Afghan foreign minister speaks at GW

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah spoke about the future of Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. war on terrorism in the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday, calling fundamentalism a “threat to normal life.”

The Elliott School of International Affairs and the GW Law School sponsored the speech, held in front of the packed auditorium in the Media and Public Affairs building.

“It was my wish to speak at George Washington University for quite some time,” Abdullah said. In the past, the GW Law School has assisted Afghanistan by educating lawyers during the 1970s and, more recently, by compiling a 150-book gift for the University of Kabul.

“I am delighted that the Elliott School and the Law School have joined forces,” said Professor Karl Indurfurth, who met with Abdullah three weeks ago and invited him to speak at GW.

Abdullah, speaking almost a year after the United States began to bomb Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban, addressed three challenges facing the country – security, human rights and reconstruction.

“I think the study of Afghanistan is an amazing one. I see hopes, opportunities and challenges,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah said the remnants of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorist network pose a persistent threat. The foreign minister said he expected that the United States and other coalition forces would be needed for some time, possibly years. U.S intervention is exemplified by intervention by U.S. Special Forces bodyguards who prevented a Sept. 6 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Abdullah was born in the northeastern region of Afghanistan, earning a degree in ophthalmology from the Medical College at Kabul University in 1983 before joining the native resistance against occupation by the Soviet Union. When the Soviets were expelled, Abdullah joined the government during a time of great civil unrest that lasted from 1992 until 1996.

When the Taliban overthrew the government and installed its own, Abdullah joined the resistance once again and met his personal friend and Afghanistan’s national hero, General Ahmad Shah Masood of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban executed Masood Sept. 9, 2001, two days before the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Abdullah remained confident that, despite security concerns, Afghanistan has begun a “pace of change that cannot be stopped or reversed.”
He also spoke at length about Afghanistan’s advancement in human rights, citing the return of 1.6 million refugees as a “sign of stability.”

Abdullah acknowledged that the preservation of human rights still has a long way to go, but directly linked this to the country’s reconstruction. Three million children will return to school in Afghanistan this year, more than half of them female, he said. Abdullah said such progress means little without books and facilities to educate students.

“Our ability to fulfill the promises we have made to our people will depend on support from the international community,” Abdullah said in an interview following the speech.

The U.S. Congress is currently debating the “Afghan Freedom Act,” legislation that will provide further aid to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Abdullah also called on the United States to continue its assistance.

“The U.S. could do more and should do more,” he said.
Students said they were interested to hear Abdullah’s perspective.

“A lot of other schools don’t offer these sorts of opportunities,” senior Ali Noor said. “I am looking for different perspectives from what you get on CNN.”

University Relations officials said they did not expect the large turnout and had to turn about 30 prospective listeners away. The audience consisted mostly of GW students, many of them law students and members of the Elliott School.

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