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New Afghan Envoy wants private-sector deal

Ambassador Karimi's Interview with Embassy Magazine, by Carl Meyer, April 18, 2012

Afghanistan’s mission in Ottawa wants to shed its image of donor dependency by building lasting links with Canadian businesses, including mining  firms, and signing a bilateral “private sector agreement,” says its new ambassador .

“What I want to do, especially in  the next 12 months time, [is] turn this relationship ,” into a two-sided, profitable relationship,” says Barna Karimi, who arrived at the beginning of April.

The 38 years old has a busy schedule as the first official Afghan ambassador to Canada since last 2010, when his predecessor Jawed Ludin was recalled.

Ershad Ahmadi, who had been leading the mission’s public relations outreach, took over from Mr. Ludin in the short term, but he remained a charge d’Affaires for roughly a year until he left in November 2011.

Mr. Karimi, who was appointed as the ambassador to Canada in October, says the gap was the result of the Afghan government going through the considered motions of selecting just the right person.

“We do understand that Canada is a very important country for us, it’s an important ally, and we make sure that we have the right individuals here in the embassy, to make this mission one of the most active.”

Now, Mr. Karimi says the mission will be taking on a new “strategic framework” divided into five elements: relationships with government, parliamentarians, media, and the public, as well as consular affairs.

He has some other bold objectives.

“We’ll try to sign a private sector agreement between the two countries...this way the companies will feel comfortable that they are protected,” he said.

The relatively small mission is reinventing itself to cope with a chanced relationship with Canada.

“Especially in the last year and a half that we didn’t have an Ambassador here, I think we lost the grasp of having a programmatic approach to the relationship that we are supposed to have,” he said.

In the months following his predecessor’s exit, Canada would cut its aid to Afghanistan in half and pull out its combat troops. A media report on April 13 suggests aid will further be cut in the coming weeks.

But he doesn’t want to play a numbers game. Aid levels rise and fall, he states. For him, it’s more about building something for the future.

We don’t want to stay forever as a recipient of the donor funds in Canada,” he said.

One of his Objectives is to convince the Canadian mining sector to invest more in Afghanistan.

We are setting on trillions of dollars of natural resources,” he said.

While one Canadian mining company is becoming involved, he added his country “would like Canada to play a much bigger role.”

That means convincing mining executives – who have seen soldiers’ deaths in headlines for years—to overcome their hesitation.

“I do accept that there are locations that might not be secure enough to a lot of these companies, “he said.

One solution Afghanistan has come up with, he added, is that for each tender that its ministry of mines announces, there is an accompanying “security plan” agreed to by the companies, the mines and the Afghan government officials involved.  

Afghanistan had a booth at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in Toronto, a signal that the country considers Canada to be a great point to wade further into the global mining business.

The interest in developing a business relationship comes naturally for Mr. Karimi, who has a grassroots business background in Afghanistan followed by his own business experience in the US.

His Family owned a small rug-weaving factory in Kabul, where he grew up, he said. Before diplomatic posts, he was businessmen in California. He managed Alama USA, an interior design company, from 2000 to 2005.

He then went back to his home country, becoming Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s deputy chief of staff, and after, Afghanistan’s deputy minister of the Independent Directorate of local Governance.

That job, gave him a deep understanding of local conditions across his country , made him suitable as a diplomat to countries like Canada that have deployed military and developmental officials to different parts of the country, he said.

His work with Mr. Karzai makes him the third person in row to run the Ottawa mission to have worked in Mr. Karzai’s office.

Mr. Ludin was chief of staff to Mr. Karzay, and Mr. Ahmadi worked in Mr. Karzai’s office’s strategy and planning desk.

Mr. Karimi is joined in Ottawa by his wife and daughter.        


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