Cablegate: New Afghan Minister of Labor Cites Child Labor As

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On January 26, Ambassador Eikenberry and a
team from the Embassy paid a courtesy call on the newly
appointed Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and the
Disabled (MOLSA), Ms. Amena Afzali. Of the three female
Cabinet members President Karzai put forward in the second
round, Ms. Afzali is considered by some observers to be the
least bold choice on issues such as women's empowerment. A
political place-holder, she nevertheless may make her mark in
this ministry, and welcomed the USG's interest in addressing
crucial social and economic issues. She and the Ambassador
agreed on several key issues: the urgency of anti-child labor
efforts and the need for more vocational training. They also
agreed to explore the possibility of technical assistance to
the ministry. End Summary.

"We know you by reputation"

2. (SBU) On January 26, Ambassador Eikenberry, accompanied by
Mission officers Mike Spangler, Economic Counselor; Valerie
Begley, POL; Grace Lang, USAID, and Heidi Meyer, IPA, paid a
courtesy call on Minister Amena Afzali, the newly appointed
Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and the Disabled
(MOLSA). The Ambassador congratulated Afzali on being the
first woman appointed in the new Karzai administration to a
ministry other than Women's Affairs, and commended her
ability to navigate a "difficult" Parliament. He noted that
this visit was his first to the MOLSA, welcomed closer
cooperation as partners in Afghan-led efforts in social
development efforts, and stressed the importance of economic
livelihood for personal dignity and social stability.

3. (SBU) Background: Minister Amena Afzali was the only
woman approved in the second round of Afghanistan
parliamentary votes for the new cabinet. Heralded by some as
a lifelong advocate of human rights, she is nevertheless
conservative in her views on social issues, while also
filling a "Tajik slot" and appeasing those allied with Fahim
Khan. She hails from a prominent Herati family, and her
husband was a well-known jihadi killed by the Soviets in
1993. End note.

4. (SBU) In 2004-06, Afzali served as Deputy Minister of
Youth Affairs, a small and fairly unimportant ministry. MOLSA
is a greater challenge, as a complex ministry with three
departments, more than 7,000 employees, and structural
divisions which inhibit effective functioning. Some observers
are skeptical about her ability to effectively manage the
behemoth bureaucracy. They point out the similarities to many
female activists in the developing world whose prominence was
initially the result of her influential husband and family.
Others feel she will bring welcome strength and commitment.
For more than a decade, she has worked on peace initiatives;
she represented the Northern Alliance at the Bonn peace talks
in 2001. She worked on behalf of Afghans in the Diaspora,
conducting courses for refugee girls in Iran and assisting
refugee families to settle and integrate. Finally, she
emphasizes that she is a war widow who can sympathize with
martyrs' families.

"No More Time or Money to Waste"

5. (U) The Ambassador emphasized three key areas of U.S.
concern: (a) increased vocational training; (b) implementing
the new labor law; and (c) anti-child labor reform. Regarding
the omnibus labor law passed in July 2009, the Ambassador
discussed placing an advisor in the Ministry -- supplying the
right kind of technical assistance to help the Ministry meet
goals rather than someone who "drinks tea for years on end."
The Minister agreed: "There is no more time or money to
waste." She recognized that security is interrelated with
economic development and social issues, and emphasized the
importance of improving governance and fighting corruption.

6. (U) Addressing child labor as a vital concern, Minister
Afzali noted that child labor can only be effectively
eliminated when families have alternative, sufficient
livelihoods. Addressing vocational training, an AID officer
noted that USAID is considering a new vocational education
program. In addition, pending Congressional approval, the
U.S. Department of Labor plans to extend funding on a
successful MOLSA capacity-building initiative.

7. (SBU) Comment: The Minister hit all the right notes: she
is anti-waste, anti-corruption, and pro-partnership. She is
in favor of vocational training, child labor reform,
education, and anti-poverty programs. She has not yet
demonstrated depth of knowledge on these topics, but she

KABUL 00000382 002.2 OF 002

appears capable of developing the expertise and insight
needed to drive key reforms. Whether she can manage such a
large bureaucracy will largely determine her success. Some
mentoring will be necessary, as a multi-pronged,
cross-ministerial approach is vital to make progress, and
MOLSA lacks a good track record on coordinating with other
ministries. End Comment.


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