Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wilson Center event addresses Afghanistan six years after Taliban’s fall

The Woodrow Wilson Center held a public event on December 6 entitled, “Appraising Afghanistan: Measuring Success and Failure, Six Years Later.” Speakers from four different fields presented their viewpoints on the situation in the war-torn nation.

According to William C. Martel, an associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University, there are three levels of victory: tactical victory, political military victory and grand strategic victory. He explained the meanings of the different levels, saying that tactical victory is short-term victory, for example, victory in a battle. He described political military victory as a larger institutional transformation. Grand strategic victory was explained as the reordering of the international system, and Martel cited World War II and the Cold War as examples.

In Afghanistan, in late 2001, the Taliban regime started to crack; this could be referred to as tactical victory, Martel said. When the al-Qaeda members were first chased out of government positions, this was a political military victory. The U.S. objective in Afghanistan was to chase out the Taliban regime, before the Taliban would become a threat to U.S. interests, and then rebuild Afghanistan. This reflects a grand strategic victory, Martel said.

Seth G. Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, followed Martel on the panel. According to Jones, domestic governance and external support are two of the most critical issues for Afghanistan. With regards to domestic institutions, Jones pointed to the fact that in the country’s rural areas, the police are often poorly trained, which means that villages are not being protected. Jones adds: “In these areas they have no chance but to provide the Taliban what they ask for, otherwise they will be shot in the head and dragged behind a car.” ON the subject of governmental problems, he also noted that access to water and electricity is still nonexistent for many Afghans. Jones also said that one of the major problems facing Afghanistan today is meager public support. While support for the Taliban is not high, he said, support for the government is very low.

On the matter of external support, Jones said that in the past several years, international attention to Afghanistan has waned considerably. He added that there has been insufficient emphasis on a regional approach to the situation.

William Byrd, an economist in the World Bank’s South Asia division, began his presentation by focusing on the counternarcotics effort. “Counternarcotics have failed,” he said, noting that while there have been some indications of progress, the circumstances at present are dire.

“If we do not deal with the drugs it will be hard to solve anything else,” Byrd said. He added: “We need a smart strategy because the drug industry is not static.” Byrd said that a key step in such a strategy is confronting large trafficking rings and their sponsors and also ensuring that complicit Afghan officials are fired from their posts. Still, he cautioned that the problem will not be solved quickly. “It will take a long time before we get rid of drugs in Afghanistan,” Byrd said.

Malaly Pikar Volpi, the executive director of the U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council, a nonprofit organization founded by Afghan-Americans and Americans, spoke last on the panel. Volpi presented some signs of progress, noting that the number of healthcare workers has increased in Afghanistan. However, she also presented a striking anecdote: “I met a woman who was a nurse and she was one of those women who are counted as educated in the Afghan community. But she told me that she was illiterate, and I asked her how she knew what kind of medicine to give to her patient. Then she told me that she had colored the bottles so she would know which one went for which disease.”

After discussing healthcare, Volpi addressed violence against women in Afghanistan – a problem that she said is increasing. However, Volpi noted that underreporting is widespread because of infrastructural deficiencies and the fact that many do not regard it as a crime. Statistics are available though. Volpi called attention to recent United Nations figures that indicate that 64 percent of the women who report being abused were married. Violence from a family member is the most common type of abuse, she said. Volpi also noted that 60 to 80 percent of the marriages in Afghanistan are forced. These types of marriages can be enmeshed within a cycle of extreme violence. “If one person kills another person, the family members get the daughter of the killer’s family and than they can do whatever they want to this woman,” Volpi said.

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