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Afghanistan dominates U.S. policy, but rarely do American citizens get to speak directly to Afghans. In partnership with America Abroad, Kojo hosts a special broadcast in which university students, policemen, military officers and aid workers discuss some of the bigger questions around the conflict joining our two nations.
- Abdul Quayum Wafa Afghan citizen
- Zakia Soleiman Grants manager for a project called “Bringing Gender Equality in Afghanistan”
- Akmal Dawi Editor for the English language Killid Magazine.
- Andrew Wilson Works for International Relief and Development; Captain in the Army Reserves.
- Vincent Heintz Practices law in New York City; Major in the New York Army National Guard.
MR. AKMAL DAWIWelcome, Zakia.
MS. ZAKIA SOLEIMANThank you.
DAWIAnd allow me to ask you the first question. I mean, many people talk about the change in Afghan women's life since the Americans came here. How do you see the change from your perspective?
SOLEIMANWell, the change is not really easy. It's not like magic, you sleep and tomorrow everything changed. It's very slow, but I think changes are there. We will see how the government supports women. But it's really hard at this stage to see a big change, a major change.
DAWIBut you are optimistic about the future, aren't you?
DAWIGood to have that optimism. And just I'll shoot another question to our second guest, Mr. Wafa. Initially, when the Taliban were toppled by the U.S. led coalition in Afghanistan in early 2002, many people talked about a new Afghanistan, a new era. Peace will come. We won't suffer anymore of the conflict, the bloodshed would end. Ten years later, almost 10 years later, how do you see you in terms of American's engagement in Afghanistan? Are we better off or are we still facing challenges?
MR. ABDUL QUAYUM WAFAHi, to everyone there. I believe this is a country of challenges. Since I was a child, I see people are killed, fighting is going on. Still, it is the same. But I think I'm hopeful for the future because before Americans, foreign forces come to Afghanistan, I stayed in the area where we are right now. I was seeing Arabs, they call Mujahedeen, the al-Qaeda and Pakistanis and I believe everywhere you can find those people here. But now I see schools. I travel through all Afghanistan, I see schools built. I see roads. I see people are growing, economy is growing. But people are afraid when -- we Afghans are afraid that one day Americans would again leave us, leave Afghanistan saying, okay, now our job is finished as they did during the Soviet era. Thank you.
DAWIThank you, Mr. Wafa. Kojo, you heard our guests with mixed analysis, a mixture of hope and challenges that this nation has been facing. So back to you and your guests.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe do have questions here from Washington in our audience for your guests in Kabul starting with you, Ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALEHi, first of all, marhaba. I hope everything is going well there. I just wanted to know how much do you think at this point the war affects life on a day to day basis and for the average Afghans (word?) ?
DAWIWell, thank you very much. We usually don't say marhaba in Afghanistan. That's an Arabic word. We say salaam. So next time, you may use the word salaam, which means hi or hello. Thank you very much for your question.
NNAMDIWell, hold on a second.
DAWIOh, great. Thank you. Salaam. Okay. Well, life is very difficult. It's incomparable to the way you guys live in the United States. It is winter. It is cold. And for many Afghan families, there is little to keep warm. There are people who have lost their homes. They're living in displacement, in very cold circumstances. There are kids who do not have adequate food to eat. There are, you know, millions of people affected by conflict and they continue to die in a conflict that they have not supported, they do not take part in it, but they are paying a very high price in this conflict. And the living conditions in Afghanistan are extreme.
DAWIAfghanistan, according to the United Nations, is the fifth least developed country on earth. Every hour, every single hour, four Afghan women die because of pregnancy-related complications. Every day, tens of kids under the age of five are dying from lack of access to health care services and from malnutrition. So we have huge problems and war is the center of all our problems. I hope you will read more about Afghanistan, not only about the conflict, but the challenges, the human challenges, that we Afghans are facing here for many, many years, long before 9/11.
NNAMDIWe have another question here from our audience in Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALESalaam. My heart goes out to Afghanis during this situation over these many years. My question is, there was recently a talk of including the Taliban in peace talks and I'm wondering if your guests see that as a possibility and whether we should stay there past next summer and keep providing assistance. Thank you.
DAWIThank you very much. Mr. Wafa, peace talks with the opposition groups and whether the United States should stay here beyond the summer of next year.
