Speech by M. Ashraf Haidari, the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, at Embassy of Canada (Washington DC) Forum on Afghanistan: Partners in Defense. (09/24/2009)
Ambassador Wilson, General Langton, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honored by your invitation to speak to you today, and would like to extend my gratitude to Ambassador Wilson and General Langton for holding this timely forum on Afghanistan. This is one of many events the Embassy of Canada in Washington has hosted to help highlight the challenges and priorities of peace-building in Afghanistan, and we are very thankful to the Ambassador, General Langton, and their dedicated staff.
“What is our mission in Afghanistan?” is a question that we frequently hear these days, not just in Europe, but also increasingly in North America. We can expect to hear this question even more often, because Afghanistan remains unstable eight years after the fall of the Taliban. Rather than discuss the question objectively, a growing number of commentators and policymakers in the West have jumped to easy and defeatist conclusions.
They simply liken Afghanistan to “America’s second Vietnam,” or they say that Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires” where it is not worth fighting for freedom and democracy anymore.
I think that such statements are too simplistic, since they ignore the fact that the United States and NATO are in Afghanistan, first and foremost, because of their own national security interests. Indeed, none of these countries bothered much about the unspeakable crimes that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been committing against the Afghan people before the tragedy of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and the subsequent terrorist attacks in NATO capitals.
We remember that the international community watched the Taliban on CNN and BBC, destroying the world’s cultural heritage, the greatest statutes of Buddha, in Afghanistan in March 2001. We also remember that the Taliban imposed gender apartheid in Afghanistan, restricting Afghan girls and women to the confines of their homes. Yet, the international community, particularly the West, remained silent and took no action against this transnational terrorist movement, which they knew were going to target them next.
In the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US and NATO helped Afghans overthrow the Taliban. But we know that the Taliban were not completely defeated, as Afghanistan’s stabilization and reconstruction were shortchanged because of the massive war efforts in Iraq. Eight years on, consequently, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are fully resurgent in Afghanistan, and increasingly threaten our hard-won achievements.
Now, our shared mission in Afghanistan is to prevent the same dark forces that victimized Afghans first and then threatened international peace and security from doing it all over again. But I feel that Afghans’ support for this important mission, for international presence in Afghanistan, has been overlooked. While Afghans perceived the Soviet forces as occupiers in 1980s, today we perceive international forces as Afghanistan’s liberators.
Let me also make it clear that the Afghan people do not have high expectations from the international community. No Afghan expects an overnight makeover of our country but every Afghan demands security, basic justice, and an enabling environment for our new democracy and state institutions to develop so that we gradually achieve self-reliance to secure and defend our country on the long run.
We believe that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are one of the mechanisms for the international community to meet Afghans’ basic demands for improved security, better governance, and increased economic opportunities. However, like every other system, like every other strategy, our PRT strategy must be revisited from time to time to make sure that our objectives are clear, we are on the right track to achieving those objectives, our resources are spent efficiently, and that we are achieving the desired results.
The Afghan people are grateful to Canada, the United States, and other nations for operating Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. Afghans perceive PRTs as a symbol of international commitment to Afghanistan, as well as, a symbol of international military and civilian presence in our country.
However, the PRTs have generated mixed results. Most of them are constrained by a lack of resources, while others have too many operational caveats to be effective. There is yet a central coordinating body to oversee the PRTs’ operations across Afghanistan, neither is there a basic concept of operations, or a set of standards, to which PRTs from different countries adhere to.
In other cases, imbalance between civil and military personnel has affected implementation of the most necessary projects, while those overly concerned about force protection have become a liability rather than an asset in extending the reach of the Afghan government. On the whole, unfortunately, none of the PRTs have evolved out of their primary mission to build and enable local state institutions to take over and deliver basic services on their own.
In light of these realities and the recent assessment of the ISAF Commander, General McChrystal, I would like to make four key recommendations for the existing PRTs in Afghanistan.
First, PRTs must engage in greater communication with the Afghan people, through regular discussions with the elderly, local government officials, the clergy and ordinary Afghans. Increased communication will result in greater knowledge and information about each other. Your troops will learn more about the Afghan people, and the Afghan people will learn more about your troops and your countries. Greater communication will help manage expectations and result in greater mutual respect and understanding, and greater level of confidence and trust. Moreover, open and candid discussion will give the PRTs an opportunity to learn how their performance is assessed and perceived by the true beneficiaries of their efforts—the people of Afghanistan.
Open discussions will create opportunities for removing misconceptions, misinformation and stereo-types, and open opportunities for better and closer friendship.
Second, PRTs must increase coordination with the local state institutions and work in a manner that their efforts increase peoples’ confidence in the Government and help improve governance. In this context, PRTs must engage the provincial leadership, the provincial development councils, the community development councils, the Provincial Council, and the representatives of Government agencies, in prioritizing and implementing reconstruction and development projects.
PRTs must work with and through the Government so that the credit of success is given to the Government. We must transition from putting an “Afghan face” on the implemented projects to Afghan hands, providing Afghan state institutions with the resources and technical capacity to design, initiate, and implement the necessary projects themselves. Moreover, PRTs must increase coordination with the Government so that resources that are spent by PRTs further Afghanistan’s national development goals as set forth in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.
Third, together, we should come up with a standard framework for PRT structure, commitment and operations. This framework will set forth the basic objectives and principles of PRTs and guidelines that clearly define the relationship between the PRTs and local Governments. Moreover, such a standard framework will help increase coordination and transparency and result in balanced reconstruction and development throughout the country.
Finally, the name Provincial Reconstruction Team creates an expectation that PRTs are there to help rebuild the provinces. We must all make a concerted effort to increase the capability and resources of PRTs to engage in reconstruction. Without delivering tangible results on the reconstruction side, it would be difficult to explain the effectiveness of PRTs to the Afghan people.
Moreover, I recommend that the effectiveness of PRTs be thoroughly reassessed, after which they may be renamed as “Development and Governance Teams” to work side by side the Government to realize their primary mission of improving governance and generating job opportunities to meet the basic expectations of the Afghan people. This will help greatly enhance aid effectiveness, as the military will only do what it is good at, to provide security, while the “Development and Governance Teams” will help address Afghanistan’s key priority of building, strengthening, and enabling the state institutions to serve the people and generate job opportunities for our very young population.
We all recognize the importance of achieving success in Afghanistan. We believe that we are on the right path to achieving success. However, we must work closely and continue to focus on how we can improve the effectiveness of our efforts. We live in a world where challenges are becoming increasingly complex and dynamic. Our strategies to address those challenges must also be equally dynamic. I am confident that together we will achieve the results that we all desire, and create a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
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