International House Times Online Spring 2002: Alumni Perspective
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Alumni Perspective
Prof. M. Ishaq Nadiri as a student in 1958

Afghanistan: A Country in Need
By Professor M. Ishaq Nadiri

Some 40 years ago when I was a resident of the International House, it was the best of times for a small number of Afghani students who were attending Berkeley, as well as for Afghanistan itself. The country was advancing toward modernization and economic development, the new constitution was being discussed and the process of democratization in Afghanistan was progressing. We were all sure of the future as certain as we were of the appearance of the sun every afternoon in Berkeley.
...[I-House] was an experience of being part of the human family with all of its variety, intriguing complexity, and wonder.
International House was our gathering place. We all hung around in the Dining Hall and, particularly, the coffee shop, and were constantly amazed at meeting people from all over the world. Students from all corners of the globe were in International House working together, talking together, having fun together; it was an experience of being part of the human family with all of its variety, intriguing complexity, and wonder.

However, things have changed for us - and for Afghanistan.

The massive devastation of Afghanistan's economy and its political and cultural institutions over the 23 years of war is exceeded only by the well-documented suffering of its people: 1.7 million dead, another 2 million disabled from land mines, and countless others sick and weakened from starvation; a million refugees displaced within their own country, five million living marginal existences in Pakistan, Iran and the West. The Afghan economy is in a shambles: per capita income is falling; the country's finances are in chaos; the sources of government revenue have disappeared; all sectors of the economy from agriculture to health, have been damaged severely; the country is heavily mined and the illegal cultivation of opium poppies remains a challenge.
...the spirit of rebuilding Afghanistan and the resurgence of its identity and culture is very much alive.
Even with all these problems, the spirit of rebuilding Afghanistan and the resurgence of its identity and culture is very much alive. A number of immediate and long-term challenges exist. They must be met with the help of the international community, as well as with resources of the Afghan population - both inside and outside the country.

A number of steps must be taken immediately. First of all, security must be established throughout all of Afghanistan. This is the most basic precondition for any economic reconstruction and establishment of a democratic government.

The second most urgent task is to feed the Afghan people - both within Afghanistan and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. A great quantity of humanitarian aid has begun flowing into the country; it is necessary to make sure that it reaches those for whom it is intended.

A third, and related, task is to make it possible for millions of displaced Afghans to return to their homes and begin to farm the land once again, thereby restoring the traditional source of jobs and food for the majority of the Afghan people.

Meaningful and direct assistance must be given to farmers as incentive not to cultivate a most reliable cash crop: the opium poppy. By supporting farmers in the cultivation of alternative cash crops, we will not only help Afghan farmers. We will also help the West in its fight to curtail heroin while at the same time reducing the power of the drug warlords who have long used the poppies as a staple of their economy.

The longer-term issues are complex and challenging.

If Afghanistan's economy is to be revived, major investments in the infrastructure will also be needed. Housing, particularly for returning refugees, will need to be constructed immediately. Major Afghan cities must be rebuilt as centers of economic and cultural life. Village housing must be provided on a massive scale. Roads, airports and communications systems must also be revitalized if trade is to thrive once again. The financial and educational systems need to be rebuilt almost entirely from scratch.

Afghans must not only rebuild their economy, but they must use development projects to establish peace in all regions of the country. Careful attention must be given to the huge portion of population that is most vulnerable - the sick, children, the aged and women.

Afghanistan has substantial resources that can be exploited. There is the potential for oil and gas exploration, for mining of iron ore and precious metals. These activities should be explored in a framework of economic development across Central Asia, where big investment plans are underway. Afghanistan, indeed, must be integrated into the regional pipeline and other development schemes. The projected pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through western Afghanistan is an example.

None of this will be possible unless Afghanistan's young males are disarmed and given productive work to do. The country must make every effort to unleash the vitality of the Afghan private sector and harness the considerable talents of Afghans, within as well as outside the country, residing in neighboring countries and in the West - those who possess skills and have made professional achievements - can join in rebuilding the country by establishing small firms that will provide work for the legions of unemployed.

In order for these daunting tasks to be accomplished, both the Afghans and the international community must meet their respective responsibilities. The International community must be steadfast in supporting the economic and political reliabilities of Afghanistan over several years. It must provide enough support to ensure security in all of Afghanistan, must be generous with economic aid and technical assistance and provide assistance for rebuilding the Afghan army and police force. On the Afghan side, care must be taken that the following steps are followed.

The rebuilding effort in Afghanistan must be well organized and efficient. Above all, the use of aid from the international donors must be highly transparent. There must be accountability. The taxpayers of donor countries and the Afghan population will not support this effort without it - nor should they.

Ultimately, the rebuilding of the Afghan nation and society rests on the capacity, capability and degree of participation of the Afghans - those both inside and outside of the country - themselves.

I know that the alumni of the International House, dispersed throughout the world, would take some interest in assisting the people of Afghanistan who have suffered so much. Each one of us, as individuals or as members of groups or associations, could help in their own country to give political and material support to Afghanistan's rehabilitation. Such an effort could be the best example of the spirit of international cooperation, which has been the basic message of living in the International House.
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