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Afghanistan’s Speaker of the Parliament Promotes Afghanistan’s Democratic Transition During Visit to the U.S.

President of the National Assembly of Afghanistan Younus Qanooni visited the U.S. from October 23-29 on the invitation of the State University of Albany. In a series of high profile meetings, Speaker Qanooni emphasized the importance of a strong Parliament to secure and strengthen Afghanistan’s democracy. Speaker Qanooni met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Speaker of House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos, Charman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Gary Ackerman, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. In addition, the Speaker discussed political and security concerns with the House Democracy Assistance Commission, conducted numerous interviews with the Afghan media, and spoke at a Woodrow Wilson Center Director’s Forum before policymakers and members of the press. The Speaker’s visit concluded with an address the University of Albany. Speaker Qanooni was joined by two distingusiehd Afghan Parliamentarians, Mrs. Seddiqa Mubarez of Wardak Province and Mr. Mohammad Naiem Farahi of Farah Province.

In his meeting with Secretary Rice, Speaker Qanooni emphasized the need for continued U.S. and international assistance and political support and discussed the need for better coordination between the executive and legislative branches of the Afghan government. Secretary Rice assured the Speaker that the partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan remains strong. The Speaker’s counterpart in the U.S. government Nancy Pelosi expressed the admiration of the U.S. Congress for the progress made by Afghanistan’s parliament in less than two years of existence. She pledged the continued support of the U.S. for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

Speaking to a full house at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Speaker Qanooni discussed the creation of the Afghan Parliament, and the role that the Parliament plays in strengthening Afghansitan’s nascent democracy. “Democracy has been recognized as a successful idea and a successful experience. We accept democracy as a way and a path and we learned this from our friends in the West...Democracy has had a long route in Afghanistan; for the first time in the 200 years of history the people of Afghanistan have seen a transition of power by their own will. For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, we witnessed the formation of a government that was the will of the people,” said the Speaker.

The Speaker spoke at length about the role that the Parliament is currently playing to ensure that the Afghan constitution is upheld throughout the country. “The Parliament in Afghanistan is a miniature Afghanistan,” he said. “It is made up of different ethnic groups, people come from different political backgrounds, men and women coming all together. In our young Parliament we have former communists, former freedom fighters, we have former Talibs; the result is that everybody is gathered under the same roof for democracy.”

The Speaker thanked Americans for sending soldiers "who gave the ultimate sacrifice, along with Afghan soldiers," in the name of supporting freedom in Afghanistan, and asked that the U.S. not withdraw troops until Afghan security and defense forces can support themselves.

“Afghanistan is like a newborn baby born 6 years ago. This child needs nursing and needs support and we have the determination to see this child grow up with good health and good education,” concluded the Speaker.  

Following his visit to Washington, Speaker Qanooni traveled to New York as a guest of SUNY Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs. Since 2004, SUNY Albany’s Center for International Development has been working in Afghanistan under a USAID contract to implement a program aimed at establishing and developing a strong, independent and effective Parliament. The Afghanistan Parliamentary Assistance Project (APAP) is a central element of USAID/Afghanistan’s Democracy and Governance Program.

In November 2005, APAP took the lead in planning and implementing a New Member Orientation Program for the recently elected Parliamentarians. APAP took the lead in designing Orientation Curriculum, identifying and contracting instructors, and coordinating instructional content.  APAP also drew upon its worldwide network of parliamentary technical resources to provide key personnel (former Parliamentarians) to augment local instructor capabilities by bringing a comparative perspective to the materials and proceedings.  During its first year, APAP provided mainly infrastructural support to the Parliament and basic staff training programs. In its second year, APAP provided basic and intermediate-level training to MPs and Parliamentary Staff in Law-Making, Committee Operations and Public Hearings, and Research and Documentation services. APAP's technical assistance to the Budget and Economic Committees was an essential ingredient in the Parliament’s review of Afghanistan's Annual Budget in 2006 and 2007.

Speaker Qanooni was born in 1957 in Panjshir Province. Speaker Qanooni worked alongside Afghan national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and create the Northern Alliance. He served as Afghanistan’s Defense Minister in the early nineties and fought against the Taliban after their occupation of Kabul. Following Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, Speaker Qanooni served as chief negotiator for the Northern Alliance delegation to the Bonn conference on Afghanistan and alternately as interior and education minister in Afghanistan’s interim government.

Speaker Qanooni was elected to office in the 2005 Afghan Parliamentary elections, and today serves as a representative from Kabul province. After his election to Parliament, Qanooni created the New Afghanistan Party, and later was instrumental in forming an alliance of several parties known as the Jabahai Tafahim Millie (National Understanding Front). On December 21, 2005 Qanooni was chosen to lead the 249-seat lower house of Afghanistan’s National Assembly.

 

To watch CSPAN’s coverage of Speaker Qanooni’s Woodrow Wilson center speech (RealPlayer), CLICK HERE

 

For more information about the Woodrow Wilson Center event, CLICK HERE

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