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SLUG: 3-733 Afghanistan








It's been about 18 months since the Taliban was driven from power in Afghanistan and one year before elections there. Earlier today I sat down with two people who know a lot about Afghanistan today, Haroon Amin, charge d'affaires at the Afghanistan embassy in Washington, and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, an Afghanistan analyst at the Middle East Institute. I began by asking Mr. Amin to assess the situation in Afghanistan today.


Gentlemen, thank you for being here. Eighteen months since the Taliban has been driven from Afghanistan and one year before elections, in June 2004. What is the state of play, Mr. Amin, in Afghanistan today?


I think it's very satisfactory but more could be done. Is it realistic, the goals that we've got? Are they realistic and are they achievable? I think actually yes. Ambitious? Indeed.

But we've come far. When we took over, we took over from a legacy where nothing existed in Afghanistan, in fact, below zero. Now we are forming an army. There is a police force that is functioning. We've got the judicial that is actually moving in the right direction. A constitutional commission has completed the drafting of the constitution. The government in place has got the Loya Jirga's backing in Afghanistan. The King is there. Reconstruction has started. And this is in the course of just 18 months, like you said.

I think more could be done. We have an ambitious undertaking in Afghanistan. I think, with the support of the international community, we will be able to get it done.


Let me ask you a follow-up, because so much attention has been paid to Iraq these days. Is it the case, in your view, that Afghanistan, being slightly off the international radar screen, perhaps it suffers to some extent? Is that the case?


Well, it has suffered. It has suffered because of Kashmir. It has suffered because of North Korea. It has suffered because of Iraq particularly.


But not because of international interest?


Well, exactly. But the fact is two things. Number one, I think that the United States needs to look at Afghanistan long term, because it's a new country in the campaign. Number two, its reputation is at stake in Afghanistan; credibility is at stake in Afghanistan.

But beyond that, secondly, Iraq and Afghanistan should not be lumped [together] and then looked at as a zero-sum type of scenario, where we have resources in Afghanistan, well, we have less for Iraq, or vice versa. Afghanistan is by far cheaper. There are more achievements in Afghanistan. And finally, I think it could be a very good model for not only the United States but the international community to flaunt and say, you know what, here is a good success story.


Dr. Weinbaum, let's turn to you. The chief challenges in Afghanistan, is one that remnants of the Taliban remain and they are problematic there?


I don't think that we ought to see that as the chief challenge that the United States faces. I think those elements were predictably going to be around until, and may be around until, there is greater progress in the rebuilding of the nation. As long as they are willing to operate as small units, finding sanctuary where they can, I think we have to anticipate that they are going to remain a problem. But I think that's a problem which is well under control.

The challenge for the United States is to maintain its commitment and to bring up the pace of restoring the law and order and bringing justice where it can, and to create the jobs and the opportunities generally that go with economic reconstruction. I think this is the challenge that the United States has, and it can't do it alone. We have clear evidence that it needs the international community. It needs the international community with peacekeepers, and it needs the contributions that the international community has been willing to offer and has to deliver on.

So we've got to pick the pace up. I don't think the pace, and I think Haron would agree with me, I don't think the pace is significant, but we're going in the right direction.


How would you assess the state of play in terms of the current leaders in Afghanistan as they remain at the moment? Is it a stable enough government to last until the 2004 elections? And how do you see politically inside Afghanistan the situation continuing?


That's certainly a major issue here. I think that a great deal is made of warlords and so on. And what we have to accept is the fact that most of the elements, nearly all of the elements, across the country are prepared to cooperate with the Kabul government. And as long as the Bonn process, which put in motion these constitutional developments, as long as that is adhered to, I think that people are going to have confidence here that the international community is going to back up the central government.

I hope there are elections next June, but I would venture to say that if it's necessary for security reasons or logistical reasons to delay them, I personally, I'm speaking personally here, I think that a credible election is the most important thing rather than an artificial date.


Mr. Amin, in terms of the security level in Kabul and in and around the country, are you satisfied with that? Because that is often a big problem in countries that are looking to stabilize governments, the level of security in the country itself.


In a country where there was no police force and no security force and there was no military, and 700,000 guns unaccounted for, almost everyone having some army here and there, I think that it's a great success story. The media was partially responsible for the misportrayal of Afghanistan. I can tell you, if there is even an earthquake in Afghanistan, they claim that either Karzai did it or that the warlords did it. So we definitely know that that's not the case.

Look at all the provinces. At best, there are problems in three provinces, and that means 10 percent. If you take 3 into 30, that's 10 percent. So that's still a solid A. And that's without all the resources.

What needs to happen is additional assistance for the government in the context of the army and the police force, and full integration of the provinces into the central authority, as well as border security. That would give an answer to the narcotics, that would address the issue of the highway robberies, and it will address the issue of internal security problems.


Haron Amin, with the Afghanistan Embassy here in Washington, and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar on Pakistan and Afghanistan, we thank you both for joining us for Newsline today.

(End of interview.)


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