WAFAWell, I see it from a perspective that Americans are here to defend their own country. So I believe that until it is necessary for them, they will stay here. But if -- as an Afghan, I have to say, I will say that Americans should not go out of this country and they should stay here because this is a war started by modern world in Afghanistan to fight communism and the whole country was destroyed. Millions of humans were killed. Our roads were destroyed, education was destroyed and now we see that foreigners, they just make us be afraid of the situation that they are leaving. I believe that American and foreign forces should stay here.
WAFAAnd about the Taliban, I believe it is better that our terrorists be in our country, because if they are outside our country, they can be funded by maybe many countries, many nations, many people who they have a long history of sponsoring the terrorism. But unfortunately, no one is saying anything to them. Everyone who was part of this game going on in Afghanistan, like we as Afghans, we know who is behind all these things. So I believe that peace is something valuable, which maybe we know the value of it more than the audience sitting there in America because we didn't have this luxury. We couldn't afford this luxury of peace.
WAFAI appreciate that there should be peace. But if peace is coming and we are going to lose whatever we gained in this 10-year -- no, I am against this peace and I decided to be a terrorist if peace cost me this much. If my daughters cannot go to school, I cannot live in peace, then I will not let others to be in peace.
DAWIOkay, just to briefly clarify, to some extent, what Mr. Wafa said was that he does not support a peace process in which the Taliban will take care of Afghanistan entirely and will revert us back to the stone age era, where our girls will not be allowed to go to schools and we will be deprived from all civil liberties. So he says that kind of peace will not work for Afghanistan. We want a decent peace, a just peace, where all of our rights and freedoms are protected. That's what he wanted to say.
SOLEIMANI think it's really important that we have to understand the root causes of the problem. What is the root cause of the problem and who are the Taliban actually? There might be a few people -- there might a few people who have come from (word?) or Pakistan, wherever, but now these local Afghans are joining Taliban troops. Why so? We have to think about. Government promise lots of things at the years of 2001 to 2003, to all people and everyone was really hopeful things will change. Government will provide us job, food, shelter, health care clinics and all. But I think government failed to fulfill those hopes.
SOLEIMANNow, if a person's daughter is dying and starving, what the person will do? And if the Taliban is saying that come and join us, we will give you the money, we will give you the facilities you need, your family needs, so definitely the local people will go and join them. So I think, why the government cannot work on the economic development of the country? If people have job at factories or building the provinces and everyone has job, nobody will go for war, I think.
DAWIThank you, Zakia. Kojo, you could sense that our guests here and a lot of other Afghans are highly critical of our government, which has been very warmly supported by your government.
NNAMDIYes, I do indeed sense that. And I will have a question about that later. But there is another important member of the audience here in Washington who has a question. Your name, please?
NNAMDIHow old are you?
ELIZABETHMy question is directed toward Zakia. And I wondered if it's any harder to be an entrepreneur and a woman?
NNAMDIIs it any harder to be an entrepreneur and a woman in Afghanistan?
SOLEIMANIt is nowadays a little becoming common for females to be part of the social-economical development and choose if they want to be an entrepreneur. But if you see, traditionally people are really still not open to accept that concept. But I think there are some women who are accepting challenges and who are working to be what they want to be actually. Usually, for most of the women -- people chooses what they have to be. For example, most of the people say that you have to stay at home in the provincial level if we see. But in the big cities, if you study and finish your school. They think that's enough for a woman.
SOLEIMANBut I think as a woman activist, I would think it's really important for a woman to understand, try to be what they want to be actually, not live for people and be what they want. And this -- I think this is one of the reason that I choose to work for gender equality in Afghanistan. And I am actually -- I was actually a working student and recently graduated from American University. I was working during the day and studying at the afternoon time. So I think things are changing, but in the big cities for a woman, not -- it will be early if we talk about the provincial level woman.
NNAMDIOkay. We have another question here in our audience.
VICTORHi. Salaam. My name is Victor Miller. And this is a difficult question to ask, but I want to know how you believe a Taliban government would be different after 10 years of war? Is there any indication that the society would be run in a different way?
NNAMDIDid you get that? Would there be any difference if there was a Taliban government after 10 years of war? Would it be a different kind of Taliban government than we saw in the past?
DAWIWell, what we hear -- Kojo, what I can tell to the audience is that what we see is the same Taliban who are killing civilian Afghans. They're still shutting down schools. They're planting improvised bombs everywhere and killing civilian people. They are assassinating women activists. They are doing whatever wrong is there in a society to repress people and ensure that they are -- they are in power. So we don't see any indications, any signs that the Taliban are willing to cease violence and to believe in a peaceful society, where people, including women, will have equal opportunities and exercise their liberties.
