Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Stay the Course

Op-Ed Contributor
Published in New York Times


The recent elections in Afghanistan and General McChrystal’s strategic review have again raised questions, doubt and uncertainty about state-building in Afghanistan. These questions deserve to be answered, swiftly and clearly.

What do we have to show after fighting in Afghanistan for eight years?

Though the international engagement has lasted eight years, it only recently became a focused fight. The aid pledged to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2008 was less than a 12th of assessed needs. Troops were confined to Kabul until 2004; troop increases since then have been reactive and slow, allowing the Taliban to regroup in sanctuaries across the border.

The strategy unveiled by President Obama in March has yet to be fully implemented. The promised troops are not yet on the ground. Why should there be a change in output if there has been little change in input?

Why are we focusing on Afghanistan?

Because Afghanistan is in a unique nuclear-armed region that is also engaged in a precarious fight against terrorism. A premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to a “Somalization” of Afghanistan that would leave Pakistan more vulnerable to the Taliban, exacerbate Pakistan-India tensions and threaten to pull the whole region down into violence.

Is Afghanistan too backward a country to ever progress?

Afghanistan has not always been at war with itself. In the 1960s and 70s and even into the 80s, female and male students studied together at universities in Kabul. Women voted and served in the government as ministers and members of Parliament.

George Will has written that being in the country is “like walking through the Old Testament.” This description only indicates the consequences of great-power struggles during the Cold War and the subsequent neglect that allowed the Taliban to gain power.

The devastation of the country is in fact the answer to another recent question: Why are we in Afghanistan? To finally shoulder the responsibility of rebuilding a country whose decimation we are all complicit in.

What is the end goal in Afghanistan?

In March, President Obama helped lay out our goal in clear words: to build a stable state that will prevent extremism and terrorist groups from taking root again. The audacity of this goal – a stable state – has led some to criticize it for lacking defined means and a clear conclusion. So here are some clear means: a strengthening of the Afghan army and police forces to 260,000 troops, enough to permit Afghan forces to secure the country without an international presence.

Have we not already met our goal?

Some claim Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan, so the mission has been accomplished. But Al Qaeda is merely lying in wait in Pakistan, a country whose border with Afghanistan is disputed and tenuous. A premature withdrawal will not only enable extremists to magnify their threat to Pakistan; it would also allow Al Qaeda to re-gaining Afghan territory as a base of operations.

Zahir Tanin is Afghanistan’s representative to the United Nations

Source: The New York Times

H.E. Zahir Tanin


Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, addresses Security Council on the situation in AfghanistanReport of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (S/2009/323).

Debate on Agenda Item 105: International Drug Control

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan

At the Third Committee debate on Agenda Item 105: International Drug Control

Mr. Chairman,

Honored Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As this is the first time I take the floor, allow me to congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your election as Chair of the Third Committee.  Let me assure you of my delegation’s full support and cooperation throughout the work of this Committee.  In addition, I want to thank Mr. Antonio Maria Costa for his excellent briefing, for UNODC’s 2009 World Drug Report, and for the ongoing support that UNODC has offered to our efforts, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Mr. Chairman,

Despite the current challenges in Afghanistan, I am pleased to inform you that our counter-narcotics efforts have seen remarkable progress across-the-board this past year. Today, I will highlight four areas that have seen particular success, and outline some suggestions for improvement on those achievements to address our remaining challenges.

First, directly as a result of our efforts, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is down 22%, and opium production down 10% – a marked decrease from last year.  The number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 18 to 20.  Our most remarkable decrease has been in the Helmand province, which has seen a 33% drop in poppy cultivation compared to 2008.  To solidify this progress, the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics plans to destroy an additional 40 thousand hectares of poppy this year.  With the help of our international partners, our focus in the coming months and years should be on promoting viable alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers. This could be in the form of replacement crops, like saffron in Herat, or through other development projects, particularly in light industry or the exploitation of natural resources. In any case, without viable alternative livelihoods, our progress towards a poppy-free country will never be sustainable.

