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Afghan Americans Offer Support - 2001-10-17

Afghan Americans say they hope to have a role in rebuilding their war-torn country, but the task is formidable. Four hundred Afghan Americans are meeting this week to discuss their hopes for their homeland. They include doctors, engineers, professors and journalists, many of whom live in the San Francisco suburb of Fremont. Some hope to return to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country. Most want to help with the effort from their home in California, sending money, supplies, and technical experts.

Some of the immigrants have been here for decades, others for just a few years. One recently spent a year working in his homeland. Afghan-American lawyer Kawun Kakar served as a United Nations human rights worker until last June. He saw extreme poverty throughout Afghanistan, especially in camps for displaced persons, such as one at Mazar-e-Sharif in the northern part of the country. "In one family, the kids were collecting grass, bringing it home, and then the mother was mixing the grass with flour and making a bread out of that. And that was their daily nutrition," said Mr. Kakar.

Deana Haya says that reports reaching Fremont from friends and relatives in Afghanistan show conditions are even worse now. Ms. Haya is a computer software engineer for a Silicon Valley firm and she belongs to an organization called the Society of Afghan Professionals. She notes two decades of war have drained Afghanistan of its resources. "Afghan people have been reduced to living at the mercy of the international community for 24 years, and most of those aid organizations have left Afghanistan because of the bombing," she says. "So the people that would have been helping provide food, shelter and clothing for them through this coming winter are not going to be there."

The Afghan Development Association is one of the organizations whose work in Afghanistan has been curtailed because of the fighting. Afzal Rashid is an aid worker for the organization. "Our work is mainly agriculture, education, rehabilitation, and helping people stand up on their feet and basically make decisions for themselves," he says.

The aid worker worries that the fall of the Taleban, which many view as impending, will create a political vacuum. Mr. Rashid hopes the international community will step in to help. He believes a traditional tribal council, called a loya jirga, could end the political turmoil. "I think once there is some stability and peace in Afghanistan, what we want is hopefully an international United Nations force in Afghanistan to prepare an environment where an interim government, an emergency loya jirga, will be established inside Afghanistan," he said. "It will prepare the environment for a permanent loya jirga, and hopefully elections in Afghanistan, and hopefully a pluralistic society."

Some Afghans look to their former king, 87-year-old Zahir Shah, to head an interim council. All agree that a new government must be created by Afghans, and must include the country's many ethnic groups and factions.

Steve Faryabi heads the Afghan American Association, also based in Fremont. He says the vacuum left when the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 led to the rise of the Taleban. He says the world should not make the same mistake after the fall of the Taleban. "By getting rid of Taleban and leaving the country alone, it would be just a repeat of history like the way it happened during the Russian war," he says. "So it has to be a United Nations-supervised government to come into power, and then go from there. Afghanistan needs help, really badly. The people of Afghanistan are barely alive. They need help from international community."

Afghan-Americans say they are ready to do their part once the fighting in Afghanistan is over.