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Afghan businessmen leave for Bonn meet

A delegation of nine Afghan businessmen based in Dubai left for Germany last night to take part in the 'Afghan Civil Society Meeting', which is being held on the brim of the United Nations-sponsored talks in Bonn.

Gulf News

A delegation of nine Afghan businessmen based in Dubai left for Germany last night to take part in the 'Afghan Civil Society Meeting', which is being held on the brim of the United Nations-sponsored talks in Bonn.

The businessmen will join some 40 other prominent members of the Afghan Diaspora, including academics and professionals, to discuss issues crucial for peace-building and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The UN has asked the Stiftung Wissenschaft Politik (Berlin) and Swiss Peace Foundation (Berne) to organise the civic talks, which are scheduled to begin tonight and run until December 2. The location of the meeting has not been made public for security reasons.

Gulf News met the businessmen a few hours prior to their departure at the offices of Abdul Basir Omarzay, President of Metropolic Paper Industries, LLC.

Omarzay, a respected figure in the local Afghan community, is leading the delegation to Germany.

"We've seen 23 years of war during which the country has been totally destroyed. We have no factories, we don't have an electricity grid, we don't have any roads, we don't have a banking system, no hospitals, no schools," he began.

"We've been invited by Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, to attend this conference in Bonn, which will address a lot of these problems that Afghanistan faces today. In particular, we've been invited to offer our views and solutions for Afghanistan's economic problems...

"We need the U.S., the whole of the Western world, as well as our own Islamic countries to be involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," said the Afghan businessman, who has been in Dubai since 1992.

He avoided making an extensive commentary on the political wrangling going on at Bonn.

"We will accept the will of the people of Afghanistan. Whoever the people of Afghanistan wish to rule instead of the former government. We will be all for that," stated Omarzay, a Pashtun.

Sherkhan Farnood, who has been operating the Shaheen Exchange, LLC, in Dubai since 1995, is 'very, very optimistic' about the future of Afghanistan.

He does not believe the world community will abandon Afghanistan as it did in the past.

"When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, it was probably thought by the international community that the Afghan problem was just an Afghan problem - that it didn't affect any other parts of the world," he explained.

"But the events of September 11 have shown that if a country is left forgotten, in ruin, it will certainly affect other parts of the world.

"If the world community abandons Afghanistan like it did the last time, in four or five years, they will have a much, much bigger problem on their hands," he warned.

Farnood describes himself as an Afghan through and through.

"The tribal issue only appears to be a big problem. It is painted to be a big problem in Afghanistan, but it isn't," he stressed, citing himself as an example.

"I am born Uzbek, but I speak Tajik, Hazara and Pashto. I am married to a Pashtun. My mother is a Tajik. It is better you don't ask me about my tribal affiliations, because I am an Afghan."

Ahmad Shah Shahab, chairman of Olympia Lube Oil FZCO, has been in Dubai for seven years. He believes that peace will prevail in Afghanistan, but the only Afghan figure capable of restoring stability to the devastated country is the former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah.

"I would never support the military face of Afghanistan - the commanders who are ruling the country now. All of these commanders are killing people... The only peace and quiet we ever had in Afghanistan was 40 years ago, when the king was in place," he recalled.

"Zaher Shah has not had a hand in the fighting. Nor did he sell his country to another for his own political survival. He has experience in governance. He is now more than 87 years old, and is not coming to Afghanistan for a boxing match."

"Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was president of Afghanistan for eight years, is a professor of Islam. I like him as a religious man, but he is not a politician," he pointed out.

Iqbal Rashidzada, president of Yahya Gulf Trading FZE, is one of the youngest members of the delegation.

He has been in Dubai for the past six years, but has lived away from Afghanistan for 22 years. "I was a little boy when I left," said Rashidzada, who completed his university studies in New York. "I dream of returning to Afghanistan."

While he is determined to return to his country, he is aware of the difficulties that he will face, especially because he has been abroad for most of his life.

"There won't be a lot of the amenities that we have here in Dubai, or in the U.S. But if the people in Afghanistan can live with all that hardship, as an Afghan, I can accept some of the same, to help my people and participate in the rebuilding of Afghanistan."