Opinion

The Great Debate

Afghan elections redefine U.S. role

By Senator Robert Menendez
April 4, 2014

On Saturday, Afghans will go to the polls to elect a new president, marking a critical turning point in Afghanistan’s history and our role in the country.

This election comes at an important time in U.S.-Afghan relations, which have been hindered by the erratic and often insulting behavior of President Hamid Karzai. The outcome will present an opportunity for the United States to redefine our relationship with Afghanistan in a way that addresses our shared security concerns and the long-term stability and viability of the country.

Make no mistake, the democratic transition to a new president would not be possible without the last 12 years of sacrifices made by the United States. The Afghan people and Americans owe a profound debt of gratitude to our armed forces, diplomats and U.S. Agency for International Development workers who helped transform Afghanistan from a failed state to fledgling democracy.

The United States has lost more than 2,300 servicemembers in Afghanistan and many thousands more have returned home with grievous injuries. USAID’s partner organizations have lost more than 400 people. We honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, the sacrifices made by their families and those who will bear lifelong wounds of war.

America’s investment and sacrifice have paid real dividends for the people of Afghanistan. Life expectancy has doubled. Maternal mortality has been cut in half. More than 9 million children are in school, 3.5 million of them girls, compared to 1 million in 2001.

The Afghan National Security Forces, which did not even exist in 2001, now have more than 350,000 personnel and are proving increasingly capable on the battlefield.

The Taliban, however, have made clear their desire to return Afghanistan to an era when it was one of the world’s most isolated and repressive countries. Women were publicly tortured and executed. Girls and women were prohibited from attending school. Al Qaeda was free to plan and launch attacks against the United States and our allies.

Though time may have stood still for the Taliban, it has not for the Afghan people. With support from the United States, they have proven they want a different future for their country. They have built schools and an increasingly open society — where women can run for parliament, join the security forces and participate in civil society.

Over the past two weeks, the Taliban have launched attacks in Kabul against election workers, democracy advocates and journalists in an effort to subvert the elections. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of men and women have signed up to monitor polling sites and millions have registered to vote. The Afghan people have shown they won’t be intimidated by the Taliban.

The commitment to Afghanistan and its future development, however, cannot be open-ended or without conditions. The United States can remain substantively engaged if three criteria are met.

First, the elections must be seen as credible and legitimate by the Afghan people and the international community. Afghan election monitors will be the eyes and ears for the world on Saturday and we look forward to their report. It should be clear that U.S. support could wither in the face of an illegitimate transfer of power.

Second, the new government must move swiftly to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington, which will provide the necessary legal protections for a small U.S. training and counterterrorism mission.

Third, the incoming government should recommit to a series of accountability measures to ensure that U.S. funding is not wasted. The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, agreed to in 2012, included a pledge by the international community to continue to provide development funding in exchange for concrete Afghan reforms. This framework provides a key starting point for dialogue with the new president.

By taking these steps, Afghanistan will begin to restore much of the goodwill that was lost during the final and frustrating days of the Karzai regime.

I am hopeful that the election will result in a smooth transfer of power, and that the will of the Afghan people will be represented in the results.

If successful, this transition will mark the first time in Afghanistan’s history that an elected president peacefully and democratically hands power to a successor. The United States is prepared to support one of our most important allies in the region — the Afghan people.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah (in grey), sitting atop a vehicle, arrives for an election campaign in Panjshir province, March 31, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Children play with their coloring books at a kindergarten for female Afghan National Police (ANP) officers and Afghan staff at a training center near the German Bundeswehr army camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

PHOTO (INSERT 2): An Afghan man loads ballot boxes and other election material on a donkey to be transported in polling stations which are not accessible by road in Shutul, Panjshir province, April 4, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Comments
11 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“U.S. support could wither in the face of an illegitimate transfer of power.” In other words, if we don’t like who gets elected we’ll have to go in again and install a drug lord who is loyal to the business interests in the US.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive
 

