Thursday, November 27, 2014

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

Keynote Speech by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
to the United Nations
On President Obama’s New Strategy – what’s new, will it work?
Princeton University

Ambassador Vendrell ,
Professor Danspeckgruber,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to be here today to share my thoughts with you.

President Obama once wrote of himself, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” The new US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is something of a blank screen as well. It contains components for success, and addresses the concerns of a wide variety of interests. However, it is open to interpretation, and the Administration’s level of commitment and resolve has yet to be tested. Today, I will offer an Afghan understanding of the strategy, as spelled out in policy documents and in President Obama’s own statement on March 27. I will also highlight some of the concerns that exist, and where its priorities should lie. Finally, I will outline a few areas where America cannot afford to minimize objectives.

How can we describe this new strategy?

While individual components of the American strategy are not entirely new, the strategy does combine them in a coherent, focused and fresh way. It puts increased attention on attainable short- and medium-term objectives, on a regional approach and on recognition of the centrality of the threat in Pakistan. Perhaps most importantly, it provides a clean break with the Bush years by giving President Obama ownership of the Afghan strategy, and marks a fresh beginning with a reinvigorated commitment, reflected in the troop increases and civilian surge.

The new American strategy was created to address the confluence of two factors: first, the increasingly precarious situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and second, the need to deal with possible domestic and international fatigue towards the continuing engagement, break with Bush’s policies and put new attention on a “forgotten war.”

Despite a generally welcoming reaction from Afghanistan, there is some ongoing concern among Afghans that the American plan aims to limit objectives, distance itself from important state-building goals and create space for an early exit strategy. The strategy is driven by a sense of urgency, since the new US Administration faces fatigue in some quarters both at home and abroad, and there are defeatists world-wide who seek to paint the fight in Afghanistan as hopeless or unnecessary.

However, President Obama himself laid out the central security interest that every country has in guaranteeing a stable, moderate and better-functioning Afghanistan. It must be apparent to the Obama Administration that any immediate efforts must be accompanied by sustained commitment; one without the other will only provide short-term disappointment leading to long-term failure.

The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands an urgent but long-term response. In Afghanistan, despite major achievements in the course of the last seven years, a sustainable situation is not yet on the horizon. The Taliban have taken advantage of international inattention to mount more frequent violent attacks on the international community and on Afghan civilians. Although there is not yet any serious danger of their returning to power, their role in disrupting stabilization efforts remains serious.

In Pakistan, the Taliban’s violent militarism is spreading out from sanctuaries along the border and beginning to penetrate to the heart of a once peaceful society. In addition, some in Pakistan are in denial about the severity of the threat. This threat is two-fold; first, we risk the spread of extremism and the choking of freedom in the region. Second, we risk these violent armed groups gaining increasing influence over a nuclear-armed state. It is important that Pakistan and the international community find a way to address the threat posed by the Taliban to the Pakistani state and the region.

The core objective of the new strategy is one that President Obama states clearly: “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” As the Obama Administration has acknowledged, success is significantly more complicated than just finding and capturing bin Laden. Al-Qaeda has had years to develop broad cooperative networks and stronghold in the region, and the effects of violence and extremism are now threats in their own right. To address all of this, the Obama Administration has taken a promising comprehensive view of the problem.

There are two integral components of President Obama’s core goal of defeating al-Qaeda: we must secure Afghanistan and stabilize Pakistan. The new strategy is correct in recognizing that the two countries face a common threat that needs to be addressed jointly in both countries. However, the creation of an imaginary “Af-Pak” entity for the purposes of practicality should not lead to oversimplification. Each country has its own context and its own problems. The many challenges in the region require a multifaceted and complicated response, not only by the US and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan but also through a regional approach.

How can we secure Afghanistan?

Securing Afghanistan is a process that began in 2001, but has not yet succeeded in creating sustainable progress. Our reinvigorated efforts in Afghanistan need to be focused in three interconnected areas:

First, it is vital to halt and reverse the advances of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban cannot be allowed to regain control over the country; in addition to the reign of terror they imposed on Afghans, they also encouraged our territory to be used by al-Qaeda for the planning and execution of September 11th and other terrorist activities. Defeating the Taliban insurgency will require sustained and committed military involvement, but also political involvement through reconciliation and outreach to all Afghans, and economic development and job creation.

