Afghanistan ambassador details successes, struggles

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Afghanistan ambassador to the United States Said T. Jawad emphasized Tuesday night that there are significant differences between Iraq and his home country.

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"Afghanistan is not Iraq," he said.

Jawad arrived in Alaska's capital to give a presentation titled, "Beyond the Headlines: Afghanistan's Stability and Global Security," on behalf of the Juneau World Affairs Council.

Jawad did not attempt to gloss over the escalated violence that continues in Afghanistan, while at the same time the ambassador highlighted many of the strides his country has made since establishing a democratic government.

"Clearly Afghanistan has come along way from six years ago from the dictatorship of the Taliban," he said.

Jawad, the former chief of staff for President Hamid Karzai, was appointed as ambassador to the U.S. in 2003. His work assisting the rebuilding of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban includes helping reform the Ministry of Defense and working to rebuild the Afghan National Army.

Jawad highlighted a number of successes during Tuesday's speech, including political and economic development and social changes. According to Jawad, the gross domestic product has nearly quadrupled. During the Taliban's rule there was no formal banking system, but now there is an independent central bank with 32 branches. School enrollment has also skyrocketed from nearly 900,000 to approximately 6 million.

Jawad highlighted that there was an absence of women in Afghanistan's political arena during the rule of the Taliban. Seventy-four women have since been elected to the Afghan Legislature.

"It's not just a matter of changing the law," he said. "It's not just a matter of adopting a better constitution. You change really and truly the lives of women and the rights of women in society by investing in education."

Doug Mertz, president of the Juneau World Affairs Council, said presentations by diplomats are often dull because they are so diplomatic.

"That was not the case here," he said. "I think he was quite frank and open about the challenges and successes going on in Afghanistan."

Mertz said the ambassador's repeated statements emphasizing the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan resonated with him.

"It's a very different place, with different conflicts and a different role for the U.S.," he said of Afghanistan. "That's something that really hit home with me, because most of us do tend to lump the two conflicts together, at least as far as the United States' interests."

Jawad did not hesitate to address the increasing violence in Afghanistan and the continued fight against insurgents and drug lords. The country has experienced more than 125 suicide attacks this year, which surpasses the figures for 2006.

"This year we will see another record number of suicide attacks," he said.

The number of security incidents per month has also increased, from an average of 425 in 2006 to 548 in 2007.

There is still much improvement to be made with country's army and police forces to strengthen its security, Jawad said. There is no shortage of courage in Afghanistan, but it's in need of more experience, resources and training opportunities, he said.

Jawad said the government is working to convince its neighbors that a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan presents great opportunities for the region. He said it is important to continue working with Pakistan and Iran to build Afghanistan for the region to continue to prosper.

Jawad said he wanted to come to Alaska to express the gratitude of the Afghan people for the continued help and support the United States has given. He said he has been able to find similarities between the people of Juneau and the people of Afghanistan.

"There are a lot of similarities," Jawad said. "One thing that we share is really hospitality and kindness that I have encountered among many people."

Groups like the Juneau World Affairs Council allow communities to strengthen the bridges between people and cultures all across the world, he said.

"We are connected in our concern for security, for health care, for education," Jawad said. "It's pretty much the same, regardless of where you live."

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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