|The first five pictures were taken while driving through Kabul to appointments. The last one was taken at Babur Gardens which I mentioned yesterday as being really stunning and quite a renovations achievement.
Talking with Embassy economic officials today gave a hard nosed picture of the Afghanistan economy which has improved since 2004 with GDP growing at an average 9% rate but is still extremely fragile in all aspects. At present it is not a sustainable economy without the the aid that the International community pumps in. From the U.S. point of view, Afghanistan has started to turn from the shambles it was in after the Taliban left. But the work is not over and we should not abandon it…for the sake of their well being and our security.
There is an interesting university run by Americans for Afghans called American University of Afghanistan. They have about 1,000 students and offer a 4-year degree and an MBA. Talked with several students from Kandahar and Herat. All very sharp, polite and engaged in their studies. Like all places we visit, to gain entry to the school we went through an elaborate series of gates and guards. But once inside, it was a serene college campus. Tuition costs $6,000 per year. Room and Board are additional. They also served a delicious Afghan lunch of kabobs, pilaf and naan.
Met members of the small but growing American Chamber of Commerce. The importance of Afghanistan-based private sector businesses cannot be overstated. Without them, there cannot be adequate investment for employment and overall economic growth. But the country is only at the starting blocks, and has many missing elements such as a viable private banking sector that could make loans for growth to adequately capitalized companies.
Finally we met with four members of Parliament (three woman and one man). The Parliament has two chambers with 102 members appointed to the upper chamber and 249 elected to the lower chamber. 98 of the members in the two chambers combined are woman. Three gave us a scathing diatribe on the recent killings in Panjwai. This is naturally a very emotional issue for Afghans and Americans. Yet their conclusions that this was the act of a concerted military raid rather than the work of one person does not match the facts as investigated by the International forces. Yet, they did want the security forces to continue to protect the country and to keep a presence beyond 2014 to assure that all the progress of the past 10 years will be sustained. Feelings are running very high still and there obviously needs some time to pass for healing.