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11/13/02 - AFGHANISTAN NEEDS HELP - 2002-11-14

The United States is committed to helping the people of Afghanistan to recover from more than two decades of Soviet occupation and civil war. From 1996 until a year ago, Afghans were living under the rule of the Taleban, history’s first-ever terrorist-sponsored regime.

But the situation in Afghanistan has changed. A U.S.-led coalition helped to remove the Taleban from power and force the al-Qaida terrorists to flee. In June, the loya jirga, the Afghan national council, created a new government headed by Hamid Karzai. A free press is taking hold. Commissions on human rights and the drafting of a new constitution will seek to lay the groundwork for the rule of law.

But the rebuilding of Afghanistan will take time. More is needed to help the devastated country rebuild its social structures, security forces, and economy.

Kamal Hossain is a United Nations official specializing in the human rights situation in Afghanistan. He said that funds and food are urgently needed to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Mr. Hossain said, “If you are to support the program for change...from a society in which people have been deprived of their rights, security of person, security of life, women’s rights –- if you are to restore those rights, there have to be resources made available.”

So far, two-million Afghan refugees out of an estimated five million have returned to their homes. As Mr. Hossein said, “Even though security is not fully assured, people are perceiving it enough to start wanting to come back.” The U.S. has provided over five-hundred-million dollars in assistance since the beginning of this year.

Schools have reopened in Afghanistan. Forty-five percent of the students enrolled in schools in Kabul, the Afghan capital, are girls. Women are now teaching at all levels. They were banned under the Taleban. But as Mr. Hossein pointed out, “the worrying news was that teachers have not been paid for six months.”

Seven Afghan girls’ schools have been attacked and some Afghans continue to oppose education for young women. But “pockets of opposition,” said U-N official Hossein, “are not the majority. The urge for even girls to go to school is there and widely shared, and resources should be made available to make those opportunities available.”

As President George W. Bush said, “There’s still a lot of work to do in Afghanistan....We will stay the course to help that country develop.”