Ambassador Karimi's Interview with Postmedia News by Jeff Davis
New Afghan Ambassador Barna Karimi seeks to keep Canada interested in his nation as he works to put the countries on an even footing. Jeff Davis reports: By Jeff Davis, Postmedia News April 3, 2012
After more than a decade of development donations, Barna Karimi, the newly arrived Afghan Ambassador to Canada, holds no illusions about Canada's declining interest in - and cash flow for - Afghanistan.
"Donor-recipient relationships always end," Karimi said. "After any donor honeymoon in a society, a donor fatigue comes."
Afghans are looking forward to a day not so far in the future, Karimi said, when the two countries will meet on even ground, as international peers. "There will be a time when we will be standing up on our feet, and our relationship will be beneficial for both countries."
But that day is not here yet, and the 38-year-old ambassador said he understands he will have to fight an uphill battle to maintain Canada's interest in, and financial commitment to, Afghanistan.
With Canada's war weariness in mind, Karimi said, Afghan President Hamid Karzai instructed him to mount a charm offensive. He said he was chosen for his skills in public relations, and directed to boost support for Afghanistan's continuing journey toward full statehood.
"(Karzai) very clearly instructed me to improve ... the image of Afghanistan among the Canadian public and media."
Karimi said he will make a point of expressing the gratitude of Afghans to the Canadian people, especially those whose family members were killed in the battle to control the country.
"Your sons were killed in Afghanistan," he said. "But you know that there are thousands of people in Kandahar that live today without fear of the Taliban because of your sons."
Like his two predecessors - Omar Samad and Jawed Ludin - Karimi was groomed for his position under Karzai's watchful eye, working as his deputy chief of staff. He then became deputy minister of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, where he worked to extend the government's reach into the country's rural areas.
Canada, like most NATO allies active in Afghanistan, is aiming to wind down its military involvement in that country by 2014. While pessimism about Afghanistan's ability to cope on its own is widespread, Karimi said the Afghan government is well on its way to taking full control of its territory.
"Am I optimistic about 2014? Definitely." Karimi said the Afghan government's ability to govern the country on its own will be tested then. While there will be bumps, taking off the training wheels is the only way the state will come into its own.
"Unless we take the lead, unless we take responsibilities, we won't be able to stand on our feet ever."
Karimi said a big part of making Afghanistan self-sufficient is programs designed to entice highly skilled Afghans - such as those in Canada - to go home for the good of the nation.
On the business side, Karimi will get to work promoting Afghanistan's mineral wealth to Canadian firms.
"Afghanistan is sitting on almost $3 trillion in mining capital, and with the vast knowledge of mining, surveying and exploration of Canadian companies, there are good opportunities," he said.
Having spent much of his young life in exile in California, Karimi holds U.S. citizenship. He speaks English, Dari, Pashto, Czech and understands French. He is joined in Canada by his wife, Storai, and his two-year-old daughter.