SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings had an extraordinary opportunity to travel to Afghanistan with Bay Area-based non-profit Roots of Peace to meet the newly-elected president, Ashraf Ghani, Ph.D., who has several connections to the Bay Area. She was fortunate to have a one-on-one, exclusive interview with President Ghani about his tough new job and the critical need for Afghanistan and America to work together.
"What we're doing in Afghanistan is enabling Americans to lead secure lives. And were we, God forbid, to fail, America would be a very unsafe place," Ghani said.
The tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought America and Afghanistan together. Ghani says common interests bind us to rebuild Afghanistan's shattered economy to prevent additional unrest -- and agriculture will lead the way.
The new president met with Roots of Peace and Cheryl Jennings to talk about this country's future at a private meeting that took place in the presidential palace in Kabul. President Ghani said he wants Afghanistan to become an "exporting machine."
"The taste of our fruit is second to none. Afghan fruits are original, like Afghans. We are an acquired taste, but once people get to know us, I think they won't forget us," he said.
Ghani is well aware of the work done by Heidi and Gary Kuhn with Roots of Peace in Afghanistan. It links more and more farmers to traders in international markets. The funding is from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "A big word of thank you for Roots of Peace and to other activists who believe that the Afghan farmer is a source of prosperity and a source of stability," he said.
Ghani entrusted the Kuhns with a plan he wrote on agriculture back in 2010 -- when he was advising the previous president, Hamid Karzai. The plan was never released until now.
"This document has been embargoed for the last five years, so he shared it with us and we were sharing it with all the other organizations because it's his blueprint for how to best set forward in agriculture," Gary Kuhn said.
"It was a great honor to meet President Ghani to discuss the importance with him of agribusiness in a country 80 percent dependent on agriculture. We need to take bold steps to lift this great country up so future generations may live in peace," Heidi Kuhn said.
Gary took a bold step and asked President Ghani to become the face of the new Roots of Peace promotional campaign for agriculture. He agreed, and within hours, a new poster was created for an international trade fair in Dubai.
President Ghani also wants to foster entrepreneurship. He's getting help with that from his close friend and advisor Dr. Mohammad Qayoumi, president of San Jose State University. They were college roommates overseas.
"He's an exceptional friend," Ghani said.
Qayoumi was in Kabul during the holidays advising President Ghani on rebuilding infrastructure. They're asking the Silicon Valley to join them. "I don't mean just the latest computers, but I think the whole spirit of [entrepreneurship] even if you make a mistake, you can bounce back and learn from it. I think that those are the aspects that chimes with and connects well with Afghan culture," he said.
"It's so great to have you have the first interview with a person that I admire so much," Qayoumi told Jennings. "I think he's the hope for what could happen to Afghanistan and the whole region."
And President Ghani has other connections to the Bay Area. "I have more family in Bay Area than in Kabul... Fremont," he said.
Fremont has the largest population of Afghan residents in the country outside of Afghanistan.
His son Tarek graduated from Stanford and attends UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
President Ghani wants to provide educational and job opportunities throughout Afghanistan. He admires the lessons taught through the Roots of Peace partnership and wants to see it expand.
"We have inherited a million unemployed. We have to create 400,000 to 600,000 more jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs...that's it. Anyone who can help create from one to 10 to 100 to 1,000 is a friend of mine. I speak for them," he said.
Cheryl will have more stories from her Afghanistan trip to share later this week.