"I was just coming from a meeting with a group of scholars, and the first thing we started talking about there was the statues. And the first thing we started talking about here was also the statues. It is very unfortunate how little we see and how little we know. Nobody has seen the problems of Afghanistan; nobody saw their problems before. And the only thing that represents Afghanistan today are the statues.
Afghanistan is called the Crossroads of Asia. So, we are suffering because of our geo-strategic location. We have suffered in the 18th century, 19th century, and we are still suffering in this century. We have not attacked the British. We have not attacked the Russians. It was them who attacked us. So the problems in Afghanistan, you see, are not our creation.
The Soviet Invasion
The recent problems in Afghanistan started in 1979. Afghanistan was a peaceful country. The Russians, along with their 140,000 troops attacked Afghanistan in the December of 1979, just 21 years ago, stayed there for a decade, killed one and a half million people, maimed one million more people, and six million out of the eighteen million people migrated because of the Russian brutalities. Even today, our children are dying because of the landmines that they planted for us. And nobody knows about this.
After the Russians left and even during the Russian occupation, on the other side, the American government, the British government, the French, the Chinese, and all of the rest, supported the counter-revolutionaries called the Mujahideen; There were seven parties in Pakistan and eight parties in Iran who fought the Russian occupation. And after the Russians left, these parties went into Afghanistan. All of them had different ideologies, and a lot of weapons. And instead of having a single administration, they fought in Afghanistan. The destruction that they brought was worse than the destruction the Russians brought. 63,000 people were killed in the capital, Kabul alone. Another million people migrated because of this lawlessness.
The Beginning of Taliban
Seeing this destruction and lawlessness, a group of students called the Taliban, i.e. a group of students (Taliban is the plural of student in our language; it may be two students in Arabic, but in our language it means students) started a movement called the Movement of Students. It first started in a village in the southern province of Afghanistan, called Kandahar. It happened when a war-lord, or a commander, abducted two minor girls and violated them. The parents of those girls went to a school and asked the teacher of the school to help them. The teacher of that school, along with his 53 students, finding only 16 guns, went and attacked the base of that commander. After releasing those two girls, they hanged that commander, many of his people were also hanged. This story was told everywhere. BBC also quoted this story. Hearing this story, many other students joined this movement and started disarming the rest of the warlords. This same students movement now controls 95% of the country including its capital. Only a bunch of those warlords are remaining in the northern corridor of Afghanistan.
We have been in government for only five years, and have accomplished much that many of you may not know:
The first thing we have done is reunifying of the fragmented country. Afghanistan was formerly fragmented into five parts. We unified it when nobody else could do it.
Second, something everyone else failed to do, was dis-arming the population. After the war every Afghan got a Kalashnikov, and even sophisticated weapons such as stinger missiles, and they even got fighter planes and fighter helicopters. Disarming these people seemed to be impossible. The United Nations in 1992 made an appeal asking for 3 billion dollars to re-purchase those arms. And because of its impracticality, that plan never materialized, and everybody forgot about Afghanistan. We have managed to disarm 95% of Afghanistan.
Third, we have established a single administration in Afghanistan, which did not exist for 10 years.
Fourth, to everyone's disbelief, we have eradicated 75% of the world's opium cultivation. Afghanistan produced 75% of worlds opium. And last year we issued an edict asking the people to stop growing opium, and this year, the United Nations Drug Control Program, UNDCP, and their head, Mr. Barnard F. proudly announced that there was 0% of opium cultivation. Zero, zilch, none at all.
Incidentally this was not good news for UN itself because many of them lost their jobs. In the UNDCP, 700 so called experts were working there and they got their salaries when they never went into Afghanistan. So when we issued this edict, I know that they were not happy. And this year they lost their jobs.
Fifth, is the restoration of Human Rights. Now, you may think that we are involved in violation of Human Rights. The reality is exactly the opposite. Among the fundamental rights of a human being is the right to live. Before us, nobody could live peacefully in Afghanistan.
