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Articles & Op-eds

The U.S.-Afghan Partnership
Ambassador Said T. Jawad
In The National Interest

Building national and democratic institutions and enhancing the state-building process in Afghanistan are integrally linked to the security of Afghanistan, the United States and the entire world. The Afghan people are demanding sustainable partnership with the United States and the international community to build their security institutions, rehabilitate their economy and contribute to regional and global peace and stability.

President Hamid Karzai is visiting the United States to further strengthen the historic relations between Afghanistan and America. While our relations are rooted in half a century of cooperation and good relations, the United States became deeply engaged in Afghan politics during the last phase of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

After a decade of occupation, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw its occupying forces from Afghanistan. The Geneva Accords of April 1988 effectively ended Soviet occupation in 1989. To help rebuild post-conflict Afghanistan, international donors gathered in New York in October 1988 and made pledges amounting to some $900 million. Afghans optimistically expected at the time that, after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, a political settlement would soon be in place, refugees would return, and reconstruction could begin immediately afterwards.

However, the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War dramatically changed the equation. Afghanistan suddenly edged off the international community’s radar screen, reflecting shortsightedness but justified by both declining strategic interest in the country and frustration with the continuing proxy conflict. Hence, Afghanistan became a victim of both the Cold War and the post-Cold War era. With multiple foreign policy priorities in the new world era, the United States and its allies neglected Afghanistan’s post-conflict reconstruction and abandoned the country to the detriment of their long-term interest in international peace and security.

The bloody and destructive decade of the 1990s in Afghanistan saw internecine factional conflicts among former combatants and armed groups that ravaged Kabul, destroying state institutions and public facilities. The emergence in 1994 of the Taliban movement, with foreign assistance, enabled Al-Qaeda and its global network to first victimize and terrorize the Afghan people and then to target American assets in the Middle East and Africa from the Afghan territory.

The painful experiences of the 1990s in Afghanistan proved that some Afghan leaders such as Hamid Karzai were right in arguing that state failure in one country can affect peace and security in the entire world. We sadly witnessed the terrorist attacks of September 11 on the United States. More than 3,000 innocent American lives were lost in the attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda operatives. The United States government immediately responded with participation of the Afghan people and ended the terror and tyranny of the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroyed Al-Qaeda bases. The Afghan people welcomed President George W. Bush’s decisive action against the Taliban and are grateful for the U.S. commitment to the long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The Europeans and the entire international community unanimously backed Operation Enduring Freedom and joined the United States in the effort to help Afghanistan rebuild after over two decades of deadly and devastating conflicts. On November 14, 2001, five weeks into U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, the Security Council endorsed an urgent meeting of Afghan political leaders to form an interim government for the country and to establish a framework for its physical, political and economic reconstruction.

As a clear sign of unity of purpose, the Bonn talks in Germany in early December 2001 brought together UN officials, Afghan leaders and members of the international community to discuss the country’s future. Security Council Resolution 1386, approved unanimously on December 20, 2001, provided for the creation of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its deployment to Kabul and the surrounding areas to help the Afghan Interim Authority create a secure environment in Kabul.

Initially, nineteen countries contributed troops and logistical supplies to ISAF in order to provide physical security in Kabul. This number has grown close to 30 countries now. The number of ISAF forces has increased from 4,500 to nearly 6,000 peacekeepers currently maintained by NATO.

Since the inauguration of the new government in Afghanistan, there has been strong bipartisan support for the long-term assistance to Afghanistan at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The tragic day of September 11, 2001, marked a strong common interest between the American and Afghan peoples in jointly combating international terrorism that has harmed both nations.

Long before launching the massively destructive attacks on the United States, Al-Qaeda had been destroying and terrorizing Afghanistan and its people. Afghans were the prime victims of terror, as the tyrannical regime of the Taliban had invited Al-Qaeda to base its campaign in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush has repeatedly stressed in his remarks that “the United States and Afghanistan are united in our common effort to defeat terrorism and to build a more secure and prosperous future for both American and Afghan peoples.”

