- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

Homa Naderi worries that Afghanistan’s 15 minutes in the spotlight are up.

“We were forgotten as soon as the first bombs were dropped on Iraq,” said the young Afghan American whose family moved to Pennsylvania when she was one year old.

Afghans such as Miss Naderi have a keen sense of history, and a growing number worry about its eerie tendency to repeat itself.

Homaira Zahir was 8 years old when the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan to support its favorite amid a series of leftist power struggles. She spent 12 years under communist rule and recalls with some bitterness the U.S. indifference to Afghanistan’s fate after the Russian pullout in 1989.

“Since the withdrawal of the Russians, Afghans always wanted the involvement of the international community. Unfortunately the world turned its back on Afghans and let them butcher each other.”

In September 1991, Ms. Zahir moved to the United States where she founded American Support for Afghanistan.

She is concerned that since the start of the war in Iraq, news from Afghanistan rarely makes it to the front pages of U.S. newspapers. “[B]ut the international community is well aware of the fact that it cannot ignore Afghanistan again,” she said.

Leaving Afghans alone will take them back two years and make their country a safe haven for terrorists again, she added.

A former U.S. special envoy to the Afghan resistance, Peter Tomsen agrees that the Bush administration lost momentum in Afghanistan because “we didn’t move quickly enough to show international assistance for reconstruction was coming.”

“Two years were lost,” he said. “Now, this is finally beginning … there is progress. The Afghans do not want the Taliban back, so there is popular support for the American presence because we provide security along the frontier necessary for reconstruction.”

On a recent visit to Afghanistan, Ms. Zahir got the impression people were “a bit frustrated” with the slow pace of development and that they had a lot of expectations of the world community and especially the United States.

“But I personally believe that things don’t happen overnight and it will take a generation of Afghans to see a real change in the country,” she said.

Manizha Naderi, who is not related to Homa Naderi, says the Bush administration has not done enough for Afghanistan. The administrative and community outreach director at Women for Afghan Women, an organization of Afghan and non-Afghan women from the New York area who seek to ensure the human rights of Afghan women, Ms. Naderi said people don’t feel safe in Afghanistan. The reason, she explained, is that the warlords are still in power.

“These are the same people that destroyed Kabul and brutalized the people. They raped women and destroyed Afghanistan. Now they are ministers and governors.”

According to recent news reports, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is negotiating with former Taliban members with an eye to the September elections. Some Afghans feel betrayed by his decision to reach out to the Taliban.

“How would an American feel if someone brought [Osama] bin Laden and made him mayor of New York? That’s how Afghans feel about these warlords in power,” said Manizha Naderi.

“We have to get rid of everyone that has their hands in blood. They have to be tried for human rights violations in international courts.”

Accounts of victims and witnesses collected by human rights groups implicate soldiers and police under the command of many high-level military and political officials in Afghanistan.

These include Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Hazrat Ali, military leader of the eastern region; Education Minister Younis Qanooni, ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful former militia leader to whom many of the officials involved in the documented abuses in Kabul city and province remain loyal.

Since 2001, the Bush administration has supported the Karzai government while providing arms and money to regional warlords who fight Taliban remnants and al Qaeda. Human rights groups want the United States to stop simultaneously supporting the national government and regional warlords.

“This policy has been both destabilizing and contributed to human rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch in New York. He blames the warlords for a spate of human rights abuses. “These men and others have essentially hijacked the country outside of Kabul … Afghanistan’s human rights situation appears to be worsening.”

Homa Naderi recently made her first visit to Kabul. She said the Afghans she met worried that the Taliban will return to power. “If the U.S. leaves, they [the Taliban] will return to power. … We are afraid of that,” she said.

“No Afghan wants another country to come and rule them — we fought the Soviets because of that. But we need a little help to get back on our feet,” she said.

“More than Iraq, it is the Afghans who need help. Iraq is rich, its people are educated. Our people cannot read or write; there is disease, poverty and drugs.”

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