Our first priority was to give to the people a secure and peaceful life. Next we have ensured free and fair justice -- you don't have to buy justice, unlike here. In Afghanistan justice is free and readily available.
We have been criticized for violating women's rights. Do you know what happened before us? I can see some Afghans living here, and they will agree with me, that in the rural areas of Afghanistan, women were used as animals. They were actually bought and sold. We have stopped this abominable practice.
Earlier, women didn't have any say in the selection of their husbands. We have made it possible for them to let them choose their future. Earlier, women were exchanged as gifts. Of course, this was not something religious; this was something cultural. When two fighting tribes wanted reconciliation, they would exchange women. And this has been stopped.
Unlike what is generally said, women do work in Afghanistan. True, that until 1996, when we captured the capital Kabul, we did ask women to stay home. It didn't mean that we wanted them to stay at home forever. We said that there is no law, and there is no order, and you have to stay at home.
We disarmed the people, and we established law and order, and now women are working. True, that women are not working in the ministry of defense, like here. We don't want our women to be fighter pilots, or to be used as objects of decoration for advertisements. But they do work. They work in the Ministry of Health, Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Affairs, and so on.
Similarly we don't have any problem with women's education. We have said that we want education, and we will have education whether or not we are under pressure from anyone, because that is part of our belief. We are ordered to do that. When we say that there should be segregated schools, it does not mean that we don't want our women to be educated. It is true that we are against co-education; but it is not true that we are against women's education.
We do have schools even now, but the problem is the resources. We cannot expand these programs. Before our government numerous curriculums were going on. There were curriculums that preached for the kings, curriculums that preached for the communists, and curriculums from all the seven parties. So, the students were confused as to what to study. We have started to unify the curriculum and that is going on.
Recently we reopened the faculty of medical science in all major cities of Afghanistan and in Kandahar. There are more girls students studying in the faculty of medical sciences than boys are. But they are segregated. And the Swedish committees have also established schools for girls. I know they are not enough, but that is what we have been able to do.
Osama bin Laden
We are also accused of sponsoring terrorism. And for Americans terrorism or terrorist means only bin Laden. Now you will not know that bin Laden was in Afghanistan for 17 years before we even existed. Bin Laden was in Afghanistan, fought the Soviet Union, and Mr. Ronald Reagan, the president of America at that time, and Mr. Dick Cheney called such people freedom fighters or the Heroes of Independence, because they were fighting for their cause. And now when the Soviet Union is fragmented, such people were not needed anymore, and they were transformed into terrorists. From heroes to terrorists. This is exactly as Mr. Yasser Arafat who was transformed from a terrorist to a hero.
What is the difference between those acts that bin Laden is blamed for and the 1998 cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan? Neither of the two were declared and both of them killed civilians. If it means killing civilians blindly, both of them killed civilians blindly.
The United States government tried to kill a man without even giving him a fair trial. In 1998, they just sent cruise missiles into Afghanistan and they announced that they were trying to kill Osama bin Laden. We didn't know Osama bin Laden then. I didn't know him; he was just a simple man. So we were all shocked. I was one of those men who was sitting at home at night, I was called for an immediate council meeting and we all were told the United States had attacked Afghanistan. With 75 cruise missiles they tried to kill one man. And they missed that man; killed 19 other students and never apologized for those killings.
What would you do if you were in our situation? If we were to go and send 75 cruise missiles into the United States and say that we were going to kill a man that we thought was responsible for our embassy, and we missed that man, and we killed 19 other Americans what would the United States do? An instant declaration of war. But we are polite. We did not declare war.
Rather we have been very open-minded on this issue. We have said, that if this man is really involved in the Kenya/Tanzania acts, if anybody can give us proof or evidence about his involvement in these horrific acts, we will punish him. Nobody gave us evidence. We put him on trial for 45 days and nobody gave us any kind of evidence. The United States told us they did not believe in our judicial system. We were surprised as to what kind of judicial system they have? They just tried to kill a man without even giving him a fair trial. Even if one of us is a criminal here, the police are not going to blow his house; he must go to a court first.
