Jim Amidon — Ashraf Haidari returned home on Tuesday. No, he did not return to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he lived as a child. He returned to Crawfordsville, where his American host family lives and to Wabash, which he credits for helping him bring about change on a truly global scale.
He frequently writes editorials and position papers urging America and other countries to continue their support of the development of Afghanistan. The task is daunting.
Now, in his role as Counselor for Political, Security, and Developmental Affairs for the Embassy, he travels all over America giving speeches, talking with journalists, and — most interesting — spending time with American troops before their deployment to Afghanistan.
On Tuesday he met with Jay Heater, editor of the Journal Review, who wrote a fine story on Haidari.
He swung by my office Tuesday morning after having flown in the night before. He’s in Indiana to speak with an Indiana National Guard Agricultural Development Team as it prepares to deploy to work on developing the agricultural economy of Afghanistan. Another daunting task.
“I will brief them on the current situation in Afghanistan,” he told me. “Then I will thank them — and thank their families — for their sacrifices and contributions that are changing the lives of the people of Afghanistan.”
He was in Utah last week, Texas the week before.
“Developing the agricultural economy is a national priority of our government right now,” he said. “Sixty to 70 percent of our population lives in rural areas where there is no infrastructure.”
He said that so far the “fixes” in the rural infrastructure have been “random, disjointed, and ad hoc.”
The biggest problem, of course, is the Taliban and its need for cash generated by opium poppy production. Afghanistan remains the world’s principal producer of the drug.
“The farmers need assistance and support to move away from the illicit crops toward marketable, high-value cash crops,” Haidari told me. “There is little in the way of technical assistance, there are few roads to move crops, and there isn’t enough security in place to make the transition.”
When security forces move away from the farms, the Taliban move back in.
“What we need to do — and what America is helping us do — is to develop a sustainable balance between security and development in post-conflict Afghanistan.”
His job in Washington and the role he’s playing on an international stage seems like a long way from Crawfordsville.
The 2001 Wabash graduate was late starting his Wabash career in the fall of 1997 — the war-torn Afghani government couldn’t square away his visa. Getting here two weeks late did nothing more than focus him on making the most of his hard-earned American college education.
During his time at Wabash, he had impressive internships with the United Nations. He had good faculty advisors in David Blix and Melissa Butler. He became passionate about bringing change to his home country.
He left here to pursue a graduate degree at Georgetown, then went to work as First Secretary and Director of Government and Media Relations for the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington.
Wabash talks a lot about producing graduates who have significant impact on their communities, men who change the world.
Ashraf Haidari is doing exactly that. And at just 33 years old, it’s clear that he’ll continue to have an important role in the rebirth and redevelopment of his home country, Afghanistan.
“I give all credit to Wabash for investing in me, for educating me, and for teaching me that I can have a global impact.”