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2/15/03 - THE U.S. AND AFGHANISTAN - 2003-02-20

After years of Soviet occupation and Taleban misrule, Afghanistan is on the road to recovery. Children are being immunized against disease. Schools are being built. Agriculture is being restarted. Health care is being improved.

The U.S. remains the largest donor to Afghan reconstruction. This year, the U.S. expects to continue its major support for the country’s reconstruction. Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said, “It is up to the Afghan people to develop their own distinctive political culture. But the world and the United States have some lessons to offer, most importantly the overriding importance of protecting fundamental human rights.”

Since the overthrow over a year ago of the repressive Taleban regime, the human rights situation in Afghanistan has improved. Men no longer must wear beards and practice such a rigorous form of Islam. Girls are permitted to attend the newly reopened Afghan schools and women are re-entering the professions. But in some areas, women are still being denied basic rights. Private human rights organizations report that harsh restrictions on women continue in some parts of Afghanistan.

And some of the two-million Afghan refugees who have returned to their homes have faced abuse. The U.S. is committed to strengthening the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and has recently provided two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars to the commission for this purpose. This commission will promote human rights principles and investigate abuses.

Much more needs to be done in Afghanistan. Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said, “We can have all the headlines in the United States, we can talk about all the money we spend, [but] if the average Afghan doesn’t see an appreciable change in [his or her] living standard. . .then it will have political consequences.”

As President Bush said, “Ultimately, one of the best weapons, one of the truest weapons that we have against terrorism is to show the world the true strength and kindness of the American people. Americans are united,” said Mr. Bush, “in...our concern for the innocent people of Afghanistan.”