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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2002

U.S. Assistance to Afghanistan

Andrew S. Natsios, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Remarks to American Enterprise Institute
Washington, DC
October 18, 2002

Released by the United States Agency for International Development

I didn't know you were from Boston, Danielle. I have to tell you I was in the (Massachusetts) state legislature and I voted twice against the Big Dig. Then, when the governor asked me to take it over when it got in financial trouble, I said, "I don't even support it." He said, "but you can clean it up." So I did that for a year. It was the worst job I've ever had, I think.

Well, it's a pleasure to be here today at an institution I've always admired. Many of my favorite scholars are scholars-in-residence here. Ambassador (Jeane) Kirkpatrick has always been a hero of mine and, so it's, indeed, a pleasure to be at the American Enterprise Institute today.

President Bush and Secretary Powell have made the reconstruction of Afghanistan a very important priority. It is still occupying a lot of my time and the senior staff's time. We meet weekly at an interagency coordination meeting that has taken place every week since January on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is a central focus of the Administration, and we intend to be there for a very long time. We've opened a USAID Mission in Kabul. We did that, I think, in January. Craig Buck, who is our new mission director - he reports to the ambassador, Ambassador Finn -- did the reconstruction of Kosovo and, before that, the reconstruction of Bosnia. He's known for his aggressiveness and for moving rapidly.

We have, since January, spent $340 million toward the reconstruction effort. We've converted much of the humanitarian relief program into a reconstruction program. And next week we'll obligate an additional $73 million for a total of $413 million. That money will go toward the reconstruction of a road that I'll be discussing in a few minutes.

So the commitment is there. We opened the AID mission and we're going to be there for the long-term. We expect to be in Afghanistan for a decade or more. I have to tell you that many of our career staff want to -- or are applying to -- go there. When we had an AID mission before the civil war started in 1978, this was a post that was in great demand for our foreign service officers and our staff because they like working with the Afghan people and the Afghan government. And they're back there, some of them who worked there 24 years ago are retired now. Some of them want to come out of retirement to work back on this important project.

The President has said we will stay the course to help that country to develop in their image, not ours. It's an important qualification. It is a country on the other side of the world; has a different culture than ours. And we need to respect that culture.

In the spring of this year, as the terror war was winding down, we sent in the Feinstein Famine Center from Tufts to do a microeconomic analysis of the challenges we were facing. Sue Lautze, who I worked with in Sudan 13 years ago during the civil war there, led the team. And trained 30 people to do 1,200 three-hour interviews, randomly across the country, in all regions, in all social classes, all ethnic groups. They were regionally balanced and ethnically balanced to get a sense of what was going on in Afghan society, because some things in a society, you don't see. They're there and they're invisible, but they're very powerful.

She did that and produced an extraordinary report. It's on our Web site, if you want to read it, but it gives you some sense of the enormous stress that the country has been under for 24 years, now. You have to remember the destruction of Afghanistan over 24 years of civil war and then Taliban is beyond comprehension. Parts of Kabul look like Berlin in 1945 -- almost complete devastation of all public services, all public sector, all buildings, all homes, everything.

And so the process of reconstruction is going to take a very long time. It's not going to be done in a few months.

The Lautze study that came out in the spring that we commissioned, showed us that the debt burden facing the people was so enormous that it was going to impact the ability for us, through the donor community and working with President Karzai's government, to get the private market economy stimulated. The Afghans are very, very gifted business people. And if we can simply get the platform correct, they will, because of their skill in business, begin to rebuild the private market system.

The drought has been going on for four or five years now in the south; five years in the north -- four years -- we had some relief because we've had a substantial improvement in agricultural production this year; because there were rains sporadically in the north. But that drought has devastated the southern half of the country where 95 percent of the animals have died, and it's a herding population; a rural economy, dependent on these animal herds.

