Ten years ago last Monday, the international community and various Afghan parties and factions gathered in Bonn, Germany, to lay the foundation of a permanent democratic government in Afghanistan. That momentous event under the United Nations auspices marked long-awaited international re-engagement in the country, following the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
In the preceding decade, Afghans, who had fought one of the bloodiest proxy conflicts of the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, were abandoned by their Western allies and the international community at large. Indeed, the consequences of neglecting Afghanistan's postwar reconstruction, after the withdrawal of defeated Soviet forces from the country in 1989, allowed regional players to fuel a proxy civil war in Afghanistan. This resulted in state collapse and breakdown of the economy in the country, providing an easy and safe environment where transnational extremists, terrorists and drug traffickers freely operated.
Consequently, a neglected and increasingly isolated Afghanistan began undermining global peace and security, particularly when al Qaeda, sheltered by the Taliban, carried out terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, the response of the U.S., with a strong coalition of NATO and nonallied countries, to topple the Taliban, was swift. This classic international intervention was welcomed by the Afghan people, who overwhelmingly backed coalition forces to liberate Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban.
Since the first Bonn gathering Dec. 5, 2001, Afghans have held two rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections. They also adopted one of the most modern constitutions in the region, guaranteeing women equal rights. Moreover, the writ of the Afghan state has continued to expand across the country, increasingly providing basic services to people in more than 20,000 villages where some 300,000 Afghan national security forces maintain security.
The results of ongoing civil-military efforts are visible everywhere in Afghanistan. Dismal Afghan social indicators have rapidly improved. Some 20,000 community health workers and 2,500 midwives are annually saving more mothers, infants and children under the age of 5 than any time in Afghan history. Additionally, Afghanistan has seen a significant increase in the enrollment of students, the recruitment and training of male and female teachers, and the reconstruction or construction of schools across the country. This combined progress has allowed nearly 7 million children - including 2.5 million girls - to go back to school.
These are but a few accomplishments of the Afghan people and government with international aid over the past 10 years. Nonetheless, international experience in such cases as the reconstruction of post-World War II Europe demonstrates that Afghanistan's 10-year rebuilding achievements are a work in progress. Each civil or military gain thus far must be consolidated and sustained before Afghanistan can firmly stand on its own.
Therefore, at the request of Afghanistan, Germany hosted a conference of more than 100 nations and international organizations that met Dec. 5 in Bonn to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan after 2014, when most international military forces will have withdrawn from the country. The agenda of the conference focused on three important issues of concern to the government and people of Afghanistan.
First, the process of transition currently under way is overly militarized and neglects the civilian aspects of transition to Afghan control. While Afghan national security forces must be trained and equipped to reach their targeted goal of some 350,000 by the end of 2012, the institutions of democratic governance and rule of law, which play an equally critical role in ensuring long-term stability, must be strengthened at the national and local levels. Afghanistan needs adequate resources to improve institutional capacity for rule of law enforcement and public administration. This should gradually enable the Afghan government to fight corruption - a systemic problem of weak governance - more effectively.
Second, Afghanistan seeks to clearly define long-term international engagement after 2014. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and his German counterpart recently proposed three pillars for this: continuing civilian reconstruction, sustained support to the training and equipping of Afghan national security forces as long as necessary, and helping Afghanistan unlock its immense economic potential for the benefit of the Afghan people and of the region.
Third, international support for an Afghan-led peace process must continue. In a recent consultative, traditional Loya Jirga, more than 2,000 representatives of the Afghan people recommended that reaching a peace settlement with the armed opponents of Afghanistan must be an integral part of a comprehensive reconstruction and stabilization strategy. In other words, peace efforts should not be pursued in isolation, and the armed opponents willing to negotiate must comply with renouncing violence, breaking with international terrorism, and respecting the Afghan constitution and the fundamental human rights enshrined in it, including the equal rights of Afghan women.
It is self-evident that the second Bonn conference's discussions about Afghanistan's post-transition blueprint for security and development are not enough. The country's nation-partners must learn the lessons of the reconstruction effort to date and make adjustments. Assistance needs to be better coordinated, and more needs to be done to build the capacity of Afghans so they can take responsibility for their own futures. Once neglected, Afghans do not want their country to return to the chaos and violence of the 1990s. As we learned from the Sept. 11 tragedy and the suffering of the Afghan people since, a failed Afghanistan is not an option for international peace and security. Success must be the only way forward.
M. Ashraf Haidari is deputy assistant national security adviser of Afghanistan, and was the charge d'affaires and deputy ambassador of the Afghan Embassy in Washington.
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