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Afghan envoy grateful for Korean aid

One might typically expect a foreign diplomatic mission to be a calm and formal affair, but the first impression upon entering the chancery of the Afghan Embassy is a sense of urgency and a palpable atmosphere of enthusiasm.

The local staffers and Afghan diplomats were hard at work organizing visiting delegations from Kabul, meetings between Korean and Afghan officials, and special events in honor of the Central Asian nation’s 94th Independence Day and the 40th anniversary on Wednesday of the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea.

“My message is simple: We Afghans cherish our independence above everything else and we also deeply appreciate the friendship and support provided by South Korea,” said Afghan Ambassador to South Korea Yunos Farman in an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

“Afghanistan’s history is over 5,000 years old, but from ancient times to recent events, our history has been one of foreign aggression perpetuated on us, and our struggle for freedom against that aggression,” Farman said

Afghan Ambassador to South Korea Yunos Farman responds to a question during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office at the Afghan Embassy in Hannam-dong in Seoul on Monday. (Afghan Embassy)
Afghan Ambassador to South Korea Yunos Farman responds to a question during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office at the Afghan Embassy in Hannam-dong in Seoul on Monday. (Afghan Embassy)
Farman said Afghanistan, although poor, was a relatively happy and harmonious society for nearly 60 years from independence in 1919 up until 1977, when a Soviet-backed coup d’etat toppled the government.

“Over 1.5 million Afghans were killed as a result of this Soviet invasion,” he said. “In those years alone of aggression, civil war and destruction to 2001, everything was destroyed,” he said.

Even as the Afghan National Army confronts Taliban insurgents around the country, Farman insisted that Afghanistan was inching its way back to recovery and normalcy.

Farman enumerated a number of accomplishments in the last 10 years: A truly professional army has been nurtured to a force 350,000-strong; a democratic system of governance was built; 70 percent of the country has access to health care; 18 million people have access to telecommunications and the Internet; and, 10,000 kilometers of asphalt road, as well as hundreds of bridges, dams and canals have been built.

The economy is slowly emerging from decades of conflict. Per capita income was $500 in 2012 from just $100 in 2003, a fourfold increase, Farman said.

In all this, one important lesson stands out in the decades of turmoil and reconstruction, he said. The international community must not forget Afghanistan, especially in the years to come.

Korean partnership

“The contributions made by South Korea are appreciated by the government and the people of Afghanistan,” Farman said.

South Korea began extending overseas development assistance to Afghanistan in 2003, shortly after the United States intervened, spending some $180 million in aid through its Korea International Cooperation Agency.

It contributed troops to a multinational deployment in the early stages of the war, but withdrew those forces in 2007, after 23 Christian missionaries were kidnapped by Taliban fighters.

Three years later, former President Lee Myung-bak redeployed a force of nearly 500 civilians, police and military in Parwan Province where the massive U.S. Bagram Air Base is located as part of Korea’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2010.

In 2012, Seoul extended the mission in Afghanistan to December of this year, but down-sized it from the original 350-strong Oshino Unit to about 100 soldiers, who are protecting 150 reconstruction workers and engineers.

South Korea also pledged $500 million in assistance over five years at a meeting by the foreign ministers of the 48 countries that contribute to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy has altogether contributed $680 million to Afghanistan, the most it has ever given to a foreign country. It provided $460 million for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

South Korea’s PRT in Afghanistan has been helping build and operate a hospital, a police training center and other aid facilities, as well as miles of asphalt roads in Parwan. South Korea has also been facilitating the training of Afghan civil service officials in Seoul.

Now, South Korea and Afghanistan are discussing prospects of keeping a team of reconstruction and aid workers in Afghanistan even after their mission ends, according to an official with knowledge of the matter.

The next phase of recovery as crucial as ever, the years between 2015 to 2014 will be marked by a new era of cooperation and partnership with the international community, Farman said.

South Korea will be a crucial partner because central to the next development phase is capacity building and education of government officials, as well as the training of security forces.

Some 400 Afghan officials traveled from Kabul to Seoul to upgrade their executive skills.

Efforts toward recovery will be tested next year in April when the nation goes to the polls in the first vote in which President Hamid Karzai, who held office since December 2011, will not be eligible to run due to term limits.

By Philip Iglauer (ephilip2011@heraldcorp.com)
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