DAWIWe don't see and they don't promise that. What we have from them is that we are here to fight. And once we come back, we will ensure a strict Islamic regime in which we will have the right to determine the way of your life. We will decide whether your woman should have the right to go to school, to go to an office, listen to music or do, you know, the basic civil liberties that should be a part of any civilized society. So we don't see any indication of that. But I'll ask Mr. Wafa if he has anything to add to answer this question.
WAFAThere is a saying in my language (foreign language) that means that if you tasted something, it is wrong to taste it again. I believe, this will be where -- this will be the biggest mistake for Afghans: to accept that Taliban changed. I stayed in Afghanistan during Taliban period. I traveled to Afghanistan and I know the mentality. And I studied about it. This is what they believe. They cannot make a government with rules that -- in contrast with what they believe. If they say -- this is a political game. They will say that we changed.
WAFATaliban didn't change. They are killing us. They are slaughtering us. They are burning our schools. They are killing our children. They are fighting with development and they fight to put us back into 300 years, which we do not want.
NNAMDIThis is, "Joined by War: A Conversation Between Afghans and Americans," an audience in Washington and an audience in Kabul. We now turn to one of the members of our Washington audience.
ALLAHello my name is Alla (sp?) and I would like to know from our Afghani partners in this conversation, what are things that U.S. citizens can do that will help Afghan citizens?
DAWIThink Zakia would like to add her analysis on this. Zakia?
SOLEIMANYes, thank you so much. First of all, a small correction. Because in most of the conversation, I see this coming. Afghanis is actually a currency. Afghani is also currency, but we use Afghan or Afghans. Yes. About that, I think, use of force and Army's trying your best to help Afghans provide security and all. But the only thing is lacking is relationship of the international forces and civilians. They don't communicate often and Afghan civilians cannot understand the challenges international forces are facing on a daily basis.
SOLEIMANSo lack of communication causes lots of misunderstanding. This was one of my questions as well, actually. How do you see the distance, the increasing distance between international forces and Afghan civilians? If they are really here to help, why they can't just walk freely between the people, even if you see in center in Kabul, as just as Mr. Wafa said, when their cars are -- I mean, when ISAF cars are driving they would -- you have to keep distance. Everybody is not terrorist. Why this much fear from -- even from civilians? Why they cannot find a way to build a relationship with the civilians? I think that should be able to solve part of the problem.
NNAMDIWe're getting questions from our audience here in Washington, your turn.
JEFF ELKINHi, my name is Jeff Elkin. I'd like to thank you guys for speaking with us. Thank you very much. I was wondering, how much, if any, attachment do the Afghan people feel to the nation state of Afghanistan? I understand how you must feel about your society with pride and passion, but what about the nation state?
DAWIYeah, Zakia, what do we think about the nation state and to what extent do we feel attached to nation state here?
SOLEIMANWell, I would love to see a big percentage, but unfortunately, it's not. I think we have few educated people and civil society activists who are really attached to the nation state and they -- that's why they're here. They're working for Afghanistan to make sure that it becomes a stable state. But unfortunately, most of the people are more worried of their ethnicity, tribal issues, personal interests so you see -- in my point of view, you will find a few -- very few people who would really work and want to be part of nation development for Afghanistan.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We have another question here.
FEMALEWe know your citizens feel the impact of our military. I wonder if your citizens also sense we are peace loving people and what are we doing and what do they see us doing for education, for health and to reduce poverty?
NNAMDIHow do your citizens feel about citizens of the United States?
DAWIYeah, that's a very interesting question. I would like to ask Mr. Wafa. How do we perceive Americans, ordinary Americans?
WAFAWell, I believe we are all humans so we are part of one race, human race. So there's no difference between that religion and ethnicity and countries. The boundaries should not make defenses between us. In Afghanistan, they are different thinking about Americans. Like, mostly people do not differentiate between an American soldier or an American civilian because we didn't see American civilian here. We see the American Army with big guns and with lots of heavy armored cars.
WAFAAnd if you go near their cars, they'll stop you and they -- at night, they point that laser thing, which I really hate when I see that. They point that laser thing which they have on their guns into people that make harsh feeling about them. But overall in Afghanistan, I believe mostly people they are happy with American mission. They see that they helped a lot. Once before four years, I was in Badakhshan Province. This is a remote province on -- part of it Tajikistan. And I saw trees on the mountains. I was interviewing an old man. I said, I'm happy to see that you planted trees on the mountain.