Second, strengthening the government, and rule of law, is essential, so that the Afghans can defend themselves and progress can be sustainable. Afghanistan is ready to take responsibility for its future. We need an improved framework where the government is empowered to fight corruption, dispense justice, provide basic services, and is held accountable to its citizens. Thus the elections planned for August will prove an important turning point; at stake are the legitimacy of national institutions and the strengthening of the democratic process.

And third, the Afghan people must be actively involved and invested in the stabilization process. Recent debates over civilian casualties and the growing perception among Afghans that their international allies are not truly committed to their security, now risk the alienation of the population. Winning the hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan would be the most important strategic asset for success.

Nevertheless, as Richard Holbrooke recently said, and I quote, “If Afghanistan had the best government on earth, a drug-free culture and no corruption; it would still be unstable if the situation in Pakistan remained as today. That is an undisputable fact.”

How can we stabilize Pakistan?

Although international military operations are concentrated in Afghanistan, the insurgency trains and regroups in Pakistan. Stabilizing Pakistan will thus require us to, first and foremost, eliminate these terrorist sanctuaries. This can be accomplished by a more coordinated military and non-military efforts by the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This requires the wholehearted cooperation of the Pakistani military, intelligence and civilian powers. The Obama strategy recognizes the critical threat posed to the Pakistani state and the region by militant elements. Pakistan must be helped to recognize this as well, and all Pakistani entities must be ready to fully dedicate themselves to the fight against these elements.

As the new US strategy indicates, in addition to these steps to be taken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States will have to actively encourage the involvement of all stakeholders towards a coordinated international response. The security of Afghanistan and the stability of Pakistan depend on the two countries cooperating with each other and with the region to face a common threat. This cooperation will be impossible without the direct and pro-active role of the United States, NATO and all countries fighting terrorism in the region. In addition, the security of the wider region – including India, Iran, Central Asian states, China, Russia and other countries – is also tightly interwoven with the defeat of Al-Qaeda, the establishment of a secure Afghanistan and stable Pakistan, and the creation of a new basis for cooperation towards a collective security system.

A regional approach, such as that spelled out in the new US strategy, must change the negative and disruptive patterns of the region into positive and cooperative ones. It will then be possible for the United States to facilitate a longer-term exchange between Afghan neighbors to identify shared economic interests, to engage a new diplomatic push, and to implement confidence-building measures to address legitimate security concerns in the region.

Can the strategy succeed?

The strategy provides a solid basis for progress, but its success will depend on a number of factors. As a start, the United States and its allies must be willing to commit the resources, attention and time necessary to achieve sustainable progress. It will take time to build a strong, self-sufficient Afghan state, which is the strongest hope of defeating al-Qaeda. Many of the necessary measures in the coming years, such as the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Police, will be financially untenable without the assistance of the international community. In addition, the strategy must use the suggested benchmarks to measure progress both in the short and the longer term, and be flexible enough to adapt when targets are not reached. Thirdly, It is important that President Obama truly engage the governments and publics of NATO nations and of our region in order to coordinate the efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Most importantly, the United States must truly address and combat negative perceptions by demonstrating a sustained commitment to success in Afghanistan. Public opinion in the US, in Europe and in Afghanistan and the wider region will be key to the strategy’s success or failure. The Obama white paper alludes to the “diplomatic push” that will be necessary to create national, international and regional cooperation and to collectively address the security and development challenges in the region. This diplomatic push is a crucial part of the strategy.

We must all have a good understanding of the key role played by public perception in the success or failure of our joint work. The strategy for Afghanistan’s success must be sustainable, and this will require the trust and support of the Afghan people. Thus, the Obama administration and the international community at large must maintain and demonstrate an unambiguous commitment to Afghanistan, even in the face of some domestic and international pressures to seek a short-sighted exit. If the Taliban are given any indication that the resolve of the international community is weakening, they will assume they can out-wait the West as the Mujahidin out-lasted the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The Afghan people must be confident in the continuing support of the international community before they will be willing to trust us with their futures.