So our first proposal was rejected. They said they do not believe in our judicial system, and we must extradite him to New York. After the rejection of this first proposal, we said we were ready to accept an international monitoring group to come into Afghanistan and monitor this man's activities in Afghanistan. So that he does nothing. Even though he has no telecommunications. That proposal was also rejected.
The third proposal we offered, six months ago, was that we were ready to try or accept the trial of Osama bin Laden in a third Islamic country, with the consent of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. That was also rejected.
We are still very open minded. And for the fourth time, I'm here, with a letter from my leadership that I'm going to submit to the state department hoping that they will resolve the problem. But I don't think that they will. Because we think, and I personally think now, that maybe the United States is looking for a bogey man always. Remember what Gorbachev said? He said, that he's going to do the worst thing ever to the United States. And everybody thought that he's going to blow the United States with nuclear weapons. But he said, I'm going to remove their enemy. And then he fragmented Soviet Union. And he was right. After he fragmented Soviet Union, a lot of people lost their jobs in the Pentagon, in the CIA, and the FBI, because they were not needed anymore. So we think that maybe these guys are looking for a bogey man now. Maybe they want to justify their annual budget, maybe they want to make their citizens feel that they are still needed to defend them. Afghanistan is not a terrorist state; we cannot even make a needle. How are we going to be a terrorist state? How are we going to be a threat to the world? If the world terrorism is really derived from the word terror, then there are countries making weapons of mass destruction, countries making nuclear weapons, they are terrorist states; we are not.
Now, we are under sanctions. And the sanctions have caused a lot of problems. Despite the fact that we already had been going through so many problems--- the 23 years of continuous war, the total destruction of our infrastructure, and the problem of refugees, and the problem of land mines in our agricultural lands --- all of a sudden the United Nations, with the provocation of Russia, is imposing sanctions on Afghanistan. And the sanctions have been approved; we are under sanctions. Several hundred children died a month ago. Seven hundred children died because of malnutrition and the severe cold weather. Nobody even talked about that. Everybody knows about the statues.
Renovating Statues As People Die
When the world is destroying our future with economic sanctions, then they have no right to worry about our past. I called my headquarters, I asked them why they are going to blow the statues, and I talked to the head of the council of scholars of people, who had actually decided this. He told me that UNESCO and an NGO from Sweden -- or from one of these Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden, one of these -- they had actually come, with a project of rebuilding the face of these statues, which have been worn out by rain. The council of people told them to spend that money in saving the lives of these children, instead of spending it to restore these statues. And these guys said, "No, this money is only for the statues." And the people were really pissed off. They said if you don t care about our children, we are going to blow those statues up.
If you were in such a situation what would you do? If your children are dying in front of your eyes, and you are under sanctions, and then the same people who have imposed sanctions are coming and building statues? What would you do?
And there is Kofi Annan. You know Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of United Nations? He went to Pakistan, and he said he is going to meet our representative there. This man never bothered to come, to talk about these children, he never bothered himself to talk about six million refugees, and he never talked about the poverty of Afghanistan. He only goes to that region because of these statues.
It is really, really ridiculous. These people do not care about children, about people who are dying there, about the foreign interference that still exists; they only care about the statues. And I am sure they don't care about our heritage. They only care about their picnic site, one time. Maybe they'll have a good picnic site there, seeing those statues.
And I'm sure these sanctions which are imposed on our government will never change us, because for us, our ideology is everything. To try to change our ideology with economic sanctions will never work. It may work in the United States, where the economy is everything, but for us, our ideology is everything. And we believe that it is better to die for something than to live for nothing."
(The author is the roving Ambassador from Afghanistan who recently visited the US. This is a loosely edited transcript of a lecture given by him at the University Of Southern California in Los Angeles, on March 10, 2001)