Second, the Afghan government has strengthened its counter-narcotics infrastructure and improved governmental coordination under the umbrella of the National Drug Control Strategy.  Recent actions by the Afghan government have achieved real progress.  For example, the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics recently held a national conference in Kabul for governors and others to discuss best practices, and is currently running an awareness-raising campaign in 26 provinces that involves religious leaders and the media, and has indirectly reached over 15 million Afghans.  Also, the Afghan Parliament recently passed a strengthened anti-drug law enforcement bill.  Further, the Ministry of Justice has created a special court to try counter-narcotics cases, and the Ministry of the Interior has a dedicated police force for counter-narcotics efforts.  However, national and global illicit economies fueled by the drug trade undermine many of our efforts towards good governance and strong state institutions.  We need to focus our collective efforts on capacity building, strengthening institutions, and improving rule of law. With the support of the international community, the Afghan government is fully committed to making further progress in this area.

Third, Afghanistan has made huge strides toward improved cooperation with neighboring countries.  This year, utilizing the framework of the Triangular Initiative, the counter-narcotics agencies of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan successfully conducted joint operations against drug trafficking networks along our borders, which resulted in many arrests and the seizure of a considerable quantity of narcotics. Within the framework of UNODC’s Operation TARCET II, launched in May of this year, Afghanistan has worked closely with other governments in the region through, inter alia, a joint training session for border control agents and counter-narcotics police. To build on these developments, the Government of Afghanistan, the international community and the region should continue to strengthen cooperation in line with the Paris Pact, the “Rainbow Strategy,” Security Council Resolution 1817 and others, with particular focus on preventing the illegal transport of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan.

Fourth, Afghanistan has improved coordination and cooperation with the international community.   Last year NATO agreed to increase assistance to the Afghan government’s counter-narcotics efforts, and in the first half of this year a joint Afghan-NATO military operation successfully destroyed over 90 tons of chemical precursors, 459 tons of poppy seeds, 51 tons of opium, 7 tons of morphine, 1.5 tons of heroin, 19 tons of cannabis resin, and 44 illicit laboratories.  Afghanistan also has increased our bilateral efforts with countries in the region and internationally on this issue, particularly to address trafficking. This year, we signed a new anti-drug agreement with Russia focused on stopping trafficking and halting the transport of precursors, and we fully supported the recent American decision to shift the counter-narcotics focus in Afghanistan away from crop eradication and towards alternative livelihoods and economic development. In addition, we participated actively in the recent meeting of the SCO on Afghanistan, which focused on the issues of terrorism and drug trafficking, and hope that this and similar initiatives will help bring a wider regional and international perspective to our discussion. Internationally, we continue to work closely with UNODC and the INCB to address all issues relating to drugs, and we remain very grateful for their comprehensive assistance. In addition to our efforts in Afghanistan, we should also continue to pursue comprehensive, global strategies that address all aspects of the drug problem, from cultivation to consumption. A successful fight against drugs requires increased efforts to reduce not just production, but also demand.

However, Mr. Chairman,

Profits from the illegal narcotics trade fuel the activities of terrorists and criminals around the world, including those in our region. A substantial challenge remains the strong correlation between insecurity and drug production. In Afghanistan, 98% of poppy cultivation occurs in the provinces with the highest levels of insecurity.  Therefore, in addition to the suggestions outlined above, one of our fundamental priorities should remain the overall improvement of the security situation, particularly through training the Afghan National Army and Police.

Mr. Chairman,

Drugs and the drug trade are directly responsible for the preventable deaths of millions of people every year, and are indirectly linked to millions more. In addition, tens of millions worldwide, including an increasing number in Afghanistan, face serious health consequences from regular drug use. In developing countries particularly, this is a problem that targets the poorest and most hopeless. It is our joint duty here to do everything possible to curtail the production and consumption of these harmful substances. The Government of Afghanistan is strongly committed to this goal, and we look forward to working with our international partners to address this ongoing threat as quickly as possible.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.