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The State

Expatriates Seek Time With Afghan Leader

Politics: Groups elect delegates to travel to Washington in hopes of meeting the prime minister.

January 09, 2002|ERIC BAILEY and KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With a mix of U.S.-style democracy and Old World deal-making, Afghan American groups in California are lining up in hopes of snagging a meeting with Afghanistan's new prime minister during his expected trip to Washington in the coming weeks.

Potential participants from across the state are angling to meet with Hamid Karzai, named interim prime minister last month.

"Everybody and their cousin wants to form a group, to get a meeting," said Mohammed Daoud of Malibu, a United Airlines pilot active in the Afghan American community in Southern California.

In the Little Kabul section of Fremont, home to what is reportedly America's largest concentration of Afghan expatriates, an election last weekend drew more than 1,000 voters to select 10 delegates for a Washington trip.

Glee over the delegate election was marred Tuesday by bloodshed when two brothers who helped organize the vote were shot in their Little Kabul travel agency. One died and the other was seriously wounded by a gunman who later surrendered to police. Detectives said the motive appears to be a personal grudge, not politics.

"The election went well, everyone was happy, but then this happened," lamented Waheed Momand, a former Afghan lawmaker who is among the expatriates from Northern California tabbed to meet with Karzai. "It is a grim day."

In Orange County, Afghan American leaders began to mobilize and elect community representatives even before Karzai's ascent to his current position. They hope to not just meet with him, but to get a face-to-face session with President Bush.

"I have mentioned this to the president personally," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach). He said Bush has corresponded by handwritten note with several Afghans from Orange County. "These are not new faces for him."

Kawky Anwar, president of the Southern California Afghan Women's Assn., said she hopes to be among the California delegation, but meetings are still being held to determine who will travel to the nation's capital.

"We're very optimistic about his government," Anwar said. "Hopefully, he can work with all the alliances inside the country to make the situation better--especially the situation of women."

Some already have a pipeline to Washington.

Noor Delawari of La Canada Flintridge and Hasan Nouri of Laguna Hills, founding members of Afghanistan America Now, met Tuesday in Washington with officials from the State Department and other federal agencies to hear about reconstruction plans in Afghanistan.

Delawari said she and other Afghans from Southern California want to thank the president for taking steps to help rebuild the war-shattered country. "That's primarily what we would like to do."

But most Afghan American leaders have extra motives in seeking face time with Karzai, Daoud suggested.

"Basically, everybody wants to sort of remind him that they're here," he said. "Everybody's trying to find posts in future governments."

Much of Afghanistan's professional and cultural elite immigrated to the U.S. as the Soviet invasion of 1979 ushered in two decades of nearly ceaseless warfare. Many will return only if they are assured key positions, Daoud said.

"If an engineer goes to Afghanistan and ends up working under a mullah or a warlord who only knows how to use a machine gun, he's not going to be able to get anything done," Daoud said. "It will be frustrating."

*

Bailey reported from Sacramento and Yoshino from Costa Mesa, and staff writer Nita Lelyveld contributed from Los Angeles.

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