What we also found is there are four economies working in Afghanistan. This is sort of the template explaining what's been going on there. The first is a war economy, which has functioned for the last 24 years and it's based on weapons markets and looting and kidnapping and fighting and drafting young men who are unemployed into these regional warlord militias that have existed over the last two decades. The war economy is not a healthy part of Afghan society and virtually everybody everywhere are tired of it, they want it to go away. They want the guns to go away. They want the munitions to go away and that is not just in the central government, that is a goal of people in the villages if you talk to them.

There's a poppy economy. A large portion of the world's heroin supply comes from Afghanistan. It is a new thing. Ten years ago there was very little, if any, poppy production in Afghanistan; the Taliban encouraged it. For two reasons: one is they said to destroy Western culture because it was going to be an export to the West. And, two, it was to finance their plans.

A large portion of the tax revenues that Taliban used to conduct their operations and manage their government were from the poppy crop. At least 30 percent of the population, the United Nations estimates, is affected by the poppy production, which is to say they're either sporadic workers in the poppy fields; they process the stuff; they have farms growing it; or they work the transport system that moves the opium out and the heroin out.

There's a third economy, the aid agency economy -- the UN, the international NGOs, the local NGOs. And that's a healthy thing but it's short-term. There is reconstruction of a lot of buildings to house aid workers; there is purchase of equipment and food; there is, in fact, huge employment for Afghan staff doing reconstruction work through these agencies. But it is only temporary; some of those agencies will be there for a very long time. There are several major American NGOs that have been in Afghanistan for 30 years and I expect they're going to be there for a long time afterwards. But many of the newer NGOs will not last very long. And then there are the U.N. agencies, so we have to understand that it is an artificial economy. It is not a healthy way of building a country over the long term.

The final and legitimate economy is the agricultural economy and the transport economy. Why is the transport economy so important? Because it's at the heart of Central Asia; it controls ground routes into Pakistan and India and, of course, to Iran on the other side into Central Asia in the North. So, Afghanistan has a weakness in that it's geostrategically and economically extraordinarily well-situated,which means everybody wants to interfere in it to control those routes. It's the old silk road routes from ancient times. Marco Polo traversed Afghanistan. Of course, we know that Alexander the Great's armies went through it. Many people still remember Alexander the Great in the villages. I was somewhat astonished by that. But they remember and some of them claim lineage to Alexander the Great, if you talk to many of the people in the villages.

The fact is, though, that that can be a great benefit if the road system is reconstructed, the infrastructure is reconstructed. It can be a powerful source of revenue for the country.

Now, how do we deal with the reconstruction? There are five political imperatives that we face in writing the reconstruction plan. The first principle is that we must strengthen the central government's capacity to govern and provide public services. That is of central importance, because if the government doesn't do that--doesn't provide services and is not seen as in control, then they're will be a disillusion among the Afghan people over the longer term. So that is our first principle.

The second is: President Karzai has said he wants a visible role for the United States because he and his cabinet, the Afghan government, are in an alliance with the United States and there has to be visible evidence that the United States is helping. We have, I have to tell you, not done a particularly good job in publicizing what we've done. We've done an extraordinary amount of things since January, but we have not published or publicized them because we've been too busy doing them.

The third principle is there's extremely high expectations of, after 24 years of civil war and destruction and instability among the Afghan people -- Ashraf Ghani, the Finance Minister, and President Carter, who I visited with in January, told me a story--when they came back from the Japan pledging conference where the world pledged billions of dollars to reconstruct the country -- that they went to mosque -- to prayers on Friday after they returned from Tokyo. And they were mobbed. They were a little afraid, what was happening. And what it was was the enormous outburst of enthusiasm by the people in Kabul in that mosque for what they had done at the pledging conference, and the hope that the Afghan people had in the new government to end the 24 years of nightmare and begin the reconstruction of the society.

So there is a very, very high level of expectation. There's also, because of the terror war and the United States being there and other allies and the presence of agencies from the outside, very high expectations which have to be managed.

We also have to have not just the image of improving things, but there has to be a reality that the lives of the average person in the rural areas. It's a rural society; 80 percent of the people prior to the conflict lived in rural areas. Their lives have to be improved. And if we simply used smoke and mirrors and public relations to talk about what we're doing and there were no effect on the common people of Afghanistan, there will be disillusion and there will be anger.

