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Cablegate: Charg's Meeting with New Minister of Refugees And

VZCZCXRO4140
OO RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #4139/01 3520703
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180703Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1932
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 004139

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/FO DAS CAMP, SCA/A, PRM
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREF PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: CHARG'S MEETING WITH NEW MINISTER OF REFUGEES AND
REPATRIATION SHEER MOHAMMAD ETEBARI

REF: Kabul 03856

1. (SBU) Summary. Charg Dell met with the new Minister of Refugees
and Repatriation (MORR), Sheer Mohammad Etebari, and heard the
Minister's ambitious plans to resettle returning Afghan refugees and
bring stability to Afghanistan. The Charg stressed the USG
commitment to Afghan refugees and urged Minister Etebari to enact
needed reforms of the Ministry and the Land Allocation Scheme (LAS)
program. The Minister asked for assistance in funding and staffing
a team of outside advisors to help him. We will follow up on this
idea and work with Etebari on developing a reform action plan.

Charg Urges Reform and Better Cooperation/Coordination
--------------------------------------------- ----------
2. (SBU) The Charg congratulated the Minister on his new position
and noted the importance of refugee issues for Afghanistan at this
time. The Charg underscored that, together with the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we support essential reform
of the Ministry, increased focus and planning for the LAS program,
improved cooperation with Iran and Pakistan on refugee issues, and
increased coordination between MORR, the Ministry of Urban
Development and Housing, and other ministries. He stressed that the
USG, as one of the largest refugee assistance donors, is committed
to helping MORR develop successful programs and policies to assist
Afghan refugees rebuild their lives.

The Minister's Non-Specific Plan to Achieve
an Ambitious Agenda
-------------------------------------------
3. (SBU) Minister Etibari described his plans to remove the
squatters, including, sometimes, opportunistic government officials
from the lands legally owned by refugees and internally displaced
persons and return the lands to their rightful owners. He would
also move skilled laborers into the LAS sites where the lack of
productive agricultural land would not hinder their gainful
employment. He believes there are only two or three LAS sites where
land title has actually been transferred (Kabul Bari Kab, Alice
Ghan, and Momozai - all in Kabul Province), and he supports limiting
any new sites to those with proper site plans, rechargable water
sources, and accessibility to livelihood opportunities. Etibari
then shared his grand vision of irrigating Afghanistan's
drought-stricken areas with "steam from the Mediterranean" and
"12-month" rivers, such as the Kunari river, capturing hydropower
energy along the way. He hinted that the donor community could fund
these projects, which he claimed would also provide jobs for
returnees and weaken the Taliban's influence.

4. (SBU) The Minister was non-specific as to how he would accomplish
this ambitious agenda, but said he would present his ideas to the
Cabinet in March. He will then send his staff to work their way
systematically across the country and begin resolving the land title
issues. He acknowledged, however, that his staff was largely
unqualified and asked for assistance in developing a team of
advisors. He believes he cannot remove the entrenched MORR office
directors, since each of them "has a tank and an RPG behind him."
He also suggested sending shuras of elders from opposite ends of the
country to help communities work through land disputes. This idea
is puzzling; it is hard to imagine sending presumably Pashtun elders
to the Tajik north to settle conflicts successfully. But he
welcomed the Charg's suggestion to work with USAID's program to
establish a land tenure registry and help sort out Afghanistan's
complicated real property issues.

No Engagement Yet on Pakistan and Iran
--------------------------------------
5. (SBU) Minister Etibari dodged the Charg's question regarding his
contacts with Pakistan and Iran, claiming he had not previously
reached out to his respective counterparts in those countries
because it was not yet his job to do so. He seems anxious not to
step on other Ministers' toes and not appear too ready to take over
the reins. This reluctance is admirable in Afghanistan's
hierarchical and deferential culture, but MORR needs a strong leader
willing to create and enforce policies. He may need to feel better
supported by the international community before he starts to exert
his influence, if any.

Moving In The Right Direction

KABUL 00004139 002 OF 002


-----------------------------
6. (SBU) For all of Minister Etibari's seeming naivete and
pie-in-the-sky ideas, his instincts are correct. He knows that he
cannot reform MORR without outside assistance, that the lack of land
and jobs is the biggest obstacle to successful and peaceful refugee
resettlement, and that the entire community must benefit, or
residents will resent the newly returned refugees. He even noted
that donors should not provide money directly to the Ministry or it
would be wasted. He is slowly introducing his ideas to the Cabinet
and discussing them with relevant ministers, such as the Minister of
Agriculture and Water. With internationally-funded advisors,
Minister Etebari may yet be able to translate his vision, if not
into the full-blown utopia he described, at least into a more
rational and disciplined refugee resettlement policy than currently
exists.

WOOD

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