Overcoming obstacles in Afghanistan
|From left to right, Deputy Minister Barna Karimi of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, Representative Golalai Nur Safi of Balkh Province and presidential advisor Ershad Ahmadi pose for a photo in front of the Lotte Hotel Seoul. The three Afghan officials were here to attend an international conference on international development efforts in the region. By Kim Tae-seong |
The Korean government recently announced its plans to send a provincial reconstruction team to Afghanistan next year along with a troop escort to provide security for civilian workers helping with rebuilding projects in the war-torn country.
So The Asia Foundation picked the perfect time to hold its conference on “Development Challenges & International Cooperation: Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan” in Seoul on Nov. 24 and 25.
High-ranking Afghan government officials, including presidential advisor Ershad Ahmadi, Deputy Minister Barna Karimi of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance and Representative Golalai Nur Safi of Balkh Province, were in town last week to attend the meeting.
The JoongAng Ilbo sat down with them to ask about the present situation in Afghanistan. In the interview, they said that Parwan, the region in which the Korean government is considering setting up its team, has been a safe place historically and is also home to the United States’ large Bagram Air Base. They added that Afghanistan hopes that the Korean provincial reconstruction team (PRT), which is expected to train the local police and build public security facilities, will stay in the region until the local government can defend itself.
Following are excerpts from that interview.
Q. How much progress has been made in the discussion on the Korean government’s dispatching a PRT to Afghanistan?
Karimi: The Afghan government is now looking for regions where the Korean PRT can operate. When the location is finalized, Korean troops will build a military base in the region.
From the Afghan side, we will provide land and carry out relevant activities to secure the safety during the construction project.
We also need to fix the relevant laws and regulations for the Korean PRT to operate in Afghanistan. It has not yet been decided whether the Korean team will come to Afghanistan next May. We are committed to future discussions on the matter.
There is much concern in Korea about the security situation in Afghanistan. Rumor has it that the Korean delegation that recently visited Afghanistan to assess the security situation there in preparation to send the PRT traveled in a U.S. tank for security reasons.
Karimi: The rules say that U.S. troops always take charge of convoys for Korean delegations when they go to provincial areas for safety reasons. [That is why] they used the U.S. military vehicles this time.
Kabul, the capital, is free from safety concerns. However, when people plan to move to other areas, it is a better idea to be offered safety measures by reporting the travel to the police. Accidents can happen when one neglects to do so.
Safi: Terrorist incidents occur mostly in provincial areas. The north of Kabul is safe, but the south is not free from dangers because of the Taliban, to be honest.
Ahmadi: There are some Korean people and companies working in Afghanistan. There are two ways for them to ensure their safety. If they are working on a government project, the Afghan government provides safety measures via the police force. However, if they work for a private project, they can turn to a private security company.
There was a hostage crisis involving Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan in 2007. What does the Afghan government think of foreign Christian missions operating in the country?
Karimi: The official name of Afghanistan is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which means the country’s established religion is Islam and therefore Christian missions are not allowed to operate in the country by law.
The Koreans who were involved in mission work in the past didn’t report their activities to the Afghan government and the government will not welcome any Korean Christian missions returning to the country.
Ahmadi: It is not that the Afghan people don’t respect Christianity. However, we have our own way of life and our own religion. We hope others will respect that.
We will always welcome Christians if they are coming to Afghanistan for tourism or to help provide humanitarian aid, but it causes embarrassment if they come for religious purposes.
Currently in Afghanistan there are 28 provincial reconstruction teams from around the world, and some Christian groups are included, but they are not engaged in religious activities.
How much influence does the Taliban have in Afghanistan now?
Karimi: About 50 of the 364 local governments in Afghanistan are dominated by the Taliban. But this is not because the Taliban is strong, but because local governments are too weak.
In places where local governments fail to provide people with necessary services and information, the Taliban is taking over these jobs that the government ought to do and so they are reaching the people. The Taliban also often attempts to disrupt society with terrorist plots.
What efforts is the Afghan government making for the country’s economic development?
Karimi: The Afghan government plans to create a government organization like the Korea Development Institute in Korea and to develop a system for the country’s economic development.
President [Hamid] Karzai announced plans for the country’s future development in his inauguration last month, which include ensuring public security, combating corruption, establishing an effective model of state governance, peacekeeping and economic development. In addition, a special committee on anti-corruption was set up within the presidential office about 10 months ago.
Safi: The Assembly is now fixing outdated laws and concentrating its efforts on helping the many women who suffer the emotional effects of prolonged war or rape.
The number of schools has also increased seven-fold to 12,000 compared with the era before 2000 when the Taliban was in power. We have also started a program for women’s education and [as a result] female students now account for more than 30 percent, or 2.5 million people, of the total 7 million students in the country.
By Oh Day-young [firstname.lastname@example.org]