So, part of what we have to do is in areas there will be no visibility to, because they are remote, no one can go and take pictures, no one will see what we're doing, except the people there. So it's very important that we not just focus in the cities where the media is and the public is and the international community is, but in the rural areas where the people live who will provide the basic support for a stable country.

The human misery index in Afghanistan is among the worst in the world. Life expectancy is 44 years for women and 43 years for men. The risk of dying in childbirth for a woman is 100 times higher in Afghanistan than it is in the United States. Afghanistan is tied with Sierra Leone with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world; 25 percent of the infants die before their first birthday. And Afghanistan has one of the lowest caloric intakes per capita in the world.

The final principle around our strategy is to ensure ethnic and regional balance in the reconstruction effort. I was given clear instructions by State and by the White House that we are to show reconstruction in all areas of the country among people who will let us work with them. There are areas of instability. It's very difficult with people shooting at you -- in a couple of areas -- to do reconstruction. But to the extent that there's stability, we will be there to work across ethnic and regional lines.

Our three operational objections are: First, to continue to provide humanitarian assistance so we do not have high death rates, particularly this winter. The Afghan winter is something that people from the United States cannot even imagine. Part of Afghanistan is more like the Himalayan Mountains. In some areas, in Hazarajat, in the central part of the country, in a normal winter there will be 20 or 30 feet of snow and it will be 30 or 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It is an Arctic climate in the very high Hindu Kush and in the Hazarajat. And so, in the wintertime, it is particularly dangerous for the survival of the Afghan people, particularly those people coming back from refugee camps in Iran, Pakistan and Iran or who were displaced within the country and want to go back to their homes and their farms. And huge numbers -- 2 million -- have returned unexpectedly without anybody's help, but they're not all prepared for the winter. So we're very concerned about that. We have an inter-agency task force working on plans with other donor governments and the United Nations and the NGO community to ensure that people are provided for this winter.

The second principle is to restore the private market economy, which is the agriculture system and the transport system and the markets. If the markets function and people have jobs and there's commerce going on and money is moving in the economy and jobs are being created, it will affect the security situation because there will be jobs for young men. In almost every conflict in the world, if you have a very high unemployment rate among young men between 18 and 25, you will have instability. It's true everywhere in the world. And we have extremely high unemployment rates now among that population. We need to do some projects, particularly in infrastructure, that will suck up that excess labor so that those young men have something to do.

The third objective is to support the reconstitution and capacity building of the Afghan national government through visible infrastructure projects and the reconstitution of public services, like public health and education. Let me talk about each of these.

The humanitarian assistance and resettlement program began before September 11 (2001). The largest humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, prior to September 11, was the United States government. We provided $1 billion of humanitarian aid during the 1990s to the Afghan people just to keep them alive. We did not run reconstruction projects because the policy of the U.S. government across several administrations was, we did not want to support a dysfunctional political system. That has changed now. And so that's why we've converted much of our relief program into a reconstruction program. This year, we have already spent $340 million since January --since the reconstruction pledged by Colin Powell was made in January at the Tokyo pledging conference. We pledged $297 million, we've spent $340 million and we're about to obligate another $73 million next week from this road and for money in the national budget to support government operations. So our spending next week will be up to $410 million. That is a substantial amount of money. That is not a pledge; it is not money in an account, it's money that's actually been spent on these projects.

Now, what are we doing to prepare for the humanitarian emergency we may face this winter? The Salang Tunnel is the major, in fact, the only real transport route from the south to the north through the Hindu Kush and the Hazarajat north. We did provide, with the Russians, money and equipment to restore that tunnel, open it. We're doing some more reconstruction of that tunnel to make sure they can get through the winter. And then the road that goes up from Kabul north as it climbs up into the mountains needs work or it won't survive the winter. And it's very important to keep the north and the south transport routes functioning.