The international community and the United States already have a large commitment to Afghanistan through the Bonn process and Afghanistan and the region are becoming increasingly important on the world stage. It is the focus of the increasing global multilateralism, and it is the center of the international fight against terrorism. From Russia to India, from China to the doors of Europe, we are in the center of a region where the geopolitics of the future world are in play. In a global fight against terrorism centered in our region we will need the patience of the “Cold War” if we are determined to succeed. President Obama’s strategy opens the door for success; now we must see whether America and the international community will walk through it.

Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

ztanin_20_03_2009.jpg Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
to the United Nations
At the Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

Allow me to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your assumption of the Presidency of this Council for the month of March, and thank you for holding this debate. I would also like to thank the Secretary General for his latest report on the situation in Afghanistan. In addition, I am grateful to my friend Mr. Kai Eide for his statement here today, and for his leadership of UNAMA’s work for Afghanistan.

Mr. President,
The Security Council is discussing Afghanistan at a defining moment. In two days, the people of Afghanistan will celebrate our New Year. So we begin today from a new perspective of hope.
The preparation for our Presidential and provincial elections provides the chance to strengthen legitimacy and national unity. The continuing and troubling insecurity in parts of the country threatens those objectives but also gives us a clear goal in the coming months. There has been a welcome increase in international focus on Afghanistan. Afghans are pleased to note the many recent strategic reviews and recommendations, including the upcoming conference in The Hague on 31 March. We hope this new spirit of engagement will help us proceed in a constructive, unified and coordinated way.

Mr. President,
The international community should join Afghanistan in this spirit.
In the last eight years, Afghanistan has made progress. We can continue to progress. Afghans are fully invested in a legitimate, inclusive democratic process, and we see this in the strong engagement in national debate surrounding the upcoming elections. Afghans want to ensure that their country’s future is a continuation of the peaceful modernization that began in the early 20th century.
Afghans are eager to work with the international community to eliminate the threat of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. The Taliban is not an organic part of Afghan society. It is a product of violence, cross-border madrassas and foreign indoctrination that disrupted our stable society. Today, a mere 4% of Afghans want to see the Taliban in power.
The international community should also be encouraged by the reminder that Afghans supported the US-led intervention in 2001. Afghans welcomed the defeat of the terrorists and extremists who had invaded and corrupted our homeland. As long as the international forces provide safety, security, and the promise of a democratic future, Afghans will continue to be staunch allies.

But Mr. President,
Afghans are simultaneously driven by urgency to keep the dark days securely behind us. The devastation of the Taliban is a constant reminder of the effects of neglecting the destruction of war. The greatest blunder of our time is forgetting that the ruins of war breed angry, desperate and radicalized people.
The world has an obligation to act so that the Taliban and al-Qaeda do not return to power. This obligation is both moral and practical. Morally, the horrific abuse of civilians anywhere, particularly of children and women, is a threat to freedom everywhere. Practically, terrorism knows no border. Attacks by the same groups in New York, London, Mumbai, and Kabul show that the threat in Afghanistan is, indeed, a global threat. Global action is the answer to global threat.

Mr. President,
Afghans have seen the significance of our partnership with the international community. Our biggest accomplishments-our constitution, the elections, the improvements in the Afghan National Army, infrastructure, education, and health-are the projects that have received the strongest international commitment. International dedication bears fruit.
But we have only begun. In the areas where Afghans received less international attention-the Afghan National Police, governance, corruption, judiciary reform-we have not achieved all we should. After the Bonn Conference in 2001, the international community’s “light footprint” approach brought minimal engagement in Afghanistan. We have only recently re-focused so we cannot expect results immediately. It takes time to build a stable, prosperous, democratic society after more than 30 years of war. Progress is a process, completed only over time.
Thus we must stay the course. There is still important work to be done.

