- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

Rugs to riches

Afghanistan’s ambassador is hoping that the ancient art of rug weaving will help spur development in his Central Asian nation, which is struggling with Taliban terrorism and donor fatigue from nations that have so far failed to put up the money to match their aid promises.

“Afghan rugs connect you to thousands of years of history, a group of talented artists halfway around the world, and a reconstruction process that is helping millions of people find security, prosperity, education and new hope,” Ambassador Said T. Jawad said at a recent exhibit of Afghan rugs in Atlanta.

“Afghanistan’s rug trade is at least 1,000 years old. The Silk Road and Afghanistan were the nexus of civilizations, knowledge and trade, stretching from Spain to China. Today, Afghan rugs are regaining their fame and recognition for excellent value, superb quality, rich colors and unique patterns.”

The exhibit, attended by top U.S. officials, attracted wealthy investors who bought nearly all of the rugs on display.

David Sampson, U.S. deputy commerce secretary, noted that the exhibition was a “smart step” toward the goal of promoting Afghanistan’s traditional rug industry, which generates $50 million in annual exports.

Mr. Jawad urged buyers to help Afghanistan’s economy by investing in its arts and crafts, which have tax-free access to the U.S. market. He noted that his country is trying to recover from 30 years of conflict — from the Soviet invasion in 1979 to the resurgent threat from the extremist Taliban, trying to regain power after the United States overthrew them in 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

“You are helping millions of women and families struggling to recover from three decades of war and despair,” the ambassador said.

“Afghans are grateful for your support and assistance and the sacrifices of your soldiers fighting to defend freedom in Afghanistan, here in the U.S. and all over the world. They are all heroes.”

Darfur dispute

Andrew Natsios, the special U.S. envoy to Sudan, angered the Africa Action network by dismissing the term “genocide” in connection with the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of the African nation.

Mr. Natsios earlier this month told an audience at Georgetown University, “The term ‘genocide’ is counter to the facts of what is really occurring in Darfur.”

Nii Akuetteh, executive director the Washington-based advocacy group, said Sudan clearly intends to destroy communities of black African farmers through proxy Arab militias.

“Natsios’ declaration that genocide is no longer occurring in Darfur denies the reality on the ground and conflicts with numerous statements from the White House and State Department over the past two years,” Mr. Akuetteh said.

“This is more than a semantic change. Natsios’ claim represents a calculated attempt to re-characterize the crisis, undermine its urgency and obviate the need for new U.S. action to address it.”

In an interview last week, however, Mr. Natsios re-emphasized the threat posed by the militias to more than 2.5 million refugees displaced since 2003, when so-called Janjaweed militias began slaughtering civilians and burning villages in response to anti-government rebel attacks.

Mr. Natsios told the Reuters news agency that the Sudanese government has “lost control” in Darfur.

“There is anarchy in Darfur. The risk is that if the [nongovernmental organizations] leave, the U.N. humanitarian agencies leave, there will be no one to care for these people in the camps who can be trusted,” he said.

“There is a potential for an explosion if the agencies leave that would match the risk” to the local population that occurred in 2003 and 2004, Mr. Natsios said.

The result “would be a blood bath,” he warned.

The conflict has claimed between 300,000 and 400,000 lives.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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