- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2010

This summer, the Afghan government hosted the first International Conference on Afghanistan in Kabul. Our allies from around the world recommitted to a firm partnership with the Afghan government as we begin taking over and gradually leading the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We welcomed Pakistan as an important regional partner in the fight against terrorism and extremism, which destabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan alike. And we continue to believe that the war can be won only through a concerted international partnership, with an emphasis on integration and strategic coordination of military and civilian assistance to Afghanistan.

The flare-up in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan coincides with its expected summer offensive, which continues to be planned in and launched from Pakistan. More important, it is a desperate response by the ever-unpopular militant organization to the increased military pressure from the Afghan and NATO forces. Afghanistan is on the right course, and we need Pakistan’s sincere help in this international endeavor for regional stability and global peace.

The increased military pressure on the Taliban, of course, is complemented by an American civilian effort. At the recent Kabul conference, the United States and other contributing nations firmly committed to channeling 50 percent of their aid resources through Afghanistan’s national budget in order to help the Afghan government build capacity, fight corruption and provide better services to the broadest segments of the population.

Despite what is reported in the news, Afghanistan is making significant progress. The Afghan security institutions are stronger and more capable than they have been in the past 10 years, taking ever-greater security responsibility from our allies. Our economy has been growing at a remarkable rate. World Bank figures show that Afghanistan’s real gross domestic product rose by a stunning 22.5 percent during the 2009-10 fiscal year - a record since 2003 - and inflation remained very low at 2 percent.

The World Bank also reported in April that our fiscal sustainability increased by a whopping 70 percent over the previous year because of strong growth in revenues and containment of operational expenditures. Afghanistan has made significant progress in good governance, with parliament passing two important pieces of legislation: The first requires all new ministers to declare their assets to improve transparency. The other, passed before the recent discovery of huge deposits of minerals, governs the mining and hydrocarbon industries.

These are not just figures. The Afghan people are experiencing a marked improvement in their quality of life compared to a decade ago, when the Taliban regime was in power. For example, about 85 percent of our population has access to basic health care, up from just 8 percent in 2001. Of the 4.8 million children in grades one through six, 36.6 percent are girls; female high school enrollment doubled from 2007 to 2008. And the Afghan people like these developments. A March 2010 poll revealed that 60 percent of Afghans think Afghanistan is headed in the right direction.

When the former Soviet Union left Afghanistan, non-state actors soon began to challenge the writ of the government. Forgotten by the international community at the end of the Cold War, Afghanistan soon plunged into a decade of violent conflict that gave rise to the Taliban and, eventually, the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. At this critical juncture, when Afghanistan is making headway into economic and security self-sufficiency, we need international assistance more than ever to become a strong state.

That is why Presidents Hamid Karzai and Obama reaffirmed in May that the United States and Afghanistan should work to strengthen a broad and enduring strategic partnership, one that goes beyond the withdrawal of NATO troops. This partnership would be reinforced by our foreign policy of nonaggression and friendly relations with all, especially our neighbors, who, we hope, will exhibit responsible cooperation.

We are grateful to our allies and deeply appreciate the sacrifice of their soldiers and value the positive impact of their economic assistance. We realize that domestic imperatives and resource constraints will mean this level of assistance cannot be sustained in the long run; that is why we are taking increased leadership and ownership of Afghanistan’s path to the future. For now, however, our nation-partners have to stay the course to achieve our mutual goal of defeating terrorism and extremism.

M. Ashraf Haidari is deputy chief of mission and political counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan.

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