Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Understanding Afghanistan through the Prism of History

A Glimpse into Afghanistan Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow at Stony Brook University

On 4 November, just hours after the debate on the Situation in Afghanistan in the United Nations General Assembly, Stony Brook University hosted a crucial discussion on “Afghanistan: The Current Situation through a Historic Lens.”  Introductory remarks were given by Professors Said  Amir Arjomand and Paul Zimansky to welcome a full crowd of students and community members at the Center for Global and Local History.

The theme of the discussion was that in order to understand what is happening in present day Afghanistan, it is essential to recognize the history behind the conflict.  H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Nations  gave an enlightening presentation at the event.  While seeking to debunk the common misconception that Afghanistan has always been at war through pointing out a century of relative calm and peace in the nation prior to the 1980s, the focus of the discussion was on the torrential period of conflict from the last three decades.

As Ambassador Tanin outlined, three foreign interventions or invasions, and three civil wars have taken place in the past thirty years.  First was the Soviet invasion of 1979, then the war of resistance against that invasion, followed by the invasion of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda and foreign Mujahideen with the support of Pakistan in 1994, accompanied by the Mujahideen fighting the Taliban in the 1990s.  Interventions by international forces led by the US began in 2001 which led to fighting between Taliban and the international and Afghan forces.  Dramatic regime or ideological shifts have characterized recent history in Afghanistan.  “Each change you see here is a bloody change,” Ambassador Tanin reminded the audience, as he pointed to the timeline of the last three decades.  The millions of deaths, major destruction of economy, and disintegration of state from this complex history have reversed much of Afghanistan’s progress over the previous century, he said.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Tanin expressed optimism about the progress of the country and its future, starting with a new beginning in 2001 which involved increased international support.  He described key human rights successes which include dramatically improved access to health care, advancements in women’s rights particularly in the area of political participation, a rising number of female students, 71% enrollment rates in schools, and the building of 4,000 new school buildings in the last decade.   He also expressed some of the former challenges, particularly in the coordination and adequacy of troops and funding.  Despite ongoing struggles, Ambassador Tanin has hope that with the second term of President Karzai, the strong commitment of the Afghan government to the national agenda, and the sustained role of the international community for a successful transition to Afghan-led ownership and responsibility, peace and progress can be achieved.  However, as Ambassador Tanin expressed, with this optimism comes the burden of hard work, and diligent follow through ahead.

Ambassador Zahir Tanin

Ambassador Zahir Tanin at the General Assembly Plenary Meeting on the Situation in Afghanistan on November 4, 2010

Afghanistan Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Zahir Tanin, Addresses UN General Assembly on the Situation in Afghanistan

November 4, 2010 – The United Nations General Assembly today convened to adopt its annual resolution on the “Situation in Afghanistan.” The adoption of the resolution signifies the GA’s continued support and commitment for lasting peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
During his statement, Ambassador Tanin outlined the many important developments which took place over the course of the year. Among them include President Karzai national agenda, announced in November of last year, which prioritized reintegration and reconciliation, security, governance, development and regional cooperation for the coming years. He also highlighted Afghanistan’s national consultative peace-jirga; the outcome of the London and Kabul Conferences, and the holding of recent Afghan parliamentary elections.

In the area of socio-economic development, he said that “the average income had nearly quadrupled since 2001”, while “government revenue surpassed one billion dollars for the time,” in Afghanistan’s history. In the areas of education and health, he referred to the “71% student enrollment rate, construction of 4,000 schools over the past nine years, and increased accessibility to health-care, including immunization for children, which has led to a decrease in the under-five and infant mortality rates. With regard to empowerment of women, he said Afghan women would make up more than quarter of the Afghan national assembly. Further, he stated that the percentage of female government employees had increased to 18 percent and number of females serving in Afghanistan’s national security forces (ANSF) exceeded 1,000.

Turning to the recent parliamentary elections, he noted that the recent polls were the first which were led by Afghans, and highlighted the broad participation of all segments of society in the elections. “This recent election included 2,556 candidates, 406 of whom were women.  Millions of Afghans cast their ballot to choose 249 members of parliament, shaping our nation’s future by strengthening Afghan institutions and building momentum for stabilization,” said Ambassador Tanin.

Ambassador Zahir Tanin at the General Assembly Plenary Meeting on the Situation in Afghanistan

Ambassador Tanin alluded to continued efforts of the Afghan government to strengthen bilateral cooperation and collaboration with neighboring and regional partners. In that regard, he referred to President Karzai’s visits to China in March, India in April, Japan in June and Pakistan in September. He also underscored President Karzai’s participation in various regional forums, including the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Bhutan in April, as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey Trilateral in January; Afghanistan-Iran and Tajikistan Trilateral in Tehran; Afghanistan-Iran-Tajikistan Trilateral in Tehran, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan-Russian Federation Trilateral in SOCHI.

On security, Ambassador Tanin noted that terrorists and extremists continued their efforts to expand the scope of their attacks. “The Taliban and its allies continue their attempts to increase insecurity and spread violence to new parts of the country.  The violent campaigns of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children,” he said. He however affirmed that Afghanistan and its international partners continued progress in the fight against terrorism by disrupting and defeating the activities of extremist groups.

In addition, he underscored “effective regional cooperation” as “vital for peace and security in the country,” while stressing the need for meaningful and sincere cooperation at the regional level. In that regard, he emphasized increased focus on “ending sanctuaries where terrorists continue to receive training, financial and logistical support in the region.”

Moreover, Ambassador Tanin highlighted Afghanistan’s transition strategy, which is aimed at Afghan ownership and leadership in meeting the security needs of the country.  He highlighted the up-coming NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, at which Afghanistan and its international partners would “establish steps needed for a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond the completion of NATO’s combat mission.”
He also stated that Afghanistan’s transition strategy would be among the important issues to be discussed at the NATO Summit.

Ambassador Tanin reiterated Afghanistan’s commitment in building the size and strength of its national army and police so as to “take the lead in combat operation in volatile provinces by 2011 and assume full security responsibility by 2014.  He noted that the transition process would be a “gradual and conditions-based process,” which required the sustained support of the international community for increased Afghan security force capability.
He also said that achieving peace and security would not be possible by military means alone.  He noted that “reconciliation and reintegration of former combatants is critical for establishing peace and security in our country.” He referred to Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation initiative, aimed at “reconciling those who would like to join the peace process.”  In that regard he emphasized that “human rights, including the rights of women would remain a priority,” throughout the reconciliation process.

Ambassador Tanin reiterated the sincere thanks and appreciation of the Afghan people and government for the continued support and commitment of the United Nations, and the international community for lasting peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.