Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke about the economic development of his country and the need for more business ties with the United States in an address Tuesday afternoon.
About 250 invited guests and members of the media filled the Jack Morton Auditorium in the School of Media and Public Affairs building, according to University officials. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez joined the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to discuss progress of the five-year-old democracy, which was freed from the authoritarian Taliban regime in 2001 by American troops.
“Afghanistan is a business place. Afghanistan is not a place for politics. If in the past centuries we … built armies, if we invaded places, if we occupied places, it was to make money. Today, the nature of business has changed,” said Karzai, who received three standing ovations throughout the event. “Today Afghanistan wants to set its nets all the way in America.”
Karzai, who was adorned with a green and purple robe over his sports jacket, boasted rich resources his country has to offer the United States. He said he wants to increase the trade of Afghan minerals, gas, oil and produce around the world.
Throughout his address, Karzai openly invited U.S. businesses to take advantage of many of these resources. He invited David Murdock, the CEO of Dole Fruits, to buy apricots, figs and grapes, among other fruits grown in Afghanistan. The president also encouraged Shell and Chevron to explore for oil and gas reserves.
“Watch out for oil fields in Afghanistan, and welcome to Afghanistan,” Karzai said to world oil companies. He said that his country partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a land survey “indicating that Afghanistan could have much more oil and gas than we knew a year ago.”
On the subject of rising terrorism and drug production, Karzai said his country has challenges but that it is safe.
“You’ve seen the news sometimes: bombs, security threats. Are they a factor? Will they impede your business? No,” he said. “You won’t even come to know about them in Afghanistan. You’ll come to know them only when you watch CNN.”
Former President Bill Clinton said in England Tuesday that the recent rise in terrorist attacks and booming opium trade illustrates the instability in Afghanistan. Last year, more than 4,500 tons of opium were harvested, which accounts for about 90 percent of the world supply, according to the Associated Press. Suicide and roadside bombings have killed dozens in the past month, including two American soldiers outside the U.S. embassy.
Gutierrez said that U.S. imports from Afghanistan have risen 200 percent in the past year – a figure which he said bolsters the growth of the young market economy.
“Afghan exports mean Afghan jobs; it means Afghan prosperity. And it means the growth and the survival of Afghan democracy,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said the U.S. Commerce Department has partnerships with Afghan entrepreneurs and is providing job training in their country to stimulate business development.
“The United States is your long-term partner. We are dedicated to Afghanistan’s success,” he said. “I believe I speak for so many here in the U.S. to say that we want to help, we want to be part of this … great road on which you are embarking to take Afghanistan to the future that it deserves.”
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg welcomed the two guest speakers and Ambassador Karl Inderfurth, an Elliott School professor and former State Department official who helped organized the event. Trachtenberg wished Karzai and his delegation “a sweet Ramadan and an easy fast” for the Islamic holiday that began last week.
After Karzai’s speech, Inderfurth led a Q-and-A session between audience members and the head of state. An Afghani women’s rights activist asked the president how gender equality will be treated in the country’s new constitution. Karzai said many women have already won elections in the legislature and that “education is the foundation” to promoting equality.
Senior Zahra Masumi, president of the GW Afghan Student Organization, sat next to Karzai and thanked him for his commitment to democracy.
“His leadership has given Afghans around the world a hope of a brighter future,” Masumi said. “Most importantly, his leadership has shown that democracy has a chance to take root and flourish in Afghanistan and that Afghanistan can truly be a country of peace, prosperity and stability.”
After Masumi’s closing, Karzai and his delegation left campus, but the event was followed by a panel discussion continuing the theme of Afghan economic development. Panelists included top government officials from Afghanistan and U.S. economic experts.
Karzai was in Washington for a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and President George W. Bush. Musharraf spoke at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre Friday afternoon in a speech open to the public.
Inderfurth, who was a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Clinton’s first term, said the two world leaders’ speeches on campus helps to elevate the University’s prestige.
“I hope it underscores that George Washington University is a place where leaders of other countries and U.S. officials and prominent figures will want to come,” Inderfurth said. “I think all of this is just an indication that George Washington University has a national reputation and is one where those coming to Washington want to visit and speak.”