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Securing Afghanistan in a Regional Context

Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari gave a lecture on "Afghanistan and Central Asia" to the Central Asia Advanced Area Studies at the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute on August 6, 2009, in Arlington, Virginia. Speaking to a group of American diplomats soon to be posted to U.S. diplomatic missions in South and Central Asia, Haidari discussed Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction efforts in a regional context.

To assess the current challenges surrounding stabilization of Afghanistan, Haidari briefed the diplomats on the country's recent past before the fall of the Taliban, and the role Afghanistan's neighbors had played in the country both during its pre-war formative years, as well as the decades of 1980s and 1990s that saw the complete destruction of physical infrastructure and state institutions there.

Moreover, Haidari discussed Afghanistan's present foreign policy, which he said squarely aimed at maintaining friendly and constructive relations with all its immediate neighbors, as well as those in the broader South and Central Asian regions. "Our foreign, security, and development policies share a common vision, and that is to work bilaterally with every neighboring state or multilaterally through several regional cooperation organizations that we are an active member of to ensure regional stability and prosperity," Haidari said. "We see our progress in the ongoing progress of the rest of the region, and the future of Afghanistan in a region that must integrate economically for the common good of all of us," he added.

"On the current affairs, the holding of the presidential election on August 20 is a major event in the stabilization and reconstruction process of Afghanistan," Haidari said. He praised the process so far to have been running smoothly, with the Afghan government providing logistical facilities and airlift support for the campaign of all candidates. "Despite security concerns, the Afghan people are very excited about the upcoming elections, and look forward to the election day," noted Haidari.

Haidari also discussed growing concerns about the cost of securing and rebuilding Afghanistan on the long run. "It is true that the public here or in Europe is generally unaware of Afghanistan having made significant progress in many different areas, from reconstruction of physical infrastructure to continuously improving our dismal social indicators in healthcare and education," said Haidari. He noted that Afghanistan's partners had so far lacked an effective public diplomacy strategy both to engage the Afghan people in the rebuilding process and to inform their own publics of how the taxpayers' monies were effectively changing lives in Afghanistan, which in turn had helped ensure global peace and security for everyone.

"The threat of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, transnational drug-traffickers, and other state- and non-state peace-spoilers is very credible and real in Afghanistan today, and it were these same dark forces that together plunged our country into chaos for a decade—during which the Afghan people unprecedentedly suffered," Haidari pointed out. "If not for the continued suffering of the Afghan people, it is imperative that the United States and every other nation so far affected by the acts of these evil forces remain engaged to get the job done in Afghanistan," he added.

"We welcome the three-pronged strategy of the United States to help us improve security, boost economic development and create jobs for our largely unemployed population, and strengthen the rule of law and governance across Afghanistan," noted Haidari. He added that these integrated efforts currently underway were grossly neglected under the previous U.S. administration. "Chairman Mullen was right when he famously said sometime in 2008, 'In Iraq, we do what we must and, in Afghanistan, we do what we can,'" Haidari reminded the audience. He concluded on a hopeful note, saying, "This time with eight years of experience and many lessons learned, Afghans and our partners can and must work as a united front to succeed in Afghanistan."

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