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Maureen E. Quinn, Ambassador, Afghanistan Coordinator led a discussion on: "The Future of International Engagement with Afghanistan."
Maureen E. Quinn
Ambassador, Afghanistan Coordinator Biography
February 13, 2006
Maureen E. Quinn
I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss with you the outcomes of the London Conference on Afghanistan, a January 31-February 1 gathering of high-level government delegations and representatives from international organizations to chart the future of international engagement with Afghanistan. During the conference Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the Administration is requesting $1.1 billion in additional aid from the U.S. Congress to support reconstruction in Afghanistan as it enters a new phase of its development under a democratically elected government.
The Conference centerpiece focused on the endorsement of the Afghanistan Compact, which sets out an ambitious program for Afghan development over the next five years. The Government of Afghanistan, with the support of its international partners, is committing to specific and achievable goals in security, governance, economic and social development, and counter-narcotics.
Does the U.S. have any ambitions toward taking control of Afghanistan for strategic geographical reasons?
No. The United States has a long-term commitment to a democratic, prosperous, and secure Afghanistan.
Many of the stated goals contained within the Afghanistan Compact are laudable and certainly worth pursuing. That said, many of these same goals may be most difficult to achieve...especially with the attached benchmarks (20% reduction in this, or 30% increase in that). Is the international community setting itself (and Afghanistan) up for disappointment?
In 2001, after more than two decades of war and civil strife, Afghanistan's economy was in tatters. Considerable progress has been made since then in restoring the country's roads, schools and medical facilities, as well as successfully electing a President, National Assembly and Provincial Councils. Much, much more remains to be done.
Many of the goals set out in the Afghanistan Compact are ambitious. The Afghan government set these goals and is determined to do its best to achieve them with the support of the international community.
At the London Conference the international community gave it political, security and financial commitment of support to the Compact. Given the Conference results, $10.5 billion is now available from the international community for the implementation of the Afghan development plan.
Also, I noted that some of the countries involved in the Compact conference (Iran) would not necessarily benefit from a successful, democratic and pluralistic Afghan civic society. Again, might this be a prelude to disappointment or even failure?
Afghanistan's neighbors recognize that a stable, thriving Afghanistan will bring economic benefits to the region along with improved security. In December 2005 the Afghan government hosted a Regional Economic Conference attended by its neighbors, including Iran. The participants acknowledged that the region would benefit from revitalizing trade, transportation, communication and energy links across Central and South Asia, and that addressing some problems, including the narcotics trade, will require significant cross-border cooperation.
What progress is being made in the establishment of a professional Afghan army that a responsible government in Kabul could use to maintain its territorial integrity and do its part in the war on terror - alongside the US? What are the problems and setbacks?
A significant amount of progress has been made in the establishment of the Afghan National Army (ANA). ANA forces are an effective instrument in spreading security across Afghanistan. They are welcomed by the Afghan people, and are increasingly taking on a larger role in the security sector. 26,500 ANA troops are currently operational. Many units are working in tandem with Coalition Forces in combat operations. Assisted by U.S. Embedded Training Teams (ETTs), the ANA has successfully participated in a variety of deployments, including combat operations. They have helped quell factional fighting in the north and west, and battled insurgents in the south and east, alongside US troops. The ANA was a key element in ensuring security for the successful presidential and parliamentary elections.
Now that the U.S. has financial pledges from other nations to help with the situation in Afghanistan, does the U.S. now plan to reduce its involvement in the country?
The United States has a long-term commitment to a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. We plan to continue working side-by-side with the international community to help strengthen Afghanistan's democracy, economy, and security forces. While a great deal of progress has been made in a relatively short period of time, much more remains to be done. It will take time to develop a strong economy, self-sustaining security forces and a thriving democracy. We are determined to help Afghanistan achieve these goals.
What is the situation with Russia being in the Northern quadrant with some 2,000 troops?
There are no Russian troops in Afghanistan today. Russia participated in the London Conference and the December 2005 Regional Economic Cooperation Conference. Russia has committed assistance as well to Afghanistan. Following the London Conference Russia announced that it will cancel Afghanistan's debt to Russia in the Paris Club.
Like others in the international community, Russia is concerned about the flow of illicit narcotics from Afghanistan.
Does the U.S. hope to help Afghan people without any political or economical self-interest?
It is in the interest of the United States and Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safehaven for terrorists. It is in the interest of both countries and people for Afghanistan to become more stable, democratic and prosperous.
