Adieu, Swank Filer!

Pullman, Wash.

I have just entered my last letter into an original Frank W. Lewis crossword puzzle. I wanted him to know how much I, and obviously many others, have enjoyed his challenges over the years. The Nation will be hard-pressed to find someone with his ingenuity and wit to fill the slot. Mr. Lewis, you will be missed [“Noted,” Dec. 14].

SALLY HORTON



Insinuations, Misconceptions Challenged

Kabul, Afghanistan

How the US Funds the Taliban,” by Aram Roston [Nov. 30], puts forward unrelated insinuation instead of journalistic integrity in order to bring disrepute to legitimate and successful Afghan-owned companies. Watan Group is proud of its accomplishments, its record and its code of conduct. We categorically challenge this article–its accuracy, integrity and the depth of Roston’s knowledge of Afghan culture, political reality and security threats. We believe he is blindly misguided by local business rivalries or disgruntled Watan ex-employees. Below is our counter to the author’s allegations:

§ The owners of Watan Group, Ahmad Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal, belong to one of the proud Mujahid families that courageously fought against the threat of communism and the Soviet invasion. The price the family paid for their outstanding bravery was the most devastating blow to their lives and fortunes. All their property and businesses were confiscated by the communist government in early 1979.

After the tragic loss of my father, I joined the mujahedeen at the age of 16. As a result, in a bomb blast during the first armed uprising in Kabul I lost my left hand, an eye and three fingers of my right hand and sustained numerous bodily injuries.

In July 1988 by ignorance of consequences and cultural unawareness, I made a horrendous lapse in judgment and was found guilty of conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States. I spent nine years behind bars and paid my dues to the US government and people. Neither I nor my family ever concealed this dark fact. Since my release I have never conducted or conspired to enter into any illegitimate business activities.

§ When I returned to Afghanistan in 1998, the Taliban ruled and the country was in its darkest economic era. I managed to establish a legitimate business enterprise with a number of successful and well-reputed businessmen there. Since business and politics go hand in hand in all countries in the world, I befriended Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was deputy minister of mines and industries until 2001, when he became the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. This relationship never went beyond personal friendship. During one of his post-9/11 press conferences, the ambassador’s translator was absent. He requested that I translate at his conference. Since the reporters did not recognize me, misconceptions about who I am were created. I never joined the Taliban movement, never worked for their government and never represented them in any official capacity.

§ No Watan Group company owes its rise to success to any favor based on kinship or allegiance to President Hamid Karzai. In fact, in numerous ventures the president dealt very unfairly with us and caused us tremendous monetary and reputational damage. We have never approached the president, his office or anyone in his cabinet to render us favors or grant contracts. We have worked hard and played fair to achieve the level of success we have attained today. Watan’s success is purely based on our merit and not the cronyism or nepotism that Roston claims.

§ Watan Group has never paid, nor will it pay, any insurgent or Taliban groups for protection or favoritism to allow movement of its convoys in any part of Afghanistan. We secure our convoys by the bravery of our men and protect them by the blood of our soldiers. Each month Watan loses, on average, fifty men who guard its clients and their cargo. We do not fund terrorism; we fight it. We never paid ransom to anyone, nor did we ever extort money from people.

§ Watan Group proudly provides business services that are highly professional and essential to the success of peace efforts in Afghanistan. Our workforces are highly trained in every aspect of business and ethics, and members of Watan Group management are professional people from different parts of the globe. Unfortunately, Watan’s business success has created animosity from its competition. Roston’s dramatization of events reflects this fact. We have provided decent jobs to thousands of Afghans and trained hundreds of our employees in technical know-how. We have developed capacity without the assistance of any foreign-funded programs. We are not hired guns to kill or maim for money. Instead of holding responsible those companies that openly admit to their payoffs, Roston attacks only Afghan-owned companies–in particular those from Pashtun tribes.

§ Instead of confronting Watan with these allegations and providing it with a chance to tell its side of the story, Roston is completely biased and partial. By his sheer ignorance and negligent reporting, Roston is not only damaging Watan Group’s reputation but is also putting our lives and the lives of our staff in harm’s way.

§ All companies under the Watan Group umbrella owned by the Popal brothers are registered and licensed under the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We adhere to the interior ministry’s security guidelines and are fully committed to all international security standards.

AHMAD RATEB POPAL, chairman
Watan Group of Companies



Keep Spreading the Word(s)

Jacksonville, Ore.

Some time ago I believe I coined the word “bureaucrap” and sent it to Molly Ivins. Isn’t it more than appropriate for what comes out of the mouths of our politicians? Speaking with a friend about someone who spouts Rush Limbaugh, I said, “He must be a Limbecile.” Help me spread these words!

DEE EVERS

Great minds: Google reveals a use of “Limbecile” as early as 1995; it also cites “Limbaulican.” –Ed.