We've begun five large-scale cash for work projects working through the major international NGOs at the grassroots level to ensure people have some money to buy food if they can't get food assistance through the World Food Program, this winter. We are pre-positioning food for the winter in inaccessible areas for 1.2 million and that planning is going on right now.

In terms of rebuilding the economy, which I believe is of absolutely central importance, the Afghan government is creating probably the ideal policy frame work for rebuilding a private sector market-driven economy. Ashraf Ghani, the Finance Minister, worked at the World Bank for 20 years, he is a believer in the private sector, as President Karzai is, and they are moving from what was a Marxist economy and government ownership of major means of production. For example, all the cement factories are owned by the government. None of them are functioning right now. And Ghani keeps saying we need to get those cement companies back -- privatize them, get them functioning -- because we need that cement for the reconstruction of the country.

The irrigation systems are central. The Hazarajat snows melt and there's a 300-year-old irrigation system that is very functional, but destroyed systematically by the Taliban in many areas of the country as they conducted their war, particularly against the Northern Alliance. The Shamali Plain north of the city that I visited in January was a rich agricultural area; it's completely destroyed now. All the irrigation system's been damaged or needs rehabilitation. We've already begun that process: 873 kilometers of canals have been rehabilitated in the last six months, and 1,789 karezes. Karezes are a very interesting system in an arid climate. It's fascinating how they had technologies 300 years ago that were so effective. They dig the wells underground and then they build underground tunnels between wells into the irrigated agricultural areas to provide water for the orchards. There are vast orchards in Afghanistan. The best apples I've seen outside the United States are from Afghanistan.

They had vast vineyards. It looks like they're all dead, but the farmers, when I talked to them, said even though they look dead, the roots are still alive and all we can do is get the irrigated agricultural system back on line, flood the fields, the orchards and the vineyards in three years will begin to restore themselves. They said this happened once before and we were able to restore those orchards which are a very important cash crop for export purposes which will bring income into the country.

We're running some veterinary programs now to begin to immunize the animals that are being brought in from neighboring brought in from neighboring countries to reconstitute the animal herds. Afghanistan has very little animal disease. We do not want to import animal diseases from neighboring countries. And so there's a big effort now working through UN agencies and the NGOs and the agriculture ministry in Kabul to begin that effort to reconstitute these herds. They're a very important source of nutrition and of income for people in Afghanistan.

The key to rebuilding the economy is agriculture. And one of the most important statistics from what happened this year is a huge increase in agricultural production, an 800,000 ton increase in wheat production. In the last six months, we injected 7,000 tons of improved-seed wheat varieties that we collected all over Central Asia that is drought resistant. So it will grow even when there's drought -- not severe drought, but it will increase production by 80 to 100 percent per hectare and about 100,000 of the 800,000 tons of increased production comes from the seed the United States put into these areas. We also put in 15,000 tons of fertilizer. We have begun to reconstruct some of the agricultural private sector businesses that move the surpluses around that are very important to job creation. And we've just had a 600 percent increase in cotton production in the poppy growing areas where people are beginning to convert some of the poppy fields to cotton, which is a legitimate cash crop we want to encourage.

In terms of rural roads, we've rebuilt five bridges and 857 kilometers of tertiary roads so that farmers can move their surpluses to market, which is very important. The Kabul to Kandahar to Herat road project will begin in two weeks. The engineering company that we have competitively bid and chosen is on the ground now and is designing the first 47 kilometers of road that we will begin to reconstruct and there's one bridge in that, I guess there are six bridges in total, we will reconstruct. These are big bridges going from Kabul south to Kandahar, which is the center of the Pushtun area and then the road will be reconstructed from Kandahar to Herat in the West. That road is very important for commerce, but it's also important in terms of tying the country together politically. President Karzai and President Bush made this announcement with the Japanese government and the Saudi Arabian government. We're putting $80 million into it with support from the Congress, and $50 million is being put in by the Japanese government, and $50 million by the Saudis. It will take three years to do it, but we're beginning, literally, immediately.