WAFAThis old man smiled and said, we didn't do this. This is done by Americans. So I believe there's a relation building between American nation and Afghanistan nation. If you branch the relation between two nation, that will solve the problems quicker than solving with bullets and tanks. The thing that Afghans are (word?) to is to see soldiers with our -- with tanks with the -- this has been part of our life for 35 years. So we hate guns, we hate war machines.
DAWISo what it means is that we have a lot of fighters, a lot of guns down here in Afghanistan. But we have little doctors, very limited engineers, lawyers and other civilian development workers. So we would like to see American doctors treating our children. We would like American engineers to help us build our devastated country. We need your assistance. We need your technical assistance and we would like to see you doing those kind of assistances to us.
WAFABut that doesn't mean that we don't want your Army to be here. We want them to be here.
NNAMDIThank you very much. You're listening to "Joined by War: A Conversation Between Afghans and Americans," brought to you by WAMU 88.5, America Abroad and radio Killid, Afghanistan. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We have come to that part of the discussion where we're going to take questions from the audience in Kabul for our panelists in Washington. They are Captain Andrew Wilson who works for International Relief and Development. That's an NGO that's doing development and reconstruction work in Afghanistan. He served two tours in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
NNAMDIHe's currently in the Army reserves. And Major Vincent Heintz who practices law in New York City. He's a Major in the New York Army National Guard. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Akmal Dawi, questions from your audience for our panelists.
DAWII mean, one of the questions that we would like, in the beginning, to hear from both the panelists would be, how do they see the end of the current war in Afghanistan? In other words, how do they define success in Afghanistan?
NNAMDIFirst you, Major Heintz.
MAJOR VINCENT HEINTZIn preparing to come and speak with you today, I did break out my Afghanistan history book because I needed to refresh my recollection. And to answer the question, I think victory in Afghanistan might not be so much bringing Afghanistan into the 21st century as much as bringing the people of Afghanistan back to October 1, 1964, when a constitution was formed in a way that there was a genuine consensus for a period of time and where the international relief and reconstruction effort really started to gain traction.
MAJOR VINCENT HEINTZAnd, of course, we know what happened after that. There were various forms of interference with that process, from the North of Afghanistan and from the South and maybe from the West. That's what I would like to see, is that the security situation developed to the point where Afghans, Afghan police officers, Afghan soldiers and the national directorate of security, which for the folks here in D.C. is sort of like the FBI for Afghanistan, where they're the ones completely in the lead, protecting their own people and thereby setting conditions to rebuild those roads and to expand those schools and get medical care and treatment out to, not just the cities, but to the countryside.
CAPTAIN ANDREW WILSONYou know, that's the million dollar question. But, you know, I think, everything we do in Afghanistan through international relief and development is completely working to bring people to the government. It's bridging the gap in the very remote areas. I mean, we're going to Khakrez District which, you know, has only a district governor. That's the government. But we're bringing people to the government. I think that's the major focus that needs to continue.
CAPTAIN ANDREW WILSONI think, we need to maintain a high level of troops in Afghanistan for at least the next year, two years, to the point where Afghanistan can stand up their security forces. I mean, the foundation is security. I get examples from my Afghan friends and also my Afghan -- the workers that we have in Kandahar, especially. They're like, we don't want the Taliban back, but, you know, at least we had security when the Taliban were in control. You could carry a satchel of $10,000 cash, drop it on the ground, nothing would happen to it. People were scared to do anything wrong.
CAPTAIN ANDREW WILSONBut they said, we don't want that type of a lifestyle ever again. We want our daughters to go to school. We want development. So, I think, there's a happy balance, but it's going to start with a foundation of security. And move into a stronger economy.
NNAMDIYou served two tours in Afghanistan in the military, why did you decide to go back as a civilian, working for an organization doing development work there?
WILSONYou know, I think it's a common trend because I talked to one of my friends yesterday that just got done with serving in Arghandab Valley, one of the bloodiest valleys during the last year. You know, you develop a personal relationship with the people. We're in some of the most remote areas where the only American that they ever know is a soldier. But there's very meaningful relationships being developed and I developed a lot of those when I was in Afghanistan and I thought the best way to go back and use my experience was to join an organization like International Relief and Development, you know, that goes and helps people in the most kinetic or most volatile areas. And so, it's the direction I chose.
