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RESPONSE TO TERROR

A 100-Acre Summary of Afghan Needs

January 20, 2002|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government is working as fast as it can to put together a wish list for donor nations gathering this week in Tokyo. It might be simpler if the government could bring the donors to the Jangalak industrial complex on the outskirts of Kabul and let them see what this nation needs: almost everything.

Jangalak might be viewed as Afghanistan shrunk to 100 acres, available for viewing--and lamenting--in a day. Before it was turned to moonscape by the wars of the early 1990s, Jangalak was a factory like few others in the world, providing materials for virtually every industrial need in the nation.

Having grown out of a small brick factory and metal works, and further enlarged by the Soviets during the 1980s, Jangalak manufactured everything from ball bearings to generators. Its 3,000 workers built electric transformers, shaped parts for helicopters, and bottled ether for hospitals. Jangalak was the nation's main brick factory, its main tool shop, its only manufacturer of car bodies, its only semimodern lumber mill.

Today, only 150 workers still have jobs, most as guards who keep a lookout for squatters. The other workers perform a single manufacturing task: melting the few remaining, ruined engine blocks down into small balls of steel to be sold as measuring weights.

The cost of reconstructing Jangalak to a point where it could turn out at least a few more sophisticated products, according to the Ministry of Planning, is about $50 million.

Then there is the rest of the country--more than 4,500 miles of paved roads that need to be repaired or rebuilt, at costs ranging from $40,000 a mile to $155,000 a mile; 210,000 civil servants and 25,000 police officers who haven't been paid in six months and need about $35 million just to catch up; a heater for the battered presidential palace, where the temperature inside was about 45 degrees when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai on Thursday.

Estimates vary, but several government officials and international aid agencies say 75% to 85% of Afghanistan's infrastructure has been damaged to the point of uselessness or destroyed during more than two decades of war.

"When we are born, we are fed by the breast of our mother, and so we know who our mother is," said Abdul Qudus, 55, a guard at Jangalak whose face seems permanently set in a sad smile. For 25 years, he worked the looms in one of the weaving buildings here, before they were destroyed and looted along with the rest of the complex by moujahedeen warlords. "The bastards who did this didn't recognize their own mother.

"This," he said, opening his arms to the destruction, "was their mother."

Disagreements have risen already as to how much money is needed--and over how long a period--to rebuild Afghanistan. Planning Minister Haji Mohammed Mukhaqiq raised eyebrows when he placed the 10-year total at $45 billion. Many in the interim government here, as well as at the World Bank and United Nations, say the amount should be closer to $10 billion or $15 billion, of which $100 million is needed urgently.

Ten years and $15 billion, however, would be just the beginning, everyone agrees, even if peace prevails--by no means a certainty at this point. With an ongoing war and a brand-new government, Afghanistan is certain to face hard questions at the gathering Monday and Tuesday in Tokyo about whether it can handle massive donations properly, keeping the money from being siphoned by warlords or eventually going to fund more factional fighting.

As it prepares to defend itself, Karzai's nascent administration also is trying to determine what needs rebuilding, what needs replacing, what needs improving. Very few things, down to the mine-littered earth itself, don't fit into one of those categories.

It's difficult to know, however, where to begin.

No Phones, No Surprise

There isn't a single phone in all of Jangalak. This would come as no surprise to any Afghan. Kabul, the capital, is the only place in the country with working telephones. There are an estimated 100 to 150 of them--in a city of 1.2 million to 1.8 million people. The telephones function perhaps 5% or 10% of the time, and can ring only one another, not, say, a phone across the border in Pakistan.

Jangalak once had more than 100 buildings, some with massive lighted signs reading "Boiler Room" or "Tool and Die." There was a movie theater, a guest house, even a saloon back when alcohol was allowed in this Islamic state. Of all the light fixtures in the sprawling complex, two remain unbroken. Even if their electrical connections weren't severed, the bulbs would probably light for only about 2 1/2 hours a day, the average dose of power here.

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