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Healing the Wounded Soul of Afghanistan

After the first steps along the path of pacification and normalisation, what is the situation in the country? 'One of the greatest sufferings has been the loss of human capital. Side by side withthe physical reconstruction there is an immense need for reconstruction in the field of educationand training. Thus we must also attend to the emotional side of people'. In conversation with President Hamid Karzai: the enormous social problems and the role of the international community, the relationship with Arab Islam and the freedom to profess other religions.

Mr. President, Afghanistan suffered thirty years of warfare and oppression.


Do you think that these great sacrifices have convinced


people that they should frame a national identity or is the country still


a 'congregation' of ethnic groups and communities?



Afghanistan is a very old nation. The history of this country goes back at least three thousand years. Afghanistan is known for its ethnic groups but is also a country of peoples and nations that have lived with each other, with distinct identities, of course. They were always together when there were troubles and victims; they have engaged in many struggles together; they have defended the country together. While you know the country by the names of its ethnical groups, at the same time all these ethnic groups have a more cohesive culture than any other nation of the world. The food is the same, the dress is the same, religion is the same, the cultural identity is the same. And the reason that Afghanistan is here today, liberated, is precisely because of the Afghan nation. So I will say it is like a mosaic, a colourful one, like many flowers that stand together to make a beautiful garden. And that garden is Afghanistan. If you look back over Afghan history you see very many examples of the nation's resoluteness. With respect to the last difficult years, you will see that on every occasion the Afghan people decided to do what was good for the nation: the elections, the making of the Constitution, the making of other institutions. The end result has always been for the benefit of the Afghan nation. So we are very proud, and lucky to be, what we are.



The reconstruction of Afghanistan could not only be material.


What are your ideas and projects for the rebuilding of Afghan society?



As regards the reconstruction of human beings, one of the greatest sufferings of Afghanistan has been the loss of human capital, in terms of education, training and manpower. Another great loss has been the uprooting of Afghans. So many thousands of Afghans became refugees from their houses, from their places of origin. Six million Afghans became refugees. A huge number, representing almost 25 per cent of the population, and for more than twenty years. As soon as Afghanistan was liberated, within the first three years almost four to five million returned. Now the soul of Afghanistan is hurt. There has been immense suffering and pain, which it is very difficult to cancel from our memory. Therefore, with the physical reconstruction there is an immense need for the rebuilding of Afghan life at the level of education and training, and also other aspects related to society and social life and to man as an emotional being. So, we have to care for the emotional side of life, for the affections, and make Afghans forget about the hard past. That is extremely important for reconstruction, even though we are certain that it could take a very long time because it is always difficult to heal the wounds of the soul.



On my way here to the palace I met at an Italian volunteers' centre for technical promotion four Afghan women and asked them what they would say to President Karzai if he was standing in front of them. And they all answered: we would thank him for all he has done for us. Would you tell me what have you done for women?



In any society, during war, misery and the uprooting of entire societies, the first victims are women and children. And Afghanistan is no exception. There is a great need to recover life, and Afghanistan has recognised this for a long time. Women not only need to go back to their homes in peace and security again, they also need to be playing their role as one half of society, and in all fields. In the economy, society, politics and culture. That is a recognition of the country. That recognition was the reason for the parliamentary electoral law when people voted for women's reserved 25 per cent of seats, but they also voted because they felt that they should give them hope and trust in the future. And that was a very important step, maybe the biggest the country has made. As President, I do not think I could say I have done anything particular but as an individual Afghan I have done what every Afghan has done.



At the end of January a conference on Afghanistan was held in London.


Do you think that the international community has so far fulfilled its duties and promises towards the Afghan people?



The international community has entirely come to us. Two elements got together to liberate and rebuild Afghanistan. One was the will of the Afghan people, which was always there, the immense desire of the Afghan people to rebuild the country. The other element was the international community which previously had failed to do anything. The Afghan people had been asking for international assistance before 2001, before September 11.


So Afghanistan was in trouble because the desire in itself is not fulfilment of the desire. The fulfilment of the desire needs instruments. We had the desire as a nation but we did not have the instruments to fulfil it. As soon as September 11 occurred the world got together and came to help Afghanistan, so the other element of the instruments was put together with the element of desire and the result was the success of Afghanistan. So we the Afghan nation are extremely grateful to that other element that was made available to us to convert our desire into the reality of peace, being a sovereign state, and reconstruction. The world came to put a lot of money into many fields, and we are very grateful for that. Whether it could have been spent better is another question. Whether we need more is another question. But we, as a nation, are grateful to the international community for liberating us, for helping Afghanistan to stay on its feet and, second, we as a nation are grateful that the world fulfilled what it pledged to us. Now, if they did more, of course, we would be much happier.



Last December you were in Mecca to take part in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).


Who is driving Islam today and which Islam is Afghanistan looking towards?



Afghanistan as a Muslim country is a moderate country. It is a believing Sunni, a devote Muslim, nation; it has never tolerated or accepted extremisms. I think it has to be made very clear to the world that it was Muslims first of all and especially Afghan Muslims who suffered at the hands of the extremists. The extremists came to us first, they were killing us first before they went to Europe and America. But the tragedy is that for us these extremists were killing and destroying Afghan lives, Muslims lives, in the poorest part of the Muslim world, and that the world did not help us. So that is the main question.



You are referring, Mr. President, to al-Qaeda, but you also had Taliban fighters who were Afghan citizens



Extremism is extremism. Those were also trained from outside. The extremism came from the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Jihad of the Afghan people against it. At that time two forces were effective. One was the force of Soviet communism which was imposed by force on the Afghan people, the other took the form of Jihad. All the countries that helped us, from America, to Europe, to Islamic countries, they imposed another kind of Islam in order to fight the Soviets. They promoted the most extreme in the Muslim world being brought into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. So the extremism we had in Afghanistan was, in part, from the Arab world; it was the consequence of that wrong policy. The intention was to defeat the Soviets but nobody thought of the costs paid by the Afghans. That was something that has hurt us. Extremism was not created by Arab societies. It was created by the policies of the big and the rich.



You attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II although there are no diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and the Holy See.


What was the reason for this and what is your opinion about the late Pope?



The late Pope was a great man. A man who believed in peace, a man who believed in harmony among the religions of God. A man who always raised his voice for the Afghan people in the time of troubles in our country. During the Soviet invasion he spoke many times for Afghanistan and for peace in Afghanistan. So we have that respect for him. Also, the Pope was the leader of Catholics, a great branch of the Christian religion. Jesus is mentioned in the Koran as a prophet of God. And if any Muslim denies the prophecy of Jesus or Moses, he ceases to be a Muslim. So, for us, it is a religion of God, a Book of God, and Islam is clear in recognising Jesus and Moses as prophets of God.



The only Church edifice present in Afghanistan is confined inside an embassy.


Do you think that it will be possible in the near future to see the Church acting in Kabul or in other cities outside the diplomatic areas?



According to the Law of Afghanistan, yes. Our Constitution has allowed that. Article 2 of the Afghan Constitution says that 'the followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law'. So you can engage in the worship of your religion wherever you want.



You have been many times to the West. What do you think about the Western model of multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnical societies?



I have never lived in the West, although I have visited different Western countries for one or two weeks at the maximum. I support multi-cultural societies and where there is respect for the cultures and values of different groups, for identities, and that is what the Afghan Constitution also recognises.


How would President Karzai like to be reminded by history?


As the man who helped Afghanistan to stand on her feet, to re-organise her society, as a sovereign nation and also as the man who was able to do something for world peace.