We've also redug 564 wells with food-for-work projects, several hundred schools and health clinics now. We've provided assistance to the Ministry of Water and Power in the central government to provide one-fourth of Kabul's water supply and bring water to about 700,000 people in Kunduz and Kandahar, which are two important provinces and cities in Afghanistan.

In the education area, in the spring, we printed 10.6 million textbooks in record time, in Dari and Pushto, the two chief languages. Those were distributed and I have to tell you we ran out. The number of kids below the third grade that came back to school -- because many of them had never been to school before -- was double what the UN was anticipating and the NGOs and the central ministries. We were shocked at the number of kids. There is an obsession among the Afghan people to get their kids into school. And I have to say this is not only very healthy, it shows the Afghan value system is on target, but it's also important for security reasons. If we have high school students in school learning, they're not going to be joining militias, they're not going to get blown up by land mines. So, for security reasons and for security of stability of the society, in addition to education, these schools are of central importance.

Also very important because two-thirds of the teachers in Afghanistan pre-Taliban, were women. And if we're going to reintroduce the role of women who, before '78, were very influential in Afghan society, reintroduce them into a prominent role, it is through the schools that it is best done. And so these 10.6 million textbooks were important to draw kids back and teachers back to the classroom. We've trained 1,500 teachers who were trained to go back to their villages and train about 30,000 teachers which we also provided teacher kits to. This was through the University of Nebraska.

Fifty thousand teachers are being provided a monthly ration, food-for-work rationing -- they don't get a salary, they're getting enough food to feed their families and so they don't have to run around during the day trying to scrape up food because they don't have any ways of supporting their family.

We've also begun the reconstruction of the communication system. We made an agreement with the Japanese: they would do the TV station, we'd do the radio stations. We did. There is a broadcasting system now for the whole country through Radio Afghanistan, which used to be called Radio Kabul. It broadcasts to the whole country. We've trained a couple hundred reporters in what we would like to think are objective standards of reporting. I'm not sure we have expertise in that necessarily in the United States, but we do know what the standards are, even if we don't always follow them necessarily. We've worked with the central government to liberalize the media laws and also to introduce private broadcasting, privately owned radio stations because we don't want them all owned by the government. And there's a new radio station we're working with that will be private, done by members of the Afghan diaspora from Australia that will begin broadcasting privately, commercially in December.

In the democracy and governance area, we were instrumental in providing the logistics systems to transport people who were chosen for the Loya Jirga, which is this council that chose the Karzai government that is now in office that took place this summer. By the way, we also had the radio station put in place so that almost the entire Loya Jirga proceedings could be broadcast to the whole country. So everybody could hear what was going on. We thought it would be a good constraint on people's behavior if they knew the entire Afghan population was listening to them. It is a radio culture: the Afghan people are very familiar with radio and listen to it across the country. And it is one way that President Karzai has been communicating to the entire population his messages. He has a weekly broadcast on Saturdays. I did sort of borrow that from our American presidents. He liked the idea when I suggested it to him in January. And he's been doing that for the last several months.

In the health area, we've spent $30 million on health services, funding 68 clinics across the country that have been reconstructed with pharmaceuticals and improved training. We've trained about 1,154 community-based health workers and provided equipment to these clinics, as well, and we're beginning a training program now for mid-wives to treat childbirth complications. We funded a UN effort to treat 700,000 cases of malaria and vaccinate 4.25 million children against measles. Health is a very serious problem in Afghanistan and without a healthy population people are not going to be able to work the fields and support themselves.

We have a lot of work to be done, but our staff, both in State and AID and other federal agencies that are working on this are working overtime on it. We take it very seriously, and we intend to continue to provide that leadership and those services working through the central government to develop the capacity so these services can be provided by the central government, not by exterior agencies.

I think, over the long-term, what I've seen in Afghanistan right now is very hopeful. People are tired of the conflict, they're tired of chaos and instability, and there's a willingness across the population, I think, to try to bring peace to the country and begin the reconstruction process. They're a very talented, very rich culture, which I think is going to be very helpful to the development process and the reconstruction process.

Thank you, and now I'd be glad to answer any questions that people might have.

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