The Finance Ministry…The Deputy Minister of Finance outlined the 22 National Priorities Program of the Afghan Government that have been or are being fully developed with budgets and action plans. $15 billion is being sought to renovate and reenvigorate core needs of the country leading to a base level of self- sustainment. These will be further vetted and approved in July. This program is important because it is designed to build structure for the future governing of the Country. It is hard to comprehend how devastated Afghanistan became during 30 years of continuous war beginning with the Russians and followed by the Civil war, Taliban neglect and then the slow emergence of the present democratic-based system.
The Ministry is also working to establish a viable, governed, modern banking system following the Kabul Bank debacle of about a year ago.
The Agriculture Ministry…Three high-level leaders of the Ministry (one a Fulbright Scholar and one a Humphrey Scholar) met with us. The past 30 years of war have devastated this sector as well. In 1970 Afghanistan was nearly self-sufficient in food production. They are now 600,000 hectares short of self-sufficiency because irrigation infra-structure on these lands has yet to be rebuilt. Afghanistan has 8 million hectares of arable land. Programs for better farming methods, storage of crops, and developing markets/distribution channels for money crops other than poppies are all planned and in early implementation. They feel confident that the poppies can be replaced by legitimate crops such as pomegranates over time.
Student Shura…a highlight of the trip. Met with 12 high school and college students, male and female who believe that peace and education, which go together, are the most important issues for moving the country forward. Their English was excellent. The girls spoke of the difficulty for them still in spite of their significant gains in the last 10 years. During the Taliban years, no girls were allowed to attend school. Ambassador Crocker sponsored this Shura giving the students direct access to him for Q&A.
Meeting with 9 journalists…5 were women. We learned that though the press is nominally free, there is significant censorship pressure from the government, war lords and other moneyed interests. And women are less able to function than men because the old norms die slowly, and the decision-makers are men with few exceptions.
UNAMA…Jan Kubis is the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan which employs about 450 foreigners and 2,000 Afghans. He gave us a substantive and detailed briefing. Essentially he is optimistic that current plans with, for, and by Afghanistan could succeed.