NNAMDIBack to you, Akmal and your audience's questions.
DAWIYeah, we have a university student here who has a question he would like to ask. Could you please introduce yourself, please?
MR. SAFREEYes, of course. At first, I say hello to people there in the United States. And then introduce myself, my name is (word?) my last name is Safree (sp?) . I am a student and I study international relations. So my question is that, why American government don’t work on industrialization of Afghanistan and why they just work to eradicate or, we can say, oust out Taliban?
DAWIThank you very much.
NNAMDIHere's Major Vincent Heintz.
HEINTZI absolutely understand and agree with everything that the gentleman has asked and everything that's behind it. As we've heard earlier, though, I think, from Ms. Zakia and Mr. Wafa, security -- genuine security is a precondition for enduring reconstruction. You can't have a road crew go out and restore a road or a factory built if the next week or the next month, those things would be destroyed by the insurgents. But when it comes to the details of job creation -- if I may, I'd like to tag my partner here, Andrew, and ask him to talk about job creation and the American effort and the NGO effort in that area.
WILSONYeah, I think Vince was exactly right. We've got to set the conditions for more long term development and I don't think it's very far off. Over the last year, in Kandahar alone, we've created 80,000 short term jobs. A lot of these are just providing training tools and funding for villages to do things that are very simple. Like, you would think pruning their orchards would not be something that would have a great impact, but it would because these pomegranate orchards in Arghandab Valley are the main source of their economy.
WILSONSo you got to start at the grass roots. You've got to teach them first because over 30 years of war, the experts of these orchards, the owners, the farmers have left. You have to teach some of the basic techniques and procedures, give them the correct equipment. You know, you can't build the pomegranate juice factory before you teach them some of the low level skills that have left. You know, they've left the country because of fighting. But, you know, I think, we do have to start planning for the next steps, which would include a lot of the agriculture processing, a lot of the value chains.
WILSONSo I think their point is loud and clear, it's heard. I think that's the plan and that is the next step to success, is moving into building some of the industries.
NNAMDIYou're listening to "Joined By War: A Conversation Between Afghans and Americans," brought to you by WAMU 88.5, American Abroad and radio Killid, Afghanistan. We are now taking questions from the audience in Kabul for our panelist here in Washington. Back to you, Akmal.
DAWIOkay. I'll ask Mr. Falenquinaz Samavi (sp?) who is a police officer to ask a question from the panelists there. Mr. Samavi.
MR. SAMAVI(through translator) I have two questions. My first question is, I have read in the books that Americans, when they go to any country, they always would love, do the civilian jobs and to help the countries and the factories; they help. But now I see that Americans are here in military clothes and the Americans, what their real face, that is helping people, they don't have it here.
DAWIThe gentleman here express very nice expressions saying the beautiful face of American civilian development assistance has been missing in Afghanistan. All we see are brutal soldiers on the streets. We don't see Americans, gentlemen and women, who help the world to, you know, end poverty, under development. We don’t see that, why?
NNAMDIWell, Andrew Wilson has been there both as a soldier and as civilian. It would be interesting to hear how you feel you are perceived in each of those roles.
WILSONRight. You know, over -- it's been a long time since we went to Afghanistan, 2002. So the first many years were mostly military led and the military face was out there. I somewhat disagree. I mean, the military is out in some of the most remote areas. Let me tell you, 90 percent of their missions are to go out on key leader engagements to look at schools that they're building, to look at wells, civil affairs units out there with the infantry battalions almost have more of the say of what's happening than the combat leaders.
WILSONSo I think it's somewhat of a misconception. In the big cities, I see a lot of people just see the big vehicles, the guns sticking out, IED blasts, but out where soldiers are really interacting with the local populous in these remote areas, their focus, 90 percent of the time, isn't fighting the enemy. It's building schools and canals and doing these things. As a civilian, you're exactly right. In the beginning, there wasn't enough civilian effort. We've had a civilian surge so it's taking a little time, probably, for that face to get out there and catch up and show the people that now there is a complete -- a change in philosophy and commitment with the civilian presence. I see it every day now.
DAWIWe have another gentleman here with a question. Mr. Mohammad Omarhydaree (sp?) . He's a shop keeper in Kabul and he has a question, please.
MR. OMARHYDAREE(through translator) I thought my question -- America is the world's big power that could capture the president of the Iraq in one year. Why they cannot capture Osama bin Laden?
