Afghanistan faces challenging future
By jennifer campbell, The Ottawa Citizen, October 17— Looking for al-Qaida in Afghanistan is like looking for Paris in the United Kingdom, Afghan Ambassador Barna Karimi recently told an audience at Carleton University.
“If we look at the map of the United Kingdom, we can see London but we cannot see Paris,” Karimi said. “Because Paris isn’t in the U.K., it’s in France. Looking for al-Qaida in Afghanistan, when we all know it’s somewhere else, is the same thing. I think it needs another approach.”
Karimi was careful not to name Pakistan, the neighbouring country where he suggested al-Qaida resides, but said: “Everybody knows where they are, where they’re launching their activities. We’ve been saying this from 2003/2004, that the war on terror should go to the places where those terrorists are.”
Karimi’s talk, the first of the Ambassadors Speakers series put on by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, was supposed to look at what will happen in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and to do that, Karimi looked at what has happened since 2001, when al-Qaida orchestrated the events of 9/11 and the world started paying attention to Afghanistan again.
Predicting what will happen beyond 2014, when the Americans withdraw their troops and leave policing and governing up to the Afghan National Security Forces, the Afghan police and the government of President Hamid Karzai, is anyone’s guess, he said. But he did enumerate the achievements in his country since 2001.
“In December 2001, when we had the first Bonn conference (on Afghanistan), we only had 800,000 kids going to school, of which zero per cent were girls,” he said. “Today, we have nine million kids going to school and 37 per cent are girls. The quality of education isn’t as high as what you have in the west but still, it’s a great achievement.”
When it comes to economic development, he reported “very steady progress.” When the transitional government took power in Afghanistan, the Central Bank of Afghanistan had $400,000. Today, the growth of GDP in 2011/2012 is projected to be eight per cent. “That’s also an achievement,” he said.
Mining revenues, one of Afghanistan’s great hopes when it comes to industry, are also on the upswing. The ambassador quoted World Bank projections that by 2022, Afghanistan will be able to sustain 75 per cent of its government expenditure from its own revenues. “The mining will play a big role in that,” he said.
Afghanistan has contracted the country’s biggest copper mine to a Chinese company, he noted. An iron mine has been contracted to two companies — one Indian and one Canadian — and some oil exploration is being handled by a Chinese company.
“Over the next two to three years, we’ll have at least another 15 mining resources to be contracted to companies around the world,” he said. But even with all this steady progress, “the challenges are there.”
Karimi says one such challenge for the government is regaining its credibility with the people. When he was an independent director of local governance, he said he did an analysis of 370 districts in Afghanistan to see how money flowing from Kabul was helping peoples’ everyday lives. Of the 370 districts, 115 don’t have judges, 85 don’t have district attorneys, 62 have no health coverage and 48 have no education officers, he said.
“In these districts, where we couldn’t deliver services, people got away from us,” he said. “The world community, instead of supporting government to strengthen institutions and provide services, funded NGOs. Is that appreciated? Yes. People like it. Did it help? Yes. But when the troops left and the funding stopped, the services also stopped.”
And where there are services, such as a “beautiful paved road from Jalalabad,” the people credit the provincial reconstruction teams rather than their government, he said.
But, Karimi said, that is in the past. And now, Afghanistan needs to take responsibility.
“We put a deadline, 2014, as a transition period,” he said. “The transition shouldn’t be just a draw-down process, it shouldn’t be just a departure. We need to make sure this transition is about bringing assurances to the people of Afghanistan that services will be delivered and security will be provided, and more important than that, that governance will take place.”
So far, he said, the emphasis of the transition talks has been on security but his government must also be concerned about services.
“So what happens about services? When we have NGOs and lots of institutions that were providing services, how can we say we’ll come back and offer them?”
The government can’t do it for two reasons, he said. First, it doesn’t have the resources and second, providing services requires freedom of movement, something Afghans don’t yet enjoy. “A judge won’t be bothered to travel to Kandahar because he’ll be killed on the way,” Karimi said.
“If someone can actually suggest a solution for Afghanistan beyond 2014, it’s kind of like solving the mystery of the century,” said the man who once worked as President Hamid Karzai’s deputy chief of staff and later as one of his deputy ministers. “If you ask an ordinary Afghan what he or she thinks will happen, the negative side comes out right away and they say ‘the world is going to leave us alone.’”