Afghanistan under the former Taliban regime had an oppressive political system, especially with respect to women. Because of the regime's political extremism and diplomatic isolation, the Afghan people, enduring some of the worst poverty and social conditions in the world, had virtually no prospects for meaningful economic growth. These conditions resulted in the Taliban regime's allowing Afghanistan to be used as a platform for international terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
A secure, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan will greatly facilitate stability and economic growth across the Central and South Asia region. That development will benefit the people of the region and enhance the long-term security of the United States.
Laurel and Nate wanted to know about the serious problem of narcotics in Afghanistan.
First I would like to thank you for this site as it is very welcome to be able to have a conversation about these important issues. It only works to strengthen our democracy as more of us become involved and informed.
I have heard that the Drug Trade is one of the main ways that the terrorist groups are able to support their terrorist goals. It also appears that is a lucrative avenue for the Afghans and thereby makes it almost impossible to stop. What are we all doing to help the Afghans get a trade that is equally as lucrative and yet not harmful so that they will stop producing poppies.
How is the U.S. dealing with the fact that Afghanistan still produces a great deal of opium? Thank you
Laurel: You raise an important question, and you are right that opium production is a very lucrative business.
The United States supports the Afghan government in its counter-narcotics efforts in a number of ways, from providing help with eradication and interdiction to public education and justice reform. Your observation that growing opium poppy is an important source of income for Afghan farmers touches on an important component of our overall effort -- the Alternative Livelihoods Program. This program creates alternatives to poppy cultivation by providing other opportunities for farmers to increase their income. These include cash for work programs, distributing seeds and fertilizer, training farmers in the production of legal high-value crops like fruits and nuts, rehabilitating rural infrastructure such as roads and irrigation canals and establishing processing, storage, and financing organizations to support strong rural markets. The alternative livelihood programs are tied to the law enforcement efforts aimed at the traffickers and the Afghan governments programs to eliminate and eradicate opium poppy production.
If you are interested in learning more about U.S. alternative livelihood program, please visit www.usaid.gov.
Ambassador Quinn, It is hard to understand why the United States Embassy in Kabul, after four years of operations, is not able to issue visas to Afghan citizens. All Afghans who intends to travel to the United States, most of whom are students like me, are required to go the US embassy in Islamabad.
At a time when the people and governments of Afghanistan and the US are closer to each other then ever before, it is extremely annoying for an Afghan citizen to be pushed into further dependency upon Pakistan. Let alone the logistical hurdles of traveling from one country to another in order to apply for a U.S. visa. I assume the Afghan government has other important priorities then bringing this issue up, and the issue of single entry visas for Afghan students in the U.S. I wanted to point your attention towards this, and inquire if indeed there is any plan for change in the U.S.-Afghan consular relations soon.
Thank you for your question, Humaroo, I know that this is an issue of great concern to many Afghans. The United States looks forward to issuing visas in Kabul, but we cannot do so until we have the right facilities and are able to provide a secure and accessible interview location.
We are working very hard to address these necessary preconditions.
In the meantime, we are very pleased that Afghan students are applying for visas and attending colleges and universities in the United States and participating in student exchange programs.
Does the U.S. government have long-term planning strategy for the development of Afghanistan (i.e. establishing real democracy and economic self-standing)?
Dear NF: While the United States cares very much about the future of Afghanistan, our role is a supporting one. What is critically important is that Afghanistan has a long-term planning strategy for its own development. While the United States and international community can certainly offer help, Afghanistan's development plans ultimately rest with the Afghan people and their elected officials.
I am happy to say that Afghanistan does, indeed have such a plan. At the January 2006 London Conference on Afghanistan, the Afghan government set out an ambitious program for Afghan development over the next five years and committed to specific and achievable goals in security, governance, economic and social development, and counter-narcotics.
If you would like to see Afghanistan's plan, please visit http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1134650705195.
Is part of the motivation to be in Afghanistan to capture Bin Laden?
Jim: In October 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) -- a multinational coalition military operation -- to counter terrorism.
OEF operations helped bring a measure of security and stability to Afghanistan for the first time in a generation and led to the collapse of the Taliban regime that had hosted Al-Qaeda. Afghan, U.S. and Coalition forces continue to engage Al Qaeda, Taliban remnants and other extremists today.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are both close allies in the War on Terrorism, and we work closely with both countries on security issues, specifically the coordination of our efforts along the Afghan-Pakistan border.