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US Officials: Afghan Humanitarian Concerns As Crucial As Military Ones - 2001-10-26

In the war against terrorists in Afghanistan, humanitarian concerns are as crucial as military ones, say U.S. officials. They must be pursued together if the war is to be won. But that is made difficult by the many sided nature of the conflict, the many contending groups that somehow have to be satisfied.

War alone will not save Afghanistan, says Farooq Kathwari, the Muslim-American president of Ethan Allen, a leading furniture company. "I believe that the solution to Afghanistan has to be very, very closely tied to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, massive, massive effort of reconstruction. Afghanistan has been destroyed," he said.

U.S. policy makers understand this, says Stephen Cohen, South Asia analyst at Washington's Brookings Institution. Even with the Taleban gone, terrorism could still flourish in a broken, destitute country.

"I have talked to some American military people, and for them this is the first war in which the humanitarian side is as important, if not more important than the military side," he said. "They are learning about this themselves to assure humanitarian assistance goes into the Afghans."

Simmons College International Relations Professor Charles Dunbar, a former U.S. ambassador to Gulf nations, has just returned from a meeting of Afghan opposition groups on Cyprus, one of many vying for power in a post war Afghanistan.

It is not possible to reach agreement among them at present, says Ambassador Dunbar. So put that off, and build confidence by reconstructing Afghanistan, starting with areas in the north. "You establish political-military stability in the rather small area that you go into initially," he said. "There is probably quite a substantial part of the north in which I think it would be possible to establish stability. And as you begin to indicate to the Afghan people that this is happening, I think you will then begin to see the rallying of commanders and of people to this organization."

As soon as possible, says Ambassador Dunbar, this area must expand southward to other parts of the country. A central government can await reconstruction when Afghans have a life worth governing.

Mr. Dunbar adds humanitarian aid can partially offset some of the anger aroused by U.S. bombing. It also shows Muslims we are not warring against them or their religion, says Mr. Kathwari. "The common person does somehow get the impression that his religion is under attack," he said. "So we have to disassociate Islam and Muslims from these extremist organizations, and it requires a great amount of effort at every level, making sure that this is heard again and again."

To speed up humanitarian aid, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have agreed to open their borders to permit supplies to reach Afghanistan.