- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

Members of the local Afghan community said yesterday they are optimistic about their country's chances for peace and democracy as a new interim government took power in Afghanistan.
About 100 community members attended a "town hall" meeting at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale sponsored by the U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council to discuss what can be done to address the social and economic needs of post-Taliban Afghanistan.
"No nation in history has ever been so decimated," said the council's executive director, Abdullah Sherzai. "No nation in history has ever been so torn apart."
A four-person panel discussed their views on establishing women's rights, rebuilding the country's infrastructure and providing for emergency medical needs in a country ravaged by 23 years of war and occupation. Since 1996, Afghanistan had been under control of the Taliban.
Aside from calls for massive foreign aid, much of the meeting had to do with educating local Afghan people about their opportunities to help.
Dr. Haroon Aziz, a member of the board of directors of the Afghan Doctors Association here in Washington, warned that even the most basic of medicines are in short supply.
"People are dying because of a lack of just simple penicillin, which costs pennies but can save a life," he said. "Education is the key, training local people to provide health care."
"They need our help, and they need our support," said Abdul Malik Mortaza, president of the Society of Afghan Engineers. He said local Afghan people could volunteer their time and knowledge to go to Afghanistan and work in short- or longer-term projects that require skilled workers.
The message resounded with Yama Achikzai, 34, a systems administrator who left Afghanistan at age 15.
"A lot of young people are needed to go back and help this country of ours," said Mr. Achikzai, who was visiting family here. "Older people can be advisers; young people can be foot soldiers. There are a lot of things we can do to at least provide some sort of help."
Mirwise Aziz agreed. He works in a hospital in Alexandria and attended the meeting "to see how we could rebuild the country and what are the most important things we could do."
But for Mr. Aziz and his wife and two children, financial help may be all they can offer. "I want to do something for my country, but at the same time, I have to take care of my family," he said.
Many in the audience were disappointed that several panelists didn't attend, including the U.S. spokesman for the Northern Alliance, Haroon Amin.
Saleiman Azizi, 24, an Afghan musician who left the country when he was 4 years old, said he wanted to hear more about the interim government's plans but was pleased to be talking about a democratic future for his homeland.
"I guess it's a start," said Mr. Azizi, who lives in Springfield.
"There are a lot of challenges, but we must not discourage one another," Mr. Achikzai said. "We must be positive because we have no choice."

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