The toughest job in Afghanistan is that of President Hamid Karzai who has to bring back his country from the ravages of war and the excesses of the Taliban regime.
As the country continues to battle the Taliban, a thriving drug trade and struggles to get an effective administration in place, Masood Khalili, Afghanistan's ambassador in India until recently, highlights Karzai's achievements in the last four years.
In the penultimate part of a six-part interview to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt and Nikhil Lakshman, Khalili discusses the tasks ahead and what saved Afghanistan from becoming another Yugoslavia.
What in your opinion would be the biggest achievements of President Karzai's government?
1. Political. The Bonn Agreement from the beginning to the end. I give him A plus -- I tell you, to go to Bonn, put the agreement and see that elections were held by the 18th of September 2002 was a marvelous achievement and the credit goes to Mr Karzai.
2. The representation of Afghanistan in the world. He represented Afghanistan very well. With his cloak, his hat, his language.
I don't want to flatter him. I am 60 and have 37 shrapnel in my lung, 22 in the liver -- 200 shrapnel in my body -- (a consequence of the murderous Al Qaeda attack on Afghan hero Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9, 2001. Khalili was translating for his old friend and hero. He was the only in the room to escape death.) -- I cannot sleep more than two hours at night
3. He did not keep that kind of cabinet which was a khichdi, with all ethnic groups
4. The ceasefire that Commander Masood formed in his time with the United Front, they (the Karzai government) were able to maintain that until now -- the ethnic ceasefire.
Look at Yugoslavia -- it disintegrated. Afghanistan would have been worse if people were not keeping an eye, a positive eye on ethnicity.
He (Karzai) set up some kind of administrative establishment. It was totally destroyed but slowly and gradually the administration reached the villages. A minister told me thousands of small councils for the villages have been set up to help the villagers. The administration, the national army, the police -- this is also an achievement.
Corruption is part and parcel of the daily life of people. People are just screaming that God save us, reduce it, but they have not been able to.
Indeed to channel help to Afghanistan through good NGOs (non governmental organisations) and government channels, they have not been able to so far. It is much better than four years ago, but slow. It should be taken care of.
I think he has assimilated some of the warlords in a political fashion to help the people.
What about border management? On the Iran and Pakistan side there is a lot of smuggling, which worries many countries.
I know that is difficult. This is a disease of over a hundred years. We have 2,000 kilometres of border.
What about the freedom of women?
That is also an achievement. Good you told me that. You go to www.11aa.com and you see the result of the elections, click to Afghanistan news, click to election process and you go to each and every province, it is amazing.
In one place, who is the second runner-up? A lady. In Kabul, in Kandahar, my goodness. Besides that they have allocated seats for women. Whether women get 20 votes or 10 they are the frontrunners. Who has done it?
No doubt the world attention is on Afghanistan. Great ladies traveled to the country and warned that ladies should not be bothered. Mrs Clinton was in Afghanistan, Laura Bush was in Afghanistan just to promote ladies' rights. And then you have this government, which has given this chance to ladies in Afghanistan. Is it not an achievement?
Can you tell us how you see India's strategic relations with Afghanistan?
As an ambassador to India for the last nine-and-a-half years, through the different ups and downs of my country, India has played a great positive role
The Afghan people and Indian people should know this. It should be recorded in the history of the two nations. Whether it was the government of I K Gujral, H D Deve Gowda or Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh. All the institutions of your country, Parliament and others, were indeed keen to help Afghanistan -- not because of their problem with Pakistan. Independently.
When I became ambassador here, Commander Masood was in Kabul and Mr (Burhanuddin) Rabbani was the president, I found that they (the Indian government) were cooperative. When the Taliban captured Kabul, (then external affairs minister) I K Gujral announced at the United Nations that India recognised President Rabbani and Commander Masood, though they were not in Kabul then.
In the lobbies of the UN, Non Alignment and others, they (he Indians) were always with us. Then they were going back and forth to see Commander Masood and my leaders to tell them that India will do whatever it can.
Post-Taliban, India immediately offered help - to build Afghanistan's infrastructure, roads, schools, computerisation, training of different institutions. The recent Manmohan Singh visit was the climax.
The people of Afghanistan, the government, not just put out a red carpet for him at the airport but also in their hearts. Because this man represented India -- physically, psychologically, politically, and humbly. It was so great that people were watching this.
He laid the foundation of our parliament. India will give about $25 million, $30 million for the building. India is a part of the foundation of the future of this country. They have also allocated about 1,000 scholarships -- 500 for professionals and 500 for higher education -- which will be very useful too.
I think in the last 10 years India and Afghanistan have been so close to each other that it will forge a route for tomorrow.