Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Afghanistan Panel Raises Questions about Nation’s Future

The American Foreign Service Association sponsored an in-depth Afghanistan briefing Friday; panelists included Middle East Institute scholar Marvin Weinbaum, First Secretary of the Afghan Embassy Ashraf Haidari, former State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator William Pope, and current Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tom Hastings. AFSA representative and Minister Counselor Louise Crane spoke about the changing face of foreign service – she retired from the State Department following more than three decades of service.

Weinbaum discussed the perception within Afghanistan that the US is a “fair-weather friend,” abandoning the country when the Soviets withdrew in 1989. He said that “the same thing could happen today,” if the US continues to prioritize Iraq and shifts its focus next to Iran. Weinbaum added that problems in Afghanistan are compounded by the resurgence of the Taliban, after its members “moved in, settled in, and married in” to Pakistan’s border communities and returned to operating below the radar. Poppy production is another serious concern for the country – poppy is still the mainstay of the economy, and eradication programs effectively take away farmers’ livelihood since poppy is more lucrative to grow. Subsidy programs will be necessary to combat poppy production, Weinbaum said. Security remains the top priority for the country, Weinbaum said, adding that if Afghanistan doesn’t succeed, “the whole region is in trouble.” Establishing security is “not only do-able – we don’t have a choice.”

Haidari, a former street vendor who learned English by memorizing an Oxford dictionary and listening to Voice of America broadcasts, spoke of the remarkable bravery and resilience of the Afghan people but also of the very real fear of losing people’s support in the South and East of Afghanistan, where Taliban presence remains strong. “When given the chance, [Afghan] people do embrace and practice democracy,” Haidari said. While the people have waited patiently for help, though, patience has begun to wane. Farmers demand alternatives to poppy production. Refugees demand reintegration into society. Land mine victims demand social services. Former combatants demand jobs. The Afghan government needs $4 Billion a year for the next five years to provide critical services. Widespread waste has caused only 10-15 percent of aid to reach the Afghan people, he said. Haidari said he believes microfinance is the key to reducing poverty in Afghanistan. If these critical needs are not met soon, he fears an emerging triangle alliance between terrorists, traffickers and the people themselves. Haidari also echoed President Karzai’s statement that terrorists trained in Pakistan are coming across the porous border into Afghanistan.

Pope and Hastings discussed the ongoing strategies to root out terrorist networks, including efforts to reduce the silo effect that hampered government agencies from sharing intelligence. Hastings remarked that the “war on terror doesn’t lend itself to a military solution.”

Crane said that the biggest change she saw during her long tenure at the State Department was the emphasis on human rights, which began during the Carter presidency.


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