Since the September 11 events, the United States has been leading the international community in the war against terrorism and is fully committed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. On March 31, 2004, during the International Conference on Afghanistan in Berlin, Germany, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell noted in his remarks with President Karzai that “the Afghan people want to live in peace, they want to live in freedom, they want to live in a democracy. The international community knows its obligations and we will meet those obligations.”

Afghanistan, the United States and the international community share a common interest in the reconstruction and sustainable development of Afghanistan, which would foster economic recovery and regional stability and bolster global security. The United States has firmly stayed the course in Afghanistan by helping the country accomplish several of its major goals outlined in the December 2001 Bonn Agreement.

We have taken important steps toward the goal of becoming a viable partner. A passage from the preamble of the new Constitution sets the course for the direction Afghanistan has taken: “We, the People of Afghanistan…for creation of a civil society free of oppression, atrocity, discrimination and violence and based upon the rule of law, social justice, protection of human rights, and dignity and ensuring the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people…have adopted this Constitution in compliance with the historical, cultural, and social requirements of the era…”

Credit is due to Afghans and their international partners for coming a long way in two short years. But many challenges remain to be tackled in the ongoing state-building process in Afghanistan. Post-conflict rebuilding is an international enterprise that needs enduring security and economic partnership, sustainable resources, strategic coordination and long-term political support. There is now international consensus that left untended again, the remaining challenges in Afghanistan will jeopardize the hitherto peace-building achievements with grave implications for national, regional and global peace and stability.

Instead of “aid,” we need partnership and investment to overcome challenges. We are realistic about our difficulties. Afghans face the general challenge of building a state and providing for good governance after the complete destruction of all national institutions and a severe shortage of resources and human capital. To overcome these difficulties, we must reform, strengthen and rebuild our government institutions to make them accountable, capable and more representative, and we must improve local and district level governance. We must enhance government capacity to deliver services to all corners of the country, especially in areas prone to terrorist infiltration. All Afghans have not yet benefited from the peace dividend. We must eliminate the corruption, nepotism and abuse of power that undermine our recovery process.

We are also facing the specific challenges of preparing the logistical and legal grounds for the election and building the institutions and the capacity needed to prepare and enact the enabling laws required by the new Constitution.

We continue to confront security challenges posed by the terrorists and other elements. To overcome security problems, we must continue to rely on external assistance, but in the long run, we must stand on our own feet. We need to expedite the process of building our national army and professional police force. We have asked our international partners to enhance security in the provinces by expediting the deployment and presence of the ISAF and/or the Provincial Reconstructing Teams (PRTs). We welcomed the NATO and UN decision to expand ISAF outside of Kabul and to increase the number of PRTs from twelve to 16 before the election. We must accelerate the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program and prevent extremists from high-jacking the democracy and the nation-building process for personal gain or factional agendas.

Narcotics pose a serious challenge for all of us. Cultivation and trafficking of narcotics go hand-in-hand with terrorism and warlordism. It is in our best national interest to fight them all. President Karzai is committed to mobilizing all of our resources in the fight against narcotics. We know Afghanistan's heroin, which sells on the retail market for one hundred times the farm gate price, is one of the sources of the illegal money that funds international terrorism and crimes across the region. It also finances the destabilizing activities of warlords and criminals in Afghanistan.

The international community and our government cannot afford to wait as these destructive trends reverse our recovery process and further endanger global security. Once again, partnership and comprehensive strategic plans are needed to break this vicious cycle. We shall mobilize all available resources to fight drugs in Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan has adopted a National Drug Strategy aimed at drastically reducing poppy cultivation, encouraging alternative income streams, destroying drug labs, strengthening law enforcement, training specialized national police units and developing the justice sector to facilitate the proper prosecution and sentencing of traffickers. We cannot implement it without long-term international partnership.

To overcome these challenges and to make the nation-building process in Afghanistan irreversible, Afghans need and demand a strategic partnership with the United States and sustained engagement by the international community. Afghans cherish the growing partnership and warm friendship forged between the two nations.

By expanding our partnership to help Afghanistan sustain the recovery process, the United States of America and other nations are assisting the future blueprint for democracy in similar societies - the very best antidote to extremism and terrorism. Long-term success in Afghanistan is contingent upon a long-term U.S.-Afghan partnership.

The Honorable Said Tayeb Jawad is Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States.

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