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Afghanistan: U.S. First Lady Calls On All Afghans To Take Part In Reconstruction

Prague, 21 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. First Lady Laura Bush called today on all Afghans to take part in forming their new government and rebuilding their country.

Speaking on Radio Free Afghanistan, headquartered in Prague, the wife of U.S. President George W. Bush told Afghan citizens: "I hope you will participate in selecting a government that can lead your country to a future of peace and prosperity."

The U.S. first lady, who is an advocate for Afghan reconstruction, made the remarks as part of a 13-minute address in which she also stressed the American public's strong support for the Afghan people.

The radio address comes as Afghanistan prepares for a one-week national assembly, the Loya Jirga, which is to start on 10 June. The assembly is to elect a head of state and approve key personnel for a new government to lead the country for the next 18 months, until elections are held.

The first lady said the American people want to be partners in the efforts of Afghans to rebuild their society. "I am confident Afghanistan can build a future of peace and freedom and America will be your friend and partner in achieving it. Ma ba shooma ahstem [Dari for 'We are with you']."

She said Americans understand that "life in Afghanistan today is extremely hard." She added that: "Years of war have devastated your beautiful land. Poverty and malnutrition are widespread. Many of your citizens cannot find jobs or the health care they need."

But she said that, "despite these great difficulties, these are times of hope and even times of joy in Afghanistan...of boys and girls going back to school, of women moving freely outside their homes, or farmers beginning to replant fields with food crops."

The first lady said that the U.S., along with other countries around the world, is working hard to help meet Afghans' immediate needs for food, water, shelter, and medicine. And she said Americans will remain committed to that task.

She said that -- in one sign of the U.S. public's strong support for Afghanistan -- American schoolchildren have raised more than $4 million to help send food and medicine there. That is in response to a call by President Bush for each boy and girl in the United States to raise or earn $1 to help needy Afghan children.

The first lady also called on Afghan families to embrace their new opportunities to obtain education and training after years of war and the repressive Taliban regime.

"I hope you will support the work of schools and send your children to be educated. I hope you will take advantage of the training that many organizations are offering to help you start a business or learn a profession," Laura Bush said.

She said that as a former educator herself, she personally welcomes the sight of Afghan girls and women going back to school. The Taliban forbade the education of girls and women and severely restricted the forms of education available to boys.

"As a former teacher and librarian, I am especially excited that the schools of Afghanistan are now open and that boys and girls are now allowed to attend them," Laura Bush said.

The first lady also said she particularly hopes that Afghan women will once more play a full role in their society. She noted that, "before the Taliban, women were elected representatives in Afghanistan's parliament, women worked as teachers, doctors and professionals...and women were a vital part of Afghanistan's life."