Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the United Nations relief coordinator for Afghanistan, says the international aid community must act with speed and flexibility if the reconstruction of Afghanistan is to succeed. Prince Sadruddin regards his job as a tremendous challenge, but expresses confidence that with ``the resourcefulness of the Afghans, their courage, their resilience ... this program is going to be a great success. [But] they're going to have to identify what they need.''
The main thing, he says, ``is that help should get where it is needed, and that it should get there quickly.''
In a recent interview with the Monitor, Sadruddin stressed the need for pragmatism. The UN task force, he says, should not only seek to work directly with Afghan resistance commanders, but also enlist the humanitarian support of the Soviet Union and the East bloc as part of the international relief effort.
The progam's humanitarian objectives should not in any way be constrained by political and diplomatic rigidity, Sadruddin says. It is vital for the task force, which expects to cooperate with governments, UN agencies, and private voluntary organzations, to speak with ``one voice'' and with ``one battle plan.''
Accompanied by representatives from UN and other aid agencies, Sadruddin visited the region on a five-day, fact-finding tour at the end of last month. In Pakistan, he met with government officials, Afghan refugee and resistance leaders, as well as private aid coordinators.
Sadruddin, UN High Commisioner for Refugees from 1965 to 1977, was named head of the international task force on May 11. The task force is primarily responsible for helping repatriate upto 8 million refugees and internally displaced Afghans. Its mandate also covers long-term development for Afghanistan which has been devastated in areas by more than nine years of war. A UN appeal, to be launched this month, is initially expected to call for $1.5 billion to $2 billion worth of aid.
Sadruddin, whose appointment is for one year, says he hopes the Soviets can be persuaded to contribute. The Afghan resistance, which has been fighting the Soviet occupation since December 1979, would probably not accept direct bilateral Soviet aid, he observes. But contributions on a multinational basis would make the aid more palatable. Many Afghans feel the Soviet Union should pay reparations.
Sadruddin emphasizes that Afghanistan's unique geography and mosaic of ethnic groups makes it difficult to accurately assess its real needs.
Adequate preparation is needed, he says, to create conditions of confidence in regions with good security so that they will act as magnets to draw refugees and displaced people back. ``It would be disastrous, if, for instance, a large number of people went back and they had no food, no crops, because the land has been lying fallow.'' Some basic requirements range from hand tools, draught animals, and seeds to repairing of irrigation systems and homes, and improving the communications infrastructure.
Sadruddin also stresses that the task force should not seek to do everything itself. All too often, he noted, the foreign aid community underestimates the ability of people to cope with their own problems. The UN ``obviously has to plug the gaps here and there, and we have the resources to do that. But I think that we have to rely essentially on the Afghans.''
One particularly hazardous problem, he says, is the presence of mines. According to Western military analysts, between 3 million and 5 million mines may have been scattered in fields or planted along roads as part of government efforts to hinder resistance movements.
The UN task force, Sadruddin says, will probably have to call on international specialists to help clear the minefields ``in conjunction with guerrilla commanders who know their areas.''
He acknowledges the resistance war against the Kabul regime could go on for some time but that the international relief effort should proceed regardless. ``We have to immediately identify areas where the fighting has stopped ... and where things are returning to normal,'' he says. ``A meaningful UN effort will tilt the situation toward peace and stability.''
The UN coordinator says it is too soon to tell how many refugees will return during the early stages of the program.
``What I would like to avoid is that people should continue to depend on handouts [or] become professional refugees,'' he says. ``We've seen so many areas ... where refugees simply wait all the time for international charity. That is something I would never condone.''