NNAMDIMajor Heintz, why have you not yet captured Osama bin Laden? You personally.
HEINTZI have personally not captured, as much as I would like to, because I was present when his Al-Qaeda soldiers murdered 3,000 people in my city. The question of Al-Qaeda leadership, you know, is a main question for Americans and one that constantly is posed to our elected officials. As we know, the tribal areas in Pakistan are a sanctuary. And it might be, as a kinetic matter, a simple sounding thing for the world's super power to go into a discrete geographic area and find this persona and either kill him or capture him.
HEINTZThe fact is, the world is complicated and the border with Pakistan is a border. It is a political reality and Pakistan is a country with whom the United States is working to achieve security. So the political conditions simply do not exist at this time for an overt military action by the United States unilaterally in Pakistan to bring bin Laden and his posse to justice, as much as we would like a simple solution.
NNAMDIAkmal Dawi, back to you and your audience.
DAWIThank you very much. And this question indeed is in the minds of many Afghans, why bin Laden cannot be captured ten years after he attacked the United States of America. We have another person, a lady, Spojmai (sp?) who works for NGO's in Afghanistan. She has a question. Spojmai, please.
SPOJMAI(through translator) At first -- at first, I say hello to all the guests. My question is, the military of the United States is in our country to defend our people. Even though they have all the equipments and all things necessary to bring peace to our country, but they cannot do that. What is the reason?
DAWIAnd civilian casualties, you know, it's a huge problem. It's a very sensitive subject and she's been asking why civilians are dying in this conflict and the military cannot protect civilians.
WILSONIt's tough for someone who hasn't seen or been in Afghanistan to understand how difficult it is of an environment to operate, and how difficult of an environment it is to understand. But, I mean, if you look at civilian casualties are never acceptable and the U.S. Military goes beyond any modern military in history on reducing and eliminating that from our operations. But, you know, if you look at any UN reports that have come out recently, a vast, vast majority of civilian casualties are caused Taliban, Al-Qaeda, roadside bombs.
WILSONThey pretty much get a pass, it seems like, in a lot of ways, once the -- if they cause a civilian casualty. You don't see news conferences, them apologizing, them engaging the communities, them conducting projects or making different payments in the communities and bringing development. So I mean, it's a very difficult situation. Vince, you may have some more...
WAFAWell, Akmal Dawi, you should know that Vincent Heintz focused much more directly on the security initiative and the training of Afghan police and security forces. There has been a lot of debate about the real number of Afghan security forces who are fully trained and capable of working on their own to protect Afghans. Major Heintz, what's your take on this? Where is the U.S. in this process of transitioning security to the Afghans?
HEINTZYou're exactly right. My team's mission in Afghanistan in 2008 was to embed with the police in Kunduz province in the north. The focus we brought to working with the police was not simply training, as much as it was just to work with them and fight alongside of them in protecting the people of the district where we were assigned. I was a little bit surprised, I have to say, but I appreciate the candor of, I think it was Mr. Samdi, who is the police official who asked us a question earlier, and who had a pretty negative reaction to American forces.
HEINTZBecause American forces across the spectrum, be it special forces teams, conventional main force infantry units, or police mentoring teams, such as the unit that I commanded, have as our main mission, our key task, partnering with and developing the Afghan national security forces, and that, to answer your question, Kojo, is how we foresee security being handed over. We hear a lot about the corruption of the Afghan national security forces and, in particular, the police.
HEINTZI have to tell you, as a witness to the effort in northern Afghanistan for the better part of a year, that I came away very impressed, genuinely impressed with the patriotism and the bravery of the police officers with whom I worked. These are young men in their 20s. And perhaps the most difficult job in Afghanistan is President Karzai's, but the next most difficult is to be an Afghan police officer.
HEINTZAnd every single day, I saw them discharge their duties with incredible valor and full dedication to the people they were working for. As you move up the ranks, however, you do find the corruption problem becoming more prevalent. And I don't know what the answer is to that, and I wish I had a simple solution to that in the same way I wish I had a simple solution to Mr. bin Laden. But I do know that this solution somehow rests in the hearts and minds and the muscle and the guts of those young Afghan police officers.
HEINTZI believe they're standing up and they are protecting their people more and more. And while corruption remains a problem, over time, I believe, somehow the Afghan people will figure out how to contain it.
NNAMDIBack to you in Kabul, Akmal.
DAWIThank you. And we have another gentleman from the Afghan National Army, Mr. Abdul Bahlki (sp?) who would like to ask a question. Mr. Bahlki?
