EXCLUSIVE: Afghan Pres. Ghani tells ABC7's Cheryl Jennings he needs Silicon Valley's help

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ByCheryl Jennings KGO logo
Friday, February 27, 2015
EXCLUSIVE: Afghanistan president asks for Silicon Valley's help
During an exclusive one-on-one interview, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings that he's asking Silicon Valley to help him rebuild his country by investing in the economy.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The newly elected president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has a special request for the Bay Area. During an exclusive one-on-one interview, he told ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings that he's asking the Silicon Valley to help him rebuild his country by investing in its economy.

"I hope the American people will engage with us," he said. "Afghans and Americans have enormous similarities. We're extraordinarily individualist people."

Ghani met with Bay Area-based nonprofit Roots of Peace and Cheryl in late January to talk about restoring Afghanistan's agriculture to the powerhouse it used to be, before decades of war. It was known as "The Garden of Central Asia."

Old pictures from the 1950s and 1960s show what Afghanistan looked like then, with forests and lush land. It was a stable country with an educated work force, which included women.

Ghani believes Afghanistan can regain its former glory and be connected to the world.

"We are the heart of Asia," he said. "Unless we have stability, Asia will not be stable."

VIDEO: ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings interviews Afghanistan president

Afghanistan is surrounded by India, Pakistan, Iran, China, the Middle East, and Europe.

Afghanistan's prized, organic produce is now drawing attention from those markets, thanks to programs funded by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, and implemented by Roots of Peace.

"The big goal for us is to make Afghanistan one of the perennial exporters for the region, and supply India, Pakistan, Dubai and the Emirates with the best fruit," said Roots of Peace cofounder Gary Kuhn.

Ghani wants his country to move away from an aid-based economy and become self-sufficient. He's now asking Silicon Valley to bring ideas and private investment to help his country of nearly 33 million people.

"It's a young country," he said. "You know, 60 percent of us are under 30. "Day by day, we're becoming younger. And with the young, there is no sense of the day before yesterday. What they're focused about, is the day after tomorrow."

San Jose State University President Dr. Mohammad Qayoumi is Ghani's close friend and trusted advisor.

San Jose State University President Dr. Mohammad Qayoumi
San Jose State University President Dr. Mohammad Qayoumi

They were college roommates and are now collaborating on strategies for Afghanistan's development.

"I was in Kabul from before Christmas until first week of January," Qayoumi said. "We talked about agriculture, we talked about water systems, we talked about electricity, we talked about technology, roads, railroads, higher education."

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Cheryl Jennings speaks with working Afghan women

"When the Taliban were kicked out, there were about 800,000 Afghan students in school, almost all boys. Now there are an estimated 8.6 million Afghan children in school. About a third of whom are girls, and that's a huge difference," said Bill Hammink, who heads USAid's mission in Afghanistan.

Hammink says now many of the roads are paved and more people are getting access to electricity.

"In 2002, very few Afghans had access to electricity" he said. "Now, more than a quarter of the people in Afghanistan have access to electricity, mainly through this grid that we've helped set up."

Cellphone use is also up dramatically.

"In 2002, the country had 64 cellphones," said Qayoumi. "Today, 89 percent or 20 million of the population of the country have access to a cellular phone."

"He has a background from the World Bank," said General John Campbell. "If anybody can turn Afghanistan around and their economy around, it's going to be President Ghani, but it's going to take considerable time."

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Cheryl Jennings interview with NATO general in Afghanistan

None of this would be possible without the support and sacrifice of the military coalition. Campbell is leading the NATO mission in Afghanistan, to train Afghan security forces to keep the peace so the president can help the country prosper.

PHOTOS: Cheryl Jennings' mission to Afghanistan with Roots of Peace

"His interest is how we can really create a lot of jobs and to really create a middle class for the country," Qayoumi said.

Ghani added, "All roads to different parts of Asia, lead through Afghanistan. We have the water resources, the prosperous agriculture, we have the mining resources to have true prosperity."

"Well, those opportunities can only be limited by our imagination," Qayoumi said.

Cheryl will have more stories from her Afghanistan trip this week on ABC7 News. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter for updates on all her stories.