(Kabul) It’s hard to believe the access and diversity of meetings that our 9-person delegation has had in the past few days! Little wonder our heads are spinning. We met with heads of women’s organizations and women who are learning new skills from literacy to business classes. We were briefed by UN reps and international NGOs. We met with local groups researching conflict zones and participation in elections. We visited internal refugees living in makeshift tents, doctors in a maternity hospital, recovering drug addicts at their rehab center, artisans in their studios and businessmen in their sumptuous homes. We’ve interviewed journalists and been interview by journalists.
If that weren’t enough, we’ve had unbelievable access to high level officials. We’ve met the Minister of Communications, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Urban Development, the Deputy Minister of Transportation, the Deputy Minister of Defense, the Deputy Minister of Finance and the former Minister of Mines. We met an elderly man who held high government posts under the King, the communist government, the Mujahadeen and the Taliban! We were invited to the Presidential Palace to talk to President Karzai’s most trusted advisor.
At a party for us hosted by a local businessman, we met three warlords (including one who fought Osama bin Laden at ToraBora), one tribal leader who was a peacemaker between groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the businessman brother of President Karzai who financed his brother’s presidential campaign (and owns the only cement factory in the whole country).
Our meetings have covered all kinds of topics, from military strategy to women’s rights to opium policy. We’ve learned about the need to not only train Afghan soldiers and police, but pay them a living wage (their $200 salaries can’t cover the basics for a family). We discussed the pros and cons of U.S. troops, and to our surprise, found very few people who would like the troops out now. Most say that the country would collapse into civil war or be taken over by the Taliban if the US troops were to leave. But that doesn’t mean they want MORE troops. In fact, most want to see a phased out withdrawal of foreign troops, accompanied by a reconciliation process. We’ve had endless talks about what that process should look like, and who should be at the table (including women so their rights don’t get further compromised!!!).
In our few remaining days, we have another series of incredible meetings set up. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to learn firsthand what is happening in a country where U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying, where billions of our taxdollars are being spent, and where Afghans remain impoverished, fearful and victims of horrendous violence. So keep in touch with us as we sift through the massive amount of information and formulate follow-up ideas to promote an end to the violence that has so devastated this nation.
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