Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Afghan lawmaker optimistic about country’s prospects in speech at Washington think-tank

Speaking in Washington today, the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament gave an upbeat assessment of the state of her country roughly six years after the fall of the Taliban.

Fawzia Koofi, addressing an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), argued that the West has a distorted perception of Afghanistan because the media’s heavy focus on violent attacks obscures emerging gains. Among the underreported successes that she cited: an Afghan parliament that is 27 percent female and increasingly gender-conscious (Koofi noted that the parliament recently established a gender unit within the ministry of finance); a respected national army that is heavily involved in counterrorism; a drastically improved police force; rising school enrollment rates; and widespread health care coverage, which now stands at 85 percent. Still, Koofi acknowledged that major concerns remain, chief among them establishing security and the rule of law, fighting government corruption, and combating opium production.

Speaking alongside Koofi on the CSIS panel, Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, who served from 2005 until early this year, echoed the deputy speaker on the development of both the Afghan army, which he called “incredibly respected” inside the country and particularly among local officials, and the police force, which he praised for, among other things, making formerly crime-ridden Kabul a hospitable environment for foreign businesspersons and consequently foreign investment. He praised the international community for providing sufficient equipment to the army and police, but also said that there are too few foreign troops in Afghanistan, and linked this to a less-than-complete international commitment. “We are resourcing not to lose. We are not resourcing to win,” Neumann said.

Later, during the question and answer session, Neumann would reject the notion that arming tribal leaders to fight the Taliban could be a successful strategy in Afghanistan. He called the concept “dumber than hell,” saying it would reinforce the behavior of those who don’t respect the rule of law, and citing “incredibly fractured” tribes and tribal leaders disenfranchised by the heightened authority of commanders.

Moving away from the security issue to address reconstruction at large, Neumann said that neither Afghan nor American expectations have been managed well, with implementation lagging well beyond policy. As an example, he said that, in the case of a reconstruction project like building a road, the supplemental funds that were originally designated in 2006 by the U.S. government for appropriation in Afghanistan would, because of the bureaucratic pace in both countries, probably not result in actual construction until 2008. To remedy the concerns with implementation, Neumann called for the placement of more senior level policy experts and technicians in order to address local-level problems.

Near the end of the presentation, the third panelist present, Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, the director of Princeton University’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD), which has worked to facilitate private diplomacy on Afghanistan since soon after the fall of the Taliban, gave a grimmer assessment. Having recently returned from Afghanistan, he said that the country’s citizens are growing increasingly disenchanted with international efforts and are beginning to, for the first time, use terms like ‘occupier’ to describe the foreign presence. We are running against the clock of public opinion, Danspeckgruber said, and time is running out.


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