Dr Mohammad Qayumi is finance minister and chief advisor to the president of Afghanistan. A professor and an engineer, he is the first Afghan national who has headed several universities in the US, including California State University. He was born in 1952 in Afghanistan. He was recently in Chittagong where he attended the convocation on the Asian University for Women as the main speaker. He took time out to speak to Prothom Alo.
Prothom Alo: This is your first trip to Bangladesh. How do you feel about it?
Humayun Qayumi: It has been an enjoyable trip. Bangladesh’s development over the past one and a half decades is unimaginable. Afghanistan can learn from Bangladesh’s success. Very few countries in the world have progressed in this manner. How many countries have a GDP that’s almost touching 8 per cent? It’s not just economic development. The achievements in birth control, human resource development, education and health are commendable.
Prothom Alo: You have worked for long in the education sector and were the head of a reputed university in the US. This experience must have served well in refurbishing Afghanistan’s education system.
Humayun Qayumi: Definitely. I am also serving as the president’s advisor for human resources and technology. Two years have passed and in this time, online educational programmes have been set up, including at the primary level. Children in remote areas have been covered by this programme. The primary education curriculum has been updated and the scope of higher education has been expanded. There are now 29 public universities and 130 private universities in Afghanistan at present. I am working on improving the standard of the public universities.
Prothom Alo: How come you left such an illustrious career in education to join politics?
Humayun Qayumi: I have joined the government, but am not really interested in politics. At the same time, it is not possible to avoid politics in running the government. When I was in charge of a university in the US, I had to face politics there too. After all, every individual has a political identity. A good manager has to take everything into cognizance. Reality has to be taken into consideration. One has to be logical and understand contemporary politics.
Prothom Alo: A video of a young Afghan boy dancing happily after getting an artificial limb recently went viral on social media. It seemed to symbolise the present state of Afghanistan - pain and hope. Which will ultimately win?
Humayun Qayumi: Humanity will ultimately win. A certain group in our country, as well as neighbouring countries, will have to learn that there needs to be peace in Afghanistan in their own interests. Unless there is a prosperous Afghanistan, the prosperity of the region will also come to a halt. Bangladesh went through such ups and downs too. It went through the liberation war of 1971, the assassination of the father of the nation and military rule. But Bangladesh has overcome all that and now stands successfully in front of all the nations of the world. So why will not Afghanistan also be able to do so?
Prothom Alo: But Afghanistan has a complex social structure.
Humayun Qayumi: Yes, there are ethnic, linguistic and religious divisions, but when all of this is put together, you get the people. The separate identities are not in the forefront. You will note that from the Soviet occupation till the Taliban rule, innumerable physicians, professors, engineers, businessmen and other professionals were sent to jail or killed. The country went through this unimaginable violence. But the people never gave up. People have the propensity to go ahead.
Prothom Alo: The Afghan cricket team emanate of confidence that nothing can hold them back. The common people of Afghanistan surely have the same spirit.
Humayun Qayumi: The Afghan cricketers are now the national inspiration. This proves we have the competence, the strength. We want to display this in all sectors. There was a time when Afghanistan was the world’s top producer of saffron. Saffron production fell to nil during the war, but now they have begun saffron cultivation again. It is now the fourth largest producer of saffron in the world.
Prothom Alo: Will it be possible to have a peaceful multi-ethnic Afghanistan, given the rifts and conflicts among the different tribes?
Humayun Qayumi: After the exit of the Soviets, various local and foreign powers used these divisions in their own interests during the civil war. But the new generation want national unity. The influence of the war mongers is steadily on the decline. The new generation realises, at the end of the day, we are all human beings.
Prothom Alo: What is the biggest challenge for the Afghan government - political instability, corruption or security?
Humayun Qayumi: I would say corruption. Corruption creates all the problems. The people have lost confidence in the overall system. It is imperative to create transparency in the system of governance.
Prothom Alo: What anti-corruption measures have been taken up?
Humayun Qayumi: It is not easy to clear the debris of a 30-year civil war. Many dark forces have spread their tentacles in the war torn Afghanistan. It will take time to clear all this away. We are optimistic that even corruption will be eliminated.
Prothom Alo: Afghanistan’s economic independence is the lowest in the global index at 51.5.
Humayun Qayumi: That is why we are giving priority to private investment. Over the past three years the government’s earnings have gone up by 90 per cent. Steps have been taken to increase revenue through taxes and other measures. We are also paying attention to creating new employment opportunities. We are working against corruption too.
Prothom Alo: What progress has been made in bringing the Taliban under control and to sign a peace accord with them?
Humayun Qayumi: It depends on how you view the Taliban. Which Taliban you are referring to - those who control the narcotics trade, those who carry out killings in schools, hospitals and public places, those who are controlled by foreign forces? One and a half years ago when there was talk of a peace deal, I saw the plea for peace among many Talibans. It is time for the Talibans to think what they achieved by their killings. If they think about that and free themselves of foreign influence, then peace will prevail.
Prothom Alo: Ties between Afghanistan and Bangladesh go way back. How can the two countries work together?
Humayun Qayumi: We want to learn from Bangladesh’s successes. We can work together on this. We have to work with all countries of South Asia, not just Bangladesh, to tackle common challenges. After all, one fourth of the world’s population lives in South Asia. The economic potential of this region must be used to overcome all communalism and ethnic differences and to work together. There is no alternative to this.
Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Humayun Qayumi: Thank you.
* This interview appeared in Bangla in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir