Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Afghanistan declares its first national park

BrightSurf–The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) applauded Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA), which announced today the establishment of the country’s first internationally recognized national park.

USAID provided key funding that led to the park’s creation, including support of WCS to conduct preliminary wildlife surveys, identify and delineate the park’s boundaries, and work with local communities and the provincial government. WCS also developed the park’s management plan, helped the government hire and train local rangers, and provided assistance to the Afghan Government to design the laws enabling the park to be created.

The park, known as Band-e-Amir, will protect one of Afghanistan’s best-known natural areas: the spectacular series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. Travertine systems are found in only a few places throughout the world, virtually all of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list and are major international tourist attractions.

Band-e-Amir had been a destination for travelers since the 1950s, with a peak visitation in the 1970s. Tourism was almost entirely absent during the war years between 1979-2001. Today, Band-e-Amir is visited every year by thousands of Afghan tourists and religious pilgrims as well as many foreigners currently living and working in-country. The park is near the Bamyan Valley, where the 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban once stood.

“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan’s first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.”

USAID applauded NEPA for the creation of the national park. USAID believes that protected areas are a key way to preserve natural resources while also improving local livelihoods.

Though much of the park’s wildlife has been lost, recent surveys indicate that it still contains ibex (a species of wild goat) and urial (a type of wild sheep) along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish, and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch, which is believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan. Snow leopards were once found in the area but vanished due to hunting in the early 1980s.

The lakes are under growing threat from pollution and other human-caused degradation to the fragile travertine dams.

Creating the national park will provide international recognition essential to helping develop Band-e-Amir as an international tourist destination, and assist it in obtaining World Heritage Status, which would provide additional protection. It also sets the groundwork to create an Afghan Protected Area System that could include the wildlife-rich transboundary area in the Pamirs shared by Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan.

The new park will be managed by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, and the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee. WCS helped the 13 villages lying within the park establish this Committee, which provides local input into all management decisions. The park will provide employment, tourism-derived revenue, and ensure that local communities play a key role in protecting this world class landscape.

Wildlife Conservation Society

President Obama’s New Strategy – what’s new, will it work?

Afghanistan Mission—On April 21, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, participated in a panel discussion held at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, entitled “President Obama’s new strategy – What’s new? Will it work?” Ambassador Tanin delivered the keynote address, which focused on the fact that President Obama’s strategy is very open to interpretation, and will need to include follow-through and sustained commitment in order for it to be successful. He warned that if the Taliban thought the international commitment had an end-date they would feel they could out-wait the West the same way the Mujahideen out-lasted the Soviet Union. He also emphasized that success will require patience, but that Afghanistan and the region will be central in the geopolitics of the future, and cannot be ignored. You can read the full text of his address here.
Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, who served as European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan from 2002-2008, and has remained very involved in the region, said he was concerned about the approach that the Obama Administration seemed to be taking. He said he felt there was a division within the Administration between those who wanted to minimize objectives and take a quick exit strategy and those who recognized the necessity of being invested for a longer period. He also is concerned that the “new” strategy does not in fact offer much that is new, and focuses on a military surge rather than the more essential civilian involvement. Ambassador Vendrell also said that the core strategy described by President Obama, to “defeat” al-Qaeda, was extremely vague, and wondered who would get to determine when al-Qaeda had been defeated.
Professor Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, founder and director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School, expressed his view that we are facing a critical time in Afghanistan because the region is under more scrutiny than ever before, we are headed into two critical elections – presidential elections this year and parliamentary elections next year – and the region is full of important and growing powers who will need to be taken into account. He mentioned that China is becoming increasingly involved in Afghanistan – through investments in infrastructure and mining particularly – and that if the United States and NATO fail in Afghanistan, there will be substantial repercussions for the future of international politics. Finally, he pointed out what he said was the 1,100lb gorilla in the room, the economic crisis currently facing the world, and said that there would be inevitable effects on Afghanistan as a result. He predicted that governments who currently give substantial aid to Afghanistan would begin to face more and more pressure from their constituencies to spend that money at home.
The panel also responded to questions from the audience on topics including reconciliation, Iran, governance and rule of law, and the Afghanistan-India relationship.
The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, along with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, have hosted a wide variety of conferences, colloquia, seminars and events on Afghanistan and the region which serve as a valuable source of academic analysis and offer an exchange of ideas between all levels of society in the United States, in Europe, and in Afghanistan and the region. LISD held a review conference on Afghanistan in September 2008 which took place in Bonn, Germany, and a number of related events will occur in the coming months, including a seminar on Afghanistan that will take place in Liechtenstein.

Obama to see Afghan, Pakistan leaders in May

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will meet early next month with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan as he presses a new strategy to stabilize the region against rising insurgent violence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will meet separately with Obama and then have three-way talks during visits to the White House on May 6 and 7, a U.S. official said.

Obama last month unveiled a new war strategy for Afghanistan with the aim of crushing al Qaeda and Taliban militants based there and operating from across the border in Pakistan. Cross-border attacks have caused tensions between the two neighbors.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the planned Washington summit was part of a process set in motion by the administration’s in-depth policy review.

“The president wants to be personally involved … in seeking to find solutions,” Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed to Iowa. “The president will reiterate his hopes, his belief of the opportunities but also responsibilities each leader has.”

Since taking office in January, Obama has sought to shift the U.S. military focus from the unpopular war in Iraq to Afghanistan, which he considers the more important front in the fight against Islamic militancy.

Obama has authorized the deployment of 21,000 additional U.S. troops and hundreds of new diplomatic and other civilian officials to Afghanistan.

The U.S. administration also wants to forge closer cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul has accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to carry out attacks. But ties have improved under Zardari, whose country is facing its own Islamist insurgency.

At a meeting in Ankara earlier this month hosted by the Turkish government, Karzai and Zardari agreed to boost military and political ties.

Obama will bring the two leaders together again in an apparent effort to coordinate strategy.

U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in 2001 after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Taliban attacks have increased in recent years along with the number of foreign troops sent to fight them.