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Engineers Make Plans to Reconstruct Afghanistan

Engineers Make Plans to Reconstruct Afghanistan

World Federation of Engineering Organizations Pledges Aid to Afghan Reconstruction

By Leslie Evans

The roads are bombed, the fields mined. There is no telephone service, no schools beyond the primary level, no health service, and no banks.

"Engineers can rebuild a building in a year or two, but it will take much longer to rebuild the social fabric that has been destroyed in Afghanistan" declared noted engineer Hasan Nouri at a well attended meeting at UCLA on Thursday, February 7. Nouri, who was born in Afghanistan and is chairman of the board of International Orphan Care, shared the platform with William Carroll, former president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), which claims 8 million members in 80 countries. Carroll said he had consulted with WFEO leaders in several countries and that the organization pledged to actively participate in the reconstruction of the Afghan infrastructure as soon as funds come online from a joint effort of the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other international agencies, which have pledged US$1.8 billion in the next year and $4.6 billion over five years. The special seminar was sponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations of UCLA and the World Affairs Council of Orange County, in conjunction with Town Hall Los Angeles.

Hasan Nouri outlined the background of the recent war, saying that for 300 years Afghanistan had been a pawn of its powerful neighbors, each attempting to influence its borders and politics for their rival interests. The present borders were drawn by the British in the nineteenth century, principally to create a buffer against Russian influence on their colonial holdings in India. One of the most prominent Afghan ethnic groups, the Pushtuns, were deliberately split by the British between Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan to make it difficult for Russia to incite war against the British colony in India as the Pushtuns would have relatives on the British side of the border.

"After the Soviet conquest of the northern states (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan), Afghanistan became a buffer between the Soviet Union and the United States.… The U.S. was instrumental in forming the Baghdad Pact in 1955, which consisted of: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan, with Afghanistan as a nonaligned buffer zone."

Infrastructure Priorities Were Set by Cold War, Destroyed when War Heated Up

Major engineering projects inside Afghanistan were motivated by the cold war aims of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and consequently became the targets for destruction in the hot wars that followed. Two of the principal roads built with U.S. support in the south were the Herat to Iran road, built at a time when the U.S. advocated close relations with Iran, and the Kabul to Pakistan road, also U.S. built, to encourage good relations with a Baghdad Pact member. The U.S.-built Kabul-Kandahar highway was the best highway in Afghanistan, perhaps the best in Central Asia; now it is unusable due to neglect and bombing. In the south the Americans also built an extensive series of dams and waterworks, the Helmand Valley Authority, modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States, to offset an annual rainfall of only 9 inches countrywide. In the north the Soviet Union constructed an elaborate highway far in excess of the civilian traffic needs of the time.

Following this mutual buildup there were two successive periods of destruction. The first was during the period of Soviet occupation. "Most of the infrastructure not in the control of the Soviets was bombed and destroyed by them," Nouri said. "Half of the population was displaced, killed, or disabled. Ten percent of the population were killed. One and a half million children lost one or both parents…. During this period the university and higher education system was heavily influenced by the communists even before the actual invasion. In the civil war after 1979, the Soviet backed side, over a 10-year period, sought to depopulate areas hostile to its regime by destroying the food supply. The Helmand Valley Authority, which had been built by the Americans, was a particular target. The government prior to the Soviet invasion had offered free land there, so it was the only melting pot in the country where multiple ethnic groups lived together."