MR. ABDUL BAHLKI(through translator) I send my respects to all the audience over there. When NATO came to Afghanistan, we thought they are here for -- to help us and they are here to prevent the Taliban. People don't have jobs. People don't -- the work that should have been done by the people who are professional, it's not given to them. That's why they go and they join the other people in other groups. Our question is that we want the basic and essential equipments and work in here.
MR. ABDUL BAHLKI(through translator) We want jobs for our people. Basic and essential things haven't been done for Afghans, that's why they go to other groups. We want work and jobs and factories in Afghanistan.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that by other groups, our questioner probably means, in large measure, the Taliban. And Andrew Wilson, you have talked about how people in Afghanistan sometimes seem to be on both sides of the fence.
WILSONYeah. I mean, I really appreciate the question, and I hope Afghans and their leaders continue to push that point home. You know, a lot of experts nowadays try to say instability is not caused by lack of jobs or poverty. Personally, I totally disagree. We just did a poll there in Zhari, Spin Boldak, Arghandab, some of the most kinetic areas, and 92 percent of the people said the reason why we would join the Taliban is because we don't have any other way to make a living.
WILSONWe don't in particular want to fight against the U.S. or the government, but we have to feed our families. You know, we've seen in the districts that we gone into and provided tens of thousands of short-term jobs and economic development, that the level of violence reduces significantly. So, you know, I completely agree, a lot more focus needs to go on the economic development, providing jobs. You know, as a soldier, too, a lot of the people we would deal with every day, drink chai with, they would tell us, you know, we used to fight you guys because there was no work.
WILSONI mean, I think that's a common theme that -- I think that needs to be pushed out there more in the spotlight. So I appreciate that question.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Back to you, Akmal, in Kabul.
DAWIThank you. We have an engineer, who works in a civilian engineering company. His name is Haji Fareet (sp?) and he has a question to ask.
MR. HAJI FAREET(through translator) With respect to the audience, I have a question. We have the proof, and we have a lot of other things which show that the Taliban are actually in Pakistan and located over there and not in Afghanistan. You all have the equipments. You are all equipped very well. So why in Afghanistan -- why is Pakistan always helped and not Afghanistan? Instead of Afghanistan, the U.S. helps Pakistan more than Afghanistan, when we all know the Taliban and they are all in Pakistan.
MR. HAJI FAREETAfghan people fear that Pakistan has two faces and they're internal and external government policies are different. Don't United States feel that same thing? Why do they help Pakistan more than they should help Afghanistan?
NNAMDIYour questioner should understand, Akmal Dawi, that here in Washington in the news media, it has often been reported that Pakistan has not just two, but more than two faces, that it's a very difficult country to interpret, that the government is one thing and the military is another and the intelligence services in Pakistan are yet another. It's not a very easy situation for us to understand.
NNAMDIBut Major Heintz, one can understand how people in Afghanistan feel, that if there are elements -- powerful elements in Pakistan that are assisting the Taliban, that the powerful United States ought to be able to make Pakistan get rid of those elements. It's not that easy, is it?
HEINTZIt is not that easy, but the gentleman's question raises a perception among Afghans that I experienced personally many times on patrol when, with the Afghan police, we would walk into a village maybe on a quiet morning and just start chatting with the gentleman in front of their compounds as they drank their chai in the morning. And we would ask them if they knew why a particular bomb had been placed at a certain road junction, or who had left letters at the girls' school threatening to behead the headmaster if the school didn't close.
HEINTZWho was creating these troubles? And more often than not, without getting specific information, we would just be told they're people from Pakistan. The people from Pakistan are interfering with us. Now, I'm not going to go into, you know, what I know from our intelligence because I'm not permitted to, about how true that was in a particular situation. But there is no question as a general matter, it's been recognized that the Taliban and the Quetta Shura, based in Pakistan, are operating from a sanctuary.
HEINTZIt goes back in terms of the ultimate solution to what I think I said earlier about trying to get bin Laden. There is a sovereign nation called Pakistan that has a boundary and we have to deal with that reality. The Afghans also are left to deal with that reality. It is not a simple question of the military going in and clobbering someone. That's just not how the world works.
NNAMDIHaving heard the questions coming to us from Kabul, to what extent are those sentiments driven by civilian casualties in Afghanistan? To what extent are people in Afghanistan angered? To what extent are they concerned because of civilian casualties whether they happen as a result of U.S. activity or Taliban activity?