Mr. President,
This work should focus on the priority of a self-sustaining, functioning state that serves Afghans. For a functioning state is the strongest bulwark against terrorism. Only a democratic, stable Afghanistan stops terror and destruction. Democracy should be strengthened, not weakened.
In strengthening the Afghan state, we must have a comprehensive strategy. Today, I would like to highlight a few areas of focus.
First, we should ensure that there are free, fair, and transparent elections in August. This process should encourage a protective, inclusive debate that strengthens the legitimacy of the institutions we have already created through the Bonn process.
Second, Afghan ownership must continue to be the lynchpin of international efforts. We understand that the ultimate responsibility for our country lies in our own hands. We will do our own work.
Therefore economic development should continue to be implemented through the framework of the Afghan National Development Strategy and the Paris priorities. We must ensure that aid and expertise is available promptly and delivered effectively, efficiently and transparently. Every penny in Afghanistan should be delivered to Afghans.
We should also continue to build the Afghan army and police so that Afghans take a stronger role in the fight on terror. There should be greater Afghan oversight over joint operations with our international partners, and an increased focus on preventing civilian casualties.
We want to stress, too, that reconciliation can take place only under the leadership of the Afghan government. The Government of Afghanistan recognizes the importance of a political solution. We negotiate with those elements of the Taliban who are willing to be reconciled. But any talks must be held with full respect for the Constitution of Afghanistan, and must be conducted from a position of strength.
Third, Afghans appreciate the new regional focus on our challenges that protects the sovereignty of our state. We welcome the new trilateral US/Afghanistan/Pakistan process that started recently in Washington DC, and we look forward to a future of increased cooperation. Our neighbors will be the first to benefit from a stable Afghanistan: decreased refugees, decreased narcotics, increased trade.

Mr. President,
Today, Afghans hope this august council will continue its efforts, newly developed and re-focused, to help us regain our footing after decades of war. Afghans still look with great hope to the international community and fully approves the extension of UNAMA’s mandate in support of the Government of Afghanistan.
Despite the continued challenges of terrorism and violence, despite the critics, despite the resignation, despite the doubts– we know our better history. Afghanistan began its journey towards modernization in the 1900s. Our first constitution in 1924 made a modern education available for all. By the 1960s, we guaranteed equal rights for men and women. Afghans then survived and persevered through three decades of foreign intervention, a bloody civil war and the brutal rule of the Taliban. If we can do all of this, we can succeed in Afghanistan today. For Afghanistan has been, can be, and will be again, a peaceful, democratic crossroads in our region and a contributing member of the world community.
We start the New Year in this spirit of hope.

Thank you Mr. President.

What Hope for Afghan Women?

Statement of H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
At a panel discussion: “Eight Years On: What Hope for Aghan Women?”
A Side Event at the Commission for the Status of Women 2009

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor for Afghanistan to host this discussion in collaboration with UNIFEM and with the United States, and we welcome you all. I would like thank Joanne Sandler, Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM, for being here today and for her efforts on behalf of women everywhere. I also want to convey my respect and gratitude for the presence and inspirational statement of H.E. Ambassador of the US to the UN, Dr. Susan Rice. The US has been a great friend to Afghanistan, and to Afghan women, and we are grateful to Ambassador Rice for being able to be here today. We are also humbled to be in the presence of guests who have traveled here from Afghanistan to share their personal experiences. Ms. Suraya Pakzad, Ms. Wazhma Frogh and Ms. Najia Zewari, we look forward to learning from you today.

When I was in my twenties, I studied at Kabul University. At that point, Kabul was known as “the Paris of the East,” a place where the best traditions of East and West merged. At that point, Afghanistan was a peaceful, tolerant country, where ambitious young people were encouraged to pursue a full education. At that point, women studied alongside men. There were dozens of women in all of my classes. My wife was one of these women, and she used her education to become a lecturer at Kabul Medical University and then the medical director of the main maternity hospital in Kabul.

But just a few decades later, this reality of my twenties has been threatened.

War and violence has unsettled the dust of intolerance and ignorance. The Afghanistan that finally emerged in 2001 still struggles to regain what was lost. The legislative framework is there, and the political will is there, but the recent increase in violence and insecurity has meant women are, as always, the first victims. More and more women who study, work, or attempt to be a part of social activities are receiving death threats. We were all witness to the stunning ferocity of the acid attacks on young girls last fall. Without a doubt, there are forces in Afghanistan that aim to again usurp the legitimate rights of Afghan women by creating a climate of terror and fear.