Post-Taliban Problems

Hasan Nouri listed the major deficits in the physical infrastructure of Afghanistan in the post-Taliban period:

  1. The warlords must either be brought in or controlled. They are the biggest remaining problem.
  2. Landmines must be cleared--it is the most infested country in the world.
  3. Roads must be repaired quickly and some type of transportation system must be established.
  4. Telephone service, radio stations, and other forms of communication must be established. There is no phone system today.
  5. A central bank must be formed and currency created.
  6. Bureaucrats must be recruited and paid
  7. 6 million displaced people must be settled (out of a population of 20 million).
  8. Schools must be opened.
  9. Health service must be created.
  10. The production of drugs must be brought under control. The one good thing that the Taliban did was to outlaw the production of poppies, used to make heroin. Before the Taliban Afghanistan produced 80% of the world’s poppy crop. Under the Taliban this was reduced to 20%, mainly in the areas controlled by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

"300 people are killed or injured per month by landmines," Nouri said. "This is a severe obstacle to the return of displaced people, the restoration of agriculture, and maintenance of livestock. There has to be a security force capable of confronting hostile warlords. There needs to be a central bank to receive and distribute the reconstruction funds and to stabilize the economy. There is no court system in Afghanistan today. There is only primary school, and of that, only for 38% of the boys and 3% of the girls."

Nouri urged the United States not to repeat the mistakes it made after the Soviet pullout in 1988. At that time, "America pursued a policy of abandonment." The Taliban itself was a product of U.S. and Pakistani efforts to counter Soviet influence in the region. It allowed Pakistan to move into the vacuum, and consciously choose to hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban in the hopes that a rigid fundamentalist group "would ensure peace, control the drug trade, and protect the cross-Afghanistan oil pipeline…. September 11 resulted from a series of mistakes by Pakistan and the U.S."

William Carroll Pledges Aid to Afghanistan from World’s Engineers

The second speaker at the seminar was William Carroll, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and also former president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO). The WFEO is an umbrella organization that includes in its ranks most existing national engineering societies. Its main American affiliate is the American Federation of Engineering Societies, which in turn includes organizations of civil, electrical, and other types of engineering professionals. The AFES has about 1 million members. "The World Federation of Engineering Organizations," Carroll said, "is interested in rebuilding destroyed infrastructure of Afghanistan--we are nonpolitical but are expert in building infrastructure."

He told the audience, "Today I contacted present and past functionaries of the WFEO in Argentina, France, and other countries to see if they were willing to have the WFEO sit down with the new Afghan government to discuss projects to rebuild the country. Everyone I spoke to strongly endorsed such an effort." Carroll went on to describe his experience the day of the terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon. "On September 11, I was in Moscow at a WFEO meeting," he said. "It was devastating to our group, which represented 60 nations. Seventeen of those nations were Muslim states. Each one of the 17 Muslim delegations came to me and expressed their sympathy, their concern, and their anger at this attack. I was moved by the fact that these engineers from these countries were concerned. I hope the profession can be of help to you and them in the effort to rebuild Afghanistan."

Hasan Nouri then declared that Carroll’s pledge from the WFEO "Is itself an important accomplishment of today’s meeting."

"We need to build 2 million new homes"

The audience also heard from a previously unannounced speaker, Noor Delawari, an advisory board member of the Afghanistan Foundation, and chair of the Afghanistan Relief Organization. "Half of the arable land has been destroyed," he told the audience. "We had 2,000 miles of road; that is almost all gone. There are hundreds of thousands of orphan children. The mortality among the young people is unimaginable, dying of the cold weather. We must provide shelter for them. 8 million people were displaced over the last decade. We need to build 2 million new homes. We need to create a new security force. We need this to take care of the warlords or others who take advantage of the weakness of the social forces."

Delawari said that the $4.6 billion in reconstruction pledges from other countries should be regarded not as a gift but as an investment in the stability of the area. He pointed to the important role Afghanistan had played in weakening the communist system in the Soviet Union in the years of the Soviet invasion. He also noted that while the United States has pledged $300 million, that the much poorer Iran has pledged $500 million and Pakistan has pledged $150 million. It is important for ordinary citizens in the U.S. to look for ways to help. "Another idea," he suggested, "is adopt a town, to form partnerships between Afghan towns and American cities that can build a school, build a library, whatever you can do to help."

Burkle Center for International Relations