A few weeks back I met with Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad to talk about international reconstruction efforts in his country and Afghanistan's tense relationship with its neighbor Pakistan. As an introduction to my coming blog series from Afghanistan, I am reposting a summary of the conversation originally published at my site War Is Boring. Here are some excerpts on ...
To fight terrorism is not just a military matter. You have to show the perception of security, [which] for everyday Afghans means a better life, [and this is] related to physical reconstruction and the ability of the Afghan government to deliver services. The role of [U.S. and NATO] Provincial Reconstruction Teams is crucial. They're the link between coalition forces and the everyday people. Now, I personally believe the PRTs should be involved more in capacity building with Afghan forces, the police and government. There has been a lot of focus on physical projects ... but by digging a well you're not going to change the economic conditions in a village. What Afghanistan is lacking is human capital. Building human capital will have a bigger effect than digging a well or building a soccer field.
Roads and power are our two biggest [physical reconstruction] priorities. Roads: there has been some progress. Power: not so much progress. Electricity is such a tangible thing.
Afghans' attitude towards foreign forces and aid workers:
People are concerned that you may leave, actually. People want the international community to be there and to deliver capacity. The challenge for aid [workers] is that as the fight gets more intense, reconstruction will not continue and the Taliban will say to the people, "Look, they're not here to rebuild."
Efforts to eradicate Afghanistan's opium industry (see photo):
Poppy areas are also where most of the insurgency is. Eradication of poppies is not the best solution to the narcotics problem. When people are poor, eradication has a huge political cost. The best way is to prevent cultivation. Alternative crops require infrastructure. They grow grapes in Kandahar, but these must be transported fast to market in India. Opium is easy to transport. People know there is an alternative [to opium cultivation] but you have to show them. If you give them two options -- one legal and one illegal -- you've got to be crazy to go with the illegal. We need better education. The best way to do that is to help the farmers who aren't doing it [growing poppies]. We must reward the good farmers. We also can pay a better price for legal crops.
Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan:
As long as terrorists are being trained inside Pakistan in "hate factories," border security will fail. Border infiltration [by terrorists] is a symptom, not a cause.
I'm hopeful. We have the consent and support of the international community. It will be a tough fight, but we have a lot of friends.