As we fight those forces, the Government of Afghanistan is committed to its responsibilities towards its citizens. We have a broad mandate: women must not only be safe from violence, they must also be free from any atmosphere of intimidation and fear. Women must not only secure participation in the political process, they must also be able to forward social and economic development.

But today we will not be daunted by the scale of the efforts ahead of us. Because we are deeply motivated by the following truths:

First, our history has shown that before the war and before the Taliban, women’s rights were recognized by Afghan society. The modernization of our country did not begin in 2001. It began in the 1900s. In the early 1920s, Queen Soraya became the first Muslim royal to appear publicly without the veil. The first girl’s schools also appeared and women began to seek higher education in Afghanistan and abroad. In the next decades thousands of women worked as professors, lawyers, medical doctors. By the 1960s, women had acquired the constitutionally protected right to vote. Many became appointed as cabinet members and elected to Parliament. Success has been in our past; it can again be in our future.

Second, we recognize the global nature of the struggle for women. As is true in much of the developing world, including Asia, Africa and the Muslim world, there are two Afghanistan’s: one is modern and urban, the other rural and traditional. The challenge of modernizing the countryside is one that not only Afghanistan faces. That is why the work we do in Afghanistan is so important: if we succeed, we can offer hope for other countries working on the same challenge.

Third, we recognize that bridging these two worlds will take time. While occurring first in the cities, modernization requires patience and dedication to expand into the countryside. It may take up to a few generations to accomplish lasting change in social and cultural life.

These three truths: our history, the global nature of this struggle for women, and the time required to effect lasting change-form our motivation to reject inaction-inaction couched in excuses of cultural relativism, or “pragmatism.” These excuses strengthen an immoral, Taliban and fundamentalist attempt to convince the world that Afghanistan will never accept “freedom” because of cultural reasons.

These excuses are false because the Taliban or fundamentalism does not represent any real culture of Afghanistan. The Taliban came to power only as a product of war and destruction. To the Taliban and their ideological brethren, trained and indoctrinated in madrasas outside of Afghanistan, women must be controlled and suppressed. This abuse does not represent our country, our religion, our culture. Talibanization is exactly the opposite-it is an anti-culture, an anti-religion. Talibanization is Taliban-vandalism, Taliban-barbarism.

The Government of Afghanistan recognizes that the ultimate responsibility for the rights of our citizens lies in our own hands. We will do our own work. But we ask for international support in our efforts because there is no such thing as a “local” threat against women. Talibanization, whether in Swat or Waziristan, is a serious threat to the universal attempt to improve the situation of women. It is not a local threat limited to physical boundaries.

We also ask for your support to improve the situation of women because we have seen how much we can do together. The UN, the US, the EU and other countries have been invaluable in the strengthening and stabilization of Afghanistan. With your support, we formed a new government in Bonn. With your support, we held elections in which millions of women were able to express their political will. With your support, 81% of the country now has access to basic health care. With your support, millions of girls have returned to school.

There are several opportunities ahead for us to continue to work together. First, in helping the Government of Afghanistan with security, we are taking an important first step to ensure rights for women. Insecurity is the first threat to Afghan women. Second, we have an important opportunity with the upcoming elections. The constitution of Afghanistan contains guarantees for women representation; thus these elections strengthen women’s participation in the state-building of Afghanistan. Third, the fulfillment of the Paris Conference pledges and a sustained commitment with the Government of Afghanistan to support the Afghan National Development Strategy will work for the economic empowerment of women.

As we gather here, today I remember another Afghanistan, the Afghanistan where I studied and worked. We can find this Afghanistan again with our dedication. Suraya Pakzad, Wazhma Frogh, Najia Zewari have come to tell us their stories and to bring the struggles of millions of Afghan women to the light of reality. They will be the powerful reminder to the importance of our task.

The Government of Afghanistan is fully committed to do what it can do to strengthen the position of women in the country. We hope that the international community will continue to work with us.