TOPICS > Nation

Securing Afghanistan

April 18, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: We get three perspectives. Julia Taft is the assistant administrator and director of the United Nations Development Program’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

Ishaq Nadiri was born and raised in Afghanistan, and is an economics professor at New York University. He is a member of the Afghan government’s Aid Coordination Authority, which oversees how foreign aid is spent.

And Charles Santos was the United Nation’s point man on Afghanistan during the late 1980s to mid-1990s. He is now a director of the Foundation for Central Asian Development, which focuses on humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Well, Julia Taft, let me start with you. Let’s get an overview of how well the rehabilitation of Afghanistan is moving forward.

JULIA TAFT: I just returned from Kabul having attended an international conference sponsored by the government, the interim authority of Afghanistan, and participation was from over 26 different donor countries.

At this meeting, the government presented its budget, presented its national development framework, and asked for the support of the international community. They all seemed to be very, very much in favor of the leadership that’s being shown now by the interim authority and a number of donors put the money on the table. They are coming forward and making contributions to ensure that the Afghan authorities are able to really lead their country in this important recovery activity.

RAY SUAREZ: So you saw signs of functioning bureaucracy, government departments that were doing their work and so on?

JULIA TAFT: Well, it’s very, it’s very early to be able to say that they’re all functioning well. They are functioning. There are cabinet meetings. UNDP, through donor support, has been providing cars, office facilities, Internet connectivity, computers.

We’re seeing programs actually operating particularly around Kabul in terms of income- generating programs, rubble being removed, buildings going up, schools being repaired. The fact that just this past month the schools were able to reopen and 1.7 million children– many for the first time — were able to go to school I think are also very strong indicators of the fact that there is being progress made.

Also for the first time in, well, throughout the last six months prior to the interim authority, none of the civil servants were paid. This was a very high priority for the authorities. We’ve been fortunate to be able to assist in the payment of salaries ever since January, and people have money. People are starting to be able to go buy commodities, buy food, shop. This is all progress to be made.

However, of course, there is the concern about whether or not the well-being or the improved conditions in Kabul are being able to be replicated in other parts of the country. This is a real issue, as to how accessible other parts of the country are from a security standpoint; but the combination of U.N. agencies and NGO’s under the leadership of the Afghan authorities are moving in the right direction and I think there is some spirit of optimism.

RAY SUAREZ: Ishaq Nadiri, you’re also just back. What did you see that either gave you confidence or signs of progress?

ISHAQ NADIRI: Well, I saw most of those things were just spoken about, but what I saw basically is that the country has been destroyed and it’s a broken country and the amount of rehabilitation and development that it requires, requires very sustained and fairly sizable amount of aid and I think the key issue for the rehabilitation of Afghan economy and society is that, one, the western countries and particularly the United States must stay the course.

And second, the ability of the Afghan business as well as the people must be enhanced and allowed to develop the country.

And third is the, that hopefully the neighboring countries like Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and the likes see their interest in stability and peace and development in Afghanistan, so this issue does not reoccur.

I see a great deal of enthusiasm for this process that started at Bonn and this ability of the interim government to carry on its duties and now the return of the former monarch. These are processes that step by step will lead to cohesiveness in Afghanistan so long that the intervention is not there and the sustained help both from the private as well as public sources for economic development of the country continues. And it was refreshing today to read about the speech that President Bush had given about the rebuilding of Afghanistan and he had invoked the idea of a Marshal Plan, though that will not be totally applicable in its exact form.

But, nonetheless, this is a country that with a little help and with speed can be rehabilitated and it could very well have a demonstration effect on many other countries to see that the United States can carry out its promises and can build the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Santos, take us if you will outside the capital of Kabul where the international security force is in place and Afghan police. What’s it like and how is the country running outside the capital?

CHARLES SANTOS: I think the country is running fairly well in the regions. In fact, I think that the issue of security particularly in the north or in the center, Bomian, where the Buddhist statues are or Mazar e-Sharif or Herat, these areas really haven’t received the kind of assistance that our friends at the U.N. are talking about.

