrible suffering the Afghan people have endured.
The visit was a highlight, but it was also sobering. The best
children's hospital in the nation, the Indira Ghandi Pediatric
Hospital, lacked basic medicines to treat the children, two children
and their mothers shared each bed, one of three children in the
malnutrition ward died each night, there is a lack of basic medical
equipment, and no hospital employees have been paid for six months.
Yet, the doctors and nurses worked valiantly to save the lives of the
children in their care.
We visited a girls school, the Dorkhanai High School, that had
re-opened one week earlier after being shut down for over five years.
The concrete building was full of bullet holes from the Soviet
invasion, one room had no roof, and no rooms had glass in the windows.
The girls sat on blankets on the concrete or dirt floor as there were
no desks or chairs. Yet, the students were so motivated to learn they
raised the money from the meager earnings of their families to buy
thick plastic to cover the window holes and pay for kerosene heat to
keep out some of the biting cold in the schoolrooms. The girls greeted
us with big smiles and chants of ``Welcome, welcome.'' They were
delighted to be back in school. Teachers need to be re-hired, 80
percent of the teachers were women, and the government needs
assistance with providing basic supplies such as paper, pens, chalk
and books.
The Allauddin Center Orphanage has 900 children in their care--800
boys and 100 girls. The children, many obviously suffering from
malnutrition and trauma from the violence of the war and the loss of
their loved ones, gave us huge smiles and recited and sang for us. A
delegation of firefighters from New York City had visited recently and
donated enough food for the children for the next three months, but
after that, it will again be a struggle to feed these young children.
The firefighters also provided warm blankets for these children who,
in the winter due to lack of adequate heating facilities, sleep three
to a bed with three rooms of children crowding into one room--this way
they can all be in rooms in which there are heat sources.
We also visited a women's bakery with the United Nations World Food
Program Women's Bakery Project that has been vital in helping women,
particularly widows, support and feed their families. During our
visit, we learned that one woman had been a doctor at the hospital,
but she left to work at the bakery so that she could earn money to
actually support her family.
There is an almost overwhelming humanitarian crisis that continues
today. Food, medicine and shelter are lacking for much of the
country's population. Yet, there is hope--hope that the American
people will cement their friendship with the Afghan people by
remaining engaged in their country through various avenues. Government
aid to Afghanistan is vital, but people to people diplomacy, sister
relationships between schools and hospitals in the US. partnering with
schools and hospitals in Afghanistan, will be invaluable in helping to
rebuild the nation and the historic friendship between our nations.
Our meetings with government officials also gave us hope. The Chairman
of the Interim Administration, H.E. Hamid Karzai, is an impressive,
capable, straightforward man who has the capacity to lead his country
to establish a coalition that will last through the historic
transitions the nation is experiencing. The Loya Jirga (Grand
Assembly) in June will mark a key transition for the people of
Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai appears to be the one who can lead the
people through that transition.
In response to our visit, there are several key points that must be
addressed as our nation, government and people remain engaged with the
people of Afghanistan:
1. The United States and the international community must continue to
support Chairman Karzai and the Interim Administration in Kabul as
well as the Administration's clarifying to the various regions of
Afghanistan that federal authority rests in Kabul. In addition, it is
vital that the international community ensure that the Bonn Agreement
is fully implemented and culminated in the Loya Jirga to be held on
June 22, 2002. The Loya Jirga is the traditionally accepted Afghan
method of solving problems and reaching consensus. We must continue
our support for the new government, otherwise lack of stability could
create the opportunity for another pre-September 11 environment of
factional fighting, violence and upheaval, and a central power vacuum
that would have severe implications for our national security.
2. Humanitarian Aid must continue. The UN World Food Programme and
U.S. and other NGOs serving the people there are doing a great job.
But the need remains high. The UN estimated that they would be feeding
8 million people within Afghanistan, not to mention refugees in
neighboring countries, in the next three months to help avert an even
greater crisis. Food aid is needed, as is medical and educational
assistance. People to people diplomacy can be conducted through
Chairman Karzai's office in Kabul.
3. U.S. assistance must be deliberate. Security is the primary need,
mentioned in every meeting and site visit we had. Unless there is
security, no amount of effort will ensure that the new government
leaders can implement the very necessary changes in the country.
Second, the economy must be developed, primarily through developing
the agricultural sector of society.
Prior to the 1979 Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was self-sufficient and
even exported agricultural products to neighboring countries. Studies
show that before 1979, 80 percent of the society was in farming. The
skills are there, but the opportunity needs to be developed.
Unfortunately, the four-year drought in the country has drastically
affected the output of farms and the ability of animal herders to keep
animals alive. Irrigation systems and drought assistance need to be
constructed and provided as soon as possible. In addition, development
of the agricultural sector with alternative crops is a proactive
avenue of fighting against narcotics production.
Third, development of the education system is one of the primary
needs. An overwhelming portion of the population has been affected by
lack of access to education. As reflected in our visit to the girls'
school, the people have a desire to pursue an education as they view
this as the primary avenue for bettering their lives. Studies from
around the world support this: the development of educational systems
changes nations. The Afghan people may lack the basic materials for
education, but not the desire to learn.
Mr. Speaker, there are tremendous needs in Afghanistan, but there also
is a tremendous amount of hope and an expectation that this time will
be different. I look forward to visiting Afghanistan in the future and
seeing these hopes and expectations lived out. As Chairman Hamid
Karzai said during our meeting together, ``Think of the help as help
to our children. The families will do well if the children do well.''
As we look forward to the hopes and expectations of a new Afghanistan,
I will be working with the generous people of Pennsylvania and others
across this nation to extend a hand of friendship, partnership and
care through practical projects that will help build up the Afghan
people.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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