In today’s world, there is probably no location more central to global security than Afghanistan. While the United States’ early efforts succeeded in breaking the Taliban’s control of the county and did a great deal to root out al Qaeda’s presence, the Taliban has been successful in regaining some of its former power.
Meanwhile, the proper approach to dealing with the problem has been a challenge to the Obama administration, with calls for everything from withdrawal to increased engagement. With so many questions and so much at stake, it makes sense to turn a man intimately familiar with Afghanistan and the United States’ involvement there, Said T. Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the United States. Here is the ambassador in a candid Q-and-A on the eve of President Barack Obama’s announcement of the U. S. plan of engagement.
How dangerous would a “Talibanized” Afghanistan be today as compared to Afghanistan pre-Sept. 11?
The security in Afghanistan has improved tremendously since before the 9/11 attacks. In fact, a new study from the Asia Foundation, which polled Afghans across the country … reported that 64 percent of Afghans rate the current security situation in their region as “good” or “very good.” We still have a way to go to further disband the Taliban’s operations in Afghanistan, but with time the majority of Afghans continue to agree that security improves on a day-to-day basis.
How essential is a physical safe haven to al Qaeda’s operational capability?
Physical safe havens are essential to al Qaeda’s operations; they allow the terrorists to reorganize, train and grow their networks, but this is a debate that has been growing among members of President Obama’s administration. Some individuals feel that terrorists can organize just as effectively online, but I tend to disagree. The master plan for the attacks on 9/11 grew from a physical safe haven and included training, firearm instruction and English lessons. I think destroying and blocking the return of these safe havens is among our best weapon against the war on terror.
Hamid Karzai is widely perceived to be corrupt. What can he do to change that perception?
Despite the allegations, President Karzai and the majority of his Cabinet are among the most dedicated and capable leaders Afghanistan has seen. Still, President Karzai and other leaders within our country are working to turn the negative image around. Within Afghanistan, the president has been successful promoting unity and inclusiveness among ethnic groups which may not have enjoyed such recognition within the country before today. He has made great strides within Afghanistan’s borders, and in order to repair whatever concerns have developed between President Karzai and other countries, the same type of inclusiveness and sharing of information will have to take place.
How comparable is America’s situation in Afghanistan today to that of the Soviets in the 1980s?
The biggest difference today, in my opinion, is we have a global community working together, along with Afghanistan to stand up democracy, freedom and pluralism for all Afghans. We have the additional challenge today of working with a country that has suffered military conflict, now, for many, many years. The challenges are great, and the country’s infrastructure is not as strong as it may have been without a strong government through the 80’s and 90’s.
Which areas of the global war on terrorism, if any, have suffered because of America’s disproportionate commitment of energy and resources to Afghanistan?
The United States has put forth great resources in Afghanistan. Afghans understand that Americans chose to divert resources, I’m sure we would have liked to have seen put forth in Afghanistan, but we are thankful for the United States’ leadership, as well as the work and resources put forth by all the other NATO countries who have tirelessly worked alongside Afghans the past eight years. Economically, we understand as well that the global community is facing its own challenges, and so we appreciate and are very thankful to all who can commit their resources to improving Afghanistan. We are also looking forward to whatever decision President Obama makes in the coming weeks regarding the commitment of additional U.S. troops to the region.
Which mainstream analyst (Peter Bergen, Stephen Biddle, Stephen Coll, Gilles Dorronsoro, etc.) has the best understanding of the situation?
I think all the mainstream analysts add something to the debate of the challenges in Afghanistan, and throughout the region. I have worked with the majority of individuals, participated in their debate, and shared my thoughts on the topic. It’s very difficult to understand just what the political situation offers both in Afghanistan and around the world, and I welcome everyone’s analysis of the situation and encourage their debates.
What is the most demanding aspect of your job as ambassador of Afghanistan?
Probably balancing time against my neverending desire to work around the clock. There is much to be done for Afghanistan, and I don’t ever quite feel as if my day has come to an end.
What do you do to relax and recharge? You look very fit. How do you stay in good shape?
I try to maintain some regular exercise and eat well, although I admit it gets difficult with my schedule and traveling. I also enjoy a good polo match and try to play every weekend during the regular season. I don’t get too much downtime, especially since the workday in Afghanistan continues when the United States is enjoying the weekend, but I enjoy a good book, listening to music and I enjoy time with my family and friends.
The international world has become very involved in the Afghan election scandal. Do you think this has been helpful?
Yes, I think the world’s interest in Afghanistan is at once welcomed, and very much needed. Afghans welcome the assistance we are receiving from around the world. We recognize that there are challenges on the path to developing a working democracy, and becoming a viable player on the world stage. The more assistance we receive now as we experiencing so called, “growing pain,” the better off Afghanistan will be in the long run.