Really the focus has pretty much been on Kabul. I think that, you know, the fact that the international community is very much interested in doing something, this is really important but it has to be done wisely and intelligently.

And I think the problem in Kabul has been a power struggle between different factions. This is part of the problem of Bonn. I disagree a bit that Bonn is so widely accepted. I think there is a lot of frustration that it wasn’t really inclusive enough. This has been part of the Afghan politics in the past — that it’s failed to recognize the diversity of the country and it’s failed to be inclusive enough.

So I would very much hope that the U.N. efforts would really begin to find their way on the regions and, for example, Balk University, none of the professors have been paid. The question is why? Why can you pay ministers in Kabul but you’re not able to sort of address those issues?

So I think it’s, as Dr. Nadiri has mentioned, it is a broken place. It is a place that’s gone through enormous amounts of suffering. And it is a place that’s much more segmented than sort of the one sort of stop solution of central authority in Kabul and once we have that all better everything else will be fine. We’ll solve.

RAY SUAREZ: Julia Taft, respond to what Charles Santos just said. Is it harder for the NGO’s to do their work outside the capital and the programs directly funded by your agency?

JULIA TAFT: Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily harder. There are NGO programs throughout much of the country. There have been U.N.-supported food programs, UNICEF, school programs, relief programs throughout the country for many years. UNDP has a presence in almost every province, so that’s not the problem so much as one of making sure that the logistics are easier, that the — there is security to have extended programs.

But I don’t disagree with the speakers that there are, there are needs that are not being addressed throughout many of the provinces. But the interim authority has asked us to take on efforts in the ten most difficult areas where there have been human rights abuses and great displacement of people to do an integrated area development program to build the capacity for people to return and survive and thrive.

I think the priority is an excellent one for the government and the U.N. agencies plan to respond to that.

One of the things I think we do have to keep in mind is that, yes, Afghanistan is a broken country, but the people are not broken. The people are willing to work. The people are trying to find a way to improve their lives, and they’re tired of war. And that’s the opportunity we have now to give them a peace dividend through the leadership of the Afghan authorities.

Sometimes I feel we all get very impatient. It has only been four months since this Administration has been in office. Everyone’s working very hard to try to do the best they can.

The optimism with the king returning, the prospect of the Loya Jirgah, are all steps in a political process of building a consensus for peace, and I think we just have to understand that, yes, things now are perhaps more active in Kabul but there are regional offices of the U.N. throughout the country, there are programs, they don’t get the visibility, and it’s difficult logistically to get to some of these places; but the presence is increasing.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Nadiri, if someone is coming back among the tens of thousands of returning refugees, what kind of place are they coming back to? Is it possible to start up daily life again? Are they getting the kind of help they need once they return to the country?

ISHAQ NADIRI: I had the opportunity to go outside Kabul and see for myself with a group of ministers and others these very returnees from Pakistan and some of them coming back from Iran.

They were really, their case was a great case of hardship. These people did not have any tents, did not have any food; and they were trying to do whatever they can with whatever food they could get their hands on. The distribution of aid is uneven and consequently there are pockets of a large number of people, according to these people, which are left to fend for themselves. But what I wanted to mention and respond to the two speakers–

RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, please.

ISHAQ NADIRI: Quickly. This is the time that everyone should not emphasize so much the differences among the Afghans. I think that the idea that Ms. Taft mentioned about the people willing to forget the past and start the future, this should be nurtured and everybody should help them rather than coaching people from the side because the Afghans do need now the attention on a consistent and help to get out of this broken situation. And I’m sure that I’m optimistic that they will do well.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Santos, are there reasons for optimism briefly before we close?

CHARLES SANTO: I think there are but I would very much want to make the point that the question of diversity and how that diversity is reflected in a political system in Afghanistan is key. And the argument about forgetting the differences are I think is only, will only work in the context of a system that reflects that diversity and the possibility for all the people of Afghanistan in a very inclusive way. That still has not yet been done.

ISHAQ NADIRI: But I think that –

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all for joining us this evening.