Saturday, April 17
‘Afghans are happy over Taliban’s removal’, says Carmela Conroy
Carmela Conroy, newly-appointed Consulate General US Consulate in Lahore, has said the Afghans, especially women, are happy over the removal of the Taliban government, and they are yearning to have peaceful land to lead better life and raise their children, which is possible through cordial relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and stability in both countries.
Ms Conroy was talking to Daily The Nation. She has succeeded Bryan D. Hunt as the Principal Officer, as Mr Hunt has been appointed as the Political Counsellor in the US Embassy in Islamabad. Prior to her present assignment, Carmela Conroy was the Refugee Coordinator for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran at the US Embassy in Kabul. Since she joined the US Department of State in 1996, Ms Conroy has served as deputy principal officer in US Consulate General Naha, Okinawa, Japan; advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan (Afghanistan); economic and commercial officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Washington, DC; political-military officer at US Embassy Tokyo, Japan; and chief of the Non-Immigrant Visa Section, US Consulate, Auckland, New Zealand. Because of her work, she has earned seven Superior/Meritorious Honour Awards from the US State Department. She has an MA from the US Naval War College. She is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, an alumna of the University of Washington School of Law (J.D.) and Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.
This is, in fact, her second visit to Lahore, as earlier in March the last, she was here. To her, the Lahorites are extremely warm and lively. She was little surprised at the fact that during the holy month of Ramazan, when people are at lower energy level and are more concerned about the world hereafter, they move out to eat and shop after Iftar. She arrived in the city about a week ago, and has not moved around much. It is taking little time for her to acclimatise, and she is getting used to it. For her present posting, she is very excited, and expects to be busier after the Eid.
Carmela Conroy has visited two Madressahs and a mosque. She was very well received at the religious seminaries. One was a Shia, which has mixed curriculum, partly religious studies and secular like Mathematics, English, Urdu etc. Students were in uniform and traditional shalwar Kameez, and it was very diverse group. The other was Sunni Madressah, where the students were memorising the Quran, and that was their focus. They recited the Quran and Naat. Appearances of students were very different in both schools.
About replacing Bryan D. Hunt, she was of the view that she had really big shoes to fill in many ways. “Bryan was linguist, and has spent a lot of time, and was sad to leave Lahore. If he had his way, he would have stayed back and I would not have the opportunity,” she added.
“We have a growing team at the US Consulate, as the Obama Administration has put greater emphasis on Pakistan and Afghanistan. We expect that when the financial package is passed, we will be working more intensely in five districts of the Southern Punjab, and extending cooperation. With this, our team will continue to grow to have more accountability and coordination with the provincial government, and ensure proper utilisation of the funds,” she mentioned.
About the plans at hand, she said, “For expansion of the English language programme, we have a senior language fellow, who will with us for 10 months and will be leading up and expanding our programmes for English language education in various schools. Under the Access Programme, it will be an opportunity for those who do not have a chance to study the language.”
Carmela Conroy is pretty optimistic about Pakistan’s future, as to her, its people are very hardworking and generous.
In Afghanistan, she was responsible for refugees’ programmes, both Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and those who have returned home from Iran and mostly from Pakistan. “We supported the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross, we provided great deal of support to operations, both in Pakistan and Iran. I covered Pakistan as well until mid-April this year, when we had reinstated a refugee coordinator at the US Embassy in Islamabad. The timing was really fortunate, as when the coordinator arrived, it was for the Internally Displaced Persons as well. The UNHCR and ICRC assisted the government in responding to the emergency. The State Department has also promptly responded,” said the Principal Officer.
On the persistent refugee problem in Pakistan, Carmela Conroy averred that the number indicated that the refugees were decreasing, as about five million Afghans returned voluntarily in 2002. She further added that about quarter of a million again returned voluntarily through the auspices of the UNHCR and the Pakistan government in 2008. “There was a system in place encouraging people to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, in 2009, the security situation worsened, and the concentration was on the IDPs, and this year, the repatriation is slow. But the international community is still working for finding a viable solution for the Afghan refugees,” she said.
She also mentioned that the Afghanistan government and its people regularly told her that they were grateful to the Pakistani government and its people for supporting them in the crisis. “I think that stability and good relations between two neighbours are really important. That Pakistan continues its generosity, and ensuring that repatriation is voluntary and predictable so that when people return to Afghanistan, they will be able to stay there,” she opined.
About Afghanistan, Carmela Conroy said the country was very different from place to place, as she had travelled for monitoring of the programmes. “In Heart, for example, it is not very different from what we find here, as basic amenities available there. It is a normal life. In Bamyan, where I spent a year, is without basic facilities. It is an extremely simple life. Kabul is mixed bag, as it is a huge city but the population has completely outstripped the infrastructure. Its population is now estimated at five million, which was probably half a million in 1979. This city is over-burdened by population, making it difficult for the government to sustain the city,” she pointed out.
About how the Americans are being received there, she said, it varied from place to place. “In Kandahar, it is chilly response in contrast to Herat and Bamyan. We had education programmes for adult woman population so that they have some idea about their rights, and their children. When we asked these women, ranging in ages from 20 to 50 years, particularly, who raised families, one of them said that it was fine that she could read her children’s prescription. Literacy is hugely important to them. They felt that they suffered deeply under the Taliban rule. They were happy that the Taliban have been removed from the power by the US and international coalition, so that they can return to their homeland, and start normal life,” she mentioned.
At the moment, she confessed to have little idea that about how the Pakistanis were feeling about the Americans.
The Lahori food, she has not tried the specialities yet, and she likes spicy food. Moreover, she is trying to gather appropriate wardrobe of Shalwar kameez, as to her, the local dress is lovely, and comfortable.
Carmela Conroy speaks fluent Japanese, and is hoping to learn Urdu language during her stint here though she has some familiarity with it.