Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 11 July 2013
Senator Menendez, Ranking Member Corker, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before this Committee at this critical time in Afghanistan’s political transition. I am the Chairperson of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). From 2004 until last month I was a Commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. I will be speaking about three issues that can determine the course of Afghanistan’s future: the ongoing security transition; the upcoming political transition and elections; and, finally the public perception of the current efforts to start negotiations with the Taliban, and U.S. role within it. I will also outline for you what so rarely gets reported in the media – that Afghanistan is at a turning point toward stability, with our people beginning to have faith in a democratic system. The investments of the last decade by Afghans and their partners, in particular the United States, have transformed the country. We have seen unprecedented progress made in many spheres, but perhaps what makes me most proud is that on the eve of transition, Afghans are ready and eager to stand on their own feet, with a newfound trust in the abilities of their security forces. However, alongside this new sense of determination, there are risks and fears. Many Afghans had their confidence shaken by the recent opening of a Taliban office in Doha. Even if the Taliban have temporarily closed the office, the process helped to legitimize a group that is terrorizing the Afghan people, and played directly into Pakistan’s hands. The United States’ involvement in that process gave rise to conspiracies in Afghanistan about the real priorities of the U.S. government. It would be a tragedy if - at this moment - when so much of the blood, sweat, and tears of these past ten years is paying off - the achievements that the United States has helped to win were sacrificed For a deal that could destroy them. Particularly when we stand less than a year away from elections which will bring a new leader with a fresh mandate to govern, and to negotiate on behalf of the Afghan people.
Similarly, the recent reports that the U.S. might be seriously considering a rapid drawdown to “Zero Troops” sends a terrible message to Afghans at this critical juncture. It would be a waste if the very understandable frustrations with our leadership should prompt a precipitous withdrawal during this delicate phase. Drawing down to zero troops before transition is complete would shake the confidence of your true partners in Afghanistan - the Afghan people. And it would send a message to the Taliban that the United States is giving up on all its good work here. With a small residual force, increasingly tailored over time, all the impressive work of the United States military in helping to build our army and police force can be cemented. Combine this with a Bilateral Security Agreement and a new Nader Nadery, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony, July 11, 2013 3 Government and parliament, and you have the outlines of a far more stable trajectory. Many Afghans – particularly among our new generation, who constitute the majority of the people – have genuine faith in the continued development of a moderate, democratic Afghan Republic. The U.S. Congress has rightly been concerned about the corruption in our government, but most Afghans do not simply judge the state on the flaws of individuals. It is the state institutions – in particular our armed forces – that have earned the respect of the people. This stands in absolute opposite to the Taliban-era Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This is because beneath the dismal headlines that often dominate the international media, life for most Afghans has changed for the better. Educational and employment opportunities, women’s rights and democratic freedoms represent some of the greatest achievement of these past ten years of international engagement. As this “Decade of Transition,” comes to an end, the highly-anticipated “Decade of Transformation” can be built on the gains of what was achieved in the past 12 years. But for all these achievements, the future of Afghanistan might still be unstable at best or disastrous at worst without close attention to the following three areas: one, the security transition; two, the political transition, including the election of a new President in less than a year; and three, public confidence in the peace and reconciliation process.
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