March 31: Mining, Education and President Karzai

Mining…The Minister of Mines, Waheedullah Shahrani, was impressive in his grasp of the opportunity presented by Afghanistan’s significant mineral wealth as well as the that which hinder the rapid realization of exploiting these ifor the benefit of the public treasury. Without presenting specfic statistics here, the country has proven iron ore, copper, gems and oil & gas reserves. They are well surveyed, but are several years away from contributing to the economy. Successful bids on concessions for copper and iron ore have been signed, but the preparation of the mines have yet to be under way. The biggest impediment to successful exploitation is the lack of roads, rail, and pipelines to transport ore, gas and oil. And rail links are the most difficult in that neighboring countries through which the minerals must travel (Afghanistan is landlocked) use three different rail gauges. Nonetheless, mining is an important sector for development and it is realistic to think that over the next 10 years (assuming a reasonably peaceful countryside) it will materialize.

 Education…The Minster of Education, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, is a power house politician. As mentioned in early posts, education advances have been tremendous since 2001 when there were  900,000 students (our equivalent of K-12) in a population of 30 million, and they were all boys. Now there are 7 million students and 40% are girls. Kabul University and several private universities are growing. There is a long way to go as there are too few teachers (particularly female teachers), too few adequate books, too many students still not going to school (about 4 million) because of religious beliefs and poverty. The good news is that improvements have been made each year since 2001 and plans are in place to continue upward.

President Karzai…Our final meeting was a 40-minute audience with President Hamid Karzai in his private office. We were able to meet with him due to the personal involvement of Ambassador Crocker who joined us. He pushed for the meeting because he feels our mission and that World Affairs Councils across the U.S. are extremely important in informing grass roots Americans about the facts from which foreign policy must be made.

President Karzai expressed sincere appreciation for the U.S and the International Community for their work in the social and economic infrastructure of Afghanistan. But he was critical of security actions over the past two years that he believes have led to recent terrible incidents that have inflamed Afghan feelings towards the U.S. and its allies. He thinks that foreign forces needed to draw back on night raids and other direct military interface with the public and that Afghans should be doing their own security. Some of this has been happening and I will be talking more about it at my talks when I return. In many ways this is not different than the goals of ISAF, but the timing is quite different. A lot of diplomacy will be called upon to resolve the differences and find acceptable agreement between the U.S. and the Afghan governments.

The Palace (meaning President Karzai and his staff) released a press statement about our visit showing appreciation for our visit to Afghanistan.

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