WILSONRight. You know, I live in Kandahar city. I don't live on a base. I live with Afghans 24/7. Almost of all my staff -- I have over a hundred of them, they're all Afghan nationals, most of them from the Kandahar area of course because we work there. And we see our fair share of civilian casualties in the Kandahar province because Hamkari was just going on, that was the offensive that took place over the summer.
WILSONAnd, you know, that is one of the key sticking points, I think, to winning over the general populace. And I think General McChrystal and General Petraeus have made great strides in reducing those numbers. And I think that's the key sticking point for most civilians that live in Kandahar. They like some of what we're doing, but then in the news the next day, they'll see, you know, 12 civilians killed in a bus driving down the highway.
WILSONAnd it doesn't matter to a civilian there if it's a bomb from the Taliban or if it's a U.S. mistake. But I think, you know, the Afghans need to continue to step up their security presence and their -- and they need to take responsibility for reducing a lot of these. Because the U.S. is doing -- making strides in reducing the number of civilian casualties. It's a partnership.
DAWIThank you. Kojo, we have a young lady here who has raised her hand and has a question. Masiha (sp?) , please.
MASIHA(through translator) In the name of Allah, my name is Masia Ramie (sp?) Good morning to everyone and the guests over there. I wanted to ask that although a lot of countries and their forces are in Afghanistan, are they able to get any positive feedback from them and are they able to get anything good from Afghanistan back to their countries?
NNAMDII'd to put that question to you, Vincent Heintz, because the questioner says we know there are a lot of forces -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan, are they able to get any feedback and results that you get from Afghans that you can bring back here to the United States?
HEINTZThe short answer is yes. And to expound, in the nine months I spent in Kunduz province working with the police, we witnessed the Afghan police, the national police in Chahar Dara district and other districts in the province -- and the province level headquarters is well developed, not just in terms of logistics or technical or tactical skills, but in terms of the trust that grew between the police officers and the people in the villages.
HEINTZI'm sure our colleagues on the panel in Kabul, and the audience in Kabul would agree with what I've been told and -- with the sense that for decades the police in Afghanistan were a source of not help for the community, but a source of trouble for local people. And I witnessed, personally, that change. Some of the things I saw that indicated a change were instances such at the Kuchi woman whose husband had beaten her and broken her arm and who came to the police -- and our police were a mix ethnically of Pashtun, and Tajik, and Turkmen and Hazar.
HEINTZAnd those police officers did what their law required them to do. They took her complaint, they arrested the man and they rendered him to the court within 72 hours for arraignment. That's a tremendous development, as far as I'm concerned, to see a Kuchi woman in particular -- the Kuchis, if you don't know, for the Americans, are the people who are more migrant in Afghanistan and drive herds of cattle and otherwise aren't as settled as some of the more standard farmers or cattle or sheepherders.
HEINTZTo have somebody like this, and a female, come to the government for a solution, and have the government, at a very local level, respond to that solution, was what right looks like. And that’s one of hundreds of good news stories that I could bore everybody in the audience with for hours and hours. We also saw difficulties, typically the difficulties related to corruption, but we, overall, did have very good results, especially from the young people.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have at this end. Major Vincent Heintz practices law in New York City. He's a Major in the New York Army National Guard, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's expecting to be deployed back to Afghanistan in the next year. He was awarded bronze star medals for his leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan. Captain Andrew Wilson works for International Relief and Development, an NGO that's doing development and reconstruction work in Afghanistan.
NNAMDIHe served two tours in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He's currently in the Army Reserves. When I return it to you, Akmal Dawi, I would like you to thank your specific guests in Afghanistan. But before we do that, I'd like to give an indication of how the audience here feels about the participation of the audience in Afghanistan in this discussion. Please let them hear how you feel about that. (applause)
DAWIThank you very much, from your warm participation in this discussion and this conversation. Kojo, thank -- very personal thanks to you, and I would also like to thank our guest here, Zakia Soleiman, who has been working on gender issues, civil society, a strong woman in Afghanistan, and also Mr. Abdul Quayum Wafa, an entrepreneur who is also engaged in civil development in Afghanistan. And thank you to everyone who participated here, raised questions and answered questions. Thank you very much. All the best.
NNAMDIAll the best to you. This has been "Joined By War," brought to you by WAMU 88.5, America Abroad Media, and Radio Killid, Afghanistan. And thank you all for being here. Goodbye. (applause)
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