Wow… I’m amazed they even posted this. It’s actually positive. What will all of Reuters’ chronically grumpy, government bashing, conspiracy theorist, readers… do with this? Oh, right… Just whine and cry, like always. Just like ‘brotherkenny4′ up there. Never anything good to say… Never anything positive to contribute… Just crying like a bunch of babies, and criticizing everything everybody else does, while they sit on their butt in front of the computer all day, doing nothing.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive
 

Afghanistan was necessary. Sen, Menendez was right to point out the honorable sacrifices of those who paid with life and limb. However, we need to look back and learn before moving forward with billions in commitments. Fraud and waste were colossal. This culture, and yes they have a culture, is not something we can snap our fingers and remake in our image. Where is the economy that will support all of the changes we have made? Is this to be a supported state? At least Iraq has oil. And let’s not even get into the question of Pakistan, and how they see the geopolitical situation. It seems Sen Menendez has deep pockets and doesn’t mind this cost … to us. Well, I don’t want to pay for it. Actually, the truth is … I can’t pay for it. Signing protocols for waste and fraud isn’t going to stop … the waste and fraud. If you want peace, at any cost, in Afghanistan Sen. Menendez, concentrate your effort on Pakistan. dd606, I understand your frustration on negativity, but brotherkenny4′s attitude didn’t come out of thin air. His finger pointing may in the wrong direction, but his hand is raised appropriately. You can’t stop people, cultures, from doing, developing, as they wish. You can’t make Afghanistan the 51st state. Time to come home, the job is over.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive
 

All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing – Edmund Burke(para-phrased, not so much as us to do more for we have given, as the USA as a whole, maybe now is the time for others in that region, to step up.

Posted by USMCdav | Report as abusive
 

Who do all these primitive, uneducated, brainwashed and enslaved Americans think they are to decide or comment on what Afghans do.. Americans couldn’t even find their own state on a map much less arrogantly decide for a country 6000 miles across the ocean that they criminally invaded and occupied nazistyle. America and its NATO clones’ dearest role model is Communist China, they practically lick the shoes of China’s police state corporate slavery, a system America is working to be an exact copy of. America keeps screeching about elections when America has never had real elections in its history since it stole North America from the natives. America is the OPPOSITE of democracy with its farce of only two parties allowed no different than each other except in the two candidates who don’t qualify unless they’re toeing the line, inbred and filthy rich. The US in fact HATES the concept of democracy, both domestically and abroad.

Posted by MarkDonners | Report as abusive
 

The week and poor cannot compete. They feel ripped off by the strong at home and from abroad. The vast majority wallow in poverty. A tiny percentage around the world have decided that barbarian indiscriminate violence is the only force against the odds. So what are the rich doing in our national interest to be wealthy and safe?

If we see ourselves as being the good guys, we will never understand what those on the other side of the track are experiencing as a result of our “national interest”

All this banter of the symptoms of the challenges is quite ineffective in eradicating terrorism. All you wind up with is short term gains. It’s like weight loss programmes.
The sellers profit the buyers think the programme is a good investment even if the vast majority make no progress.

Posted by Goodgenie4u | Report as abusive
 

Sorry, but nation building does not work, especially with a country still mired in the 18th century. We’ve wasted more than a decade and 2000 American lives in Afghanistan. Going in to wipe our al qaeda was fine, but that was the end of the task. If it reappears, we can go in with a vengeance again, but nation building does not work.

Posted by Steve851 | Report as abusive
 

This is just another example of a Democrat trying to put a positive spin on a disastrous foreign policy. One election in this war torn country where tribal politics rules will not determine much of anything especially in a country as backwards as this one!

Posted by HopeChangeInAZ | Report as abusive
 

Finally, an article that I can agree with. We have done much good here, despite what the uninformed cynics think.
@brotherkenny4 @markdonner @steve851 Your opinion is based on what? The fact that you sit on your butt pecking on your keyboard with ideas formed from only reading websites whose opinions match yours? I find it ironic that the only people that share your point of view are the oppressive Taliban. Read the numbers stated above…9 million children go to school now; of that 3.5 million girls are getting an education, an increase of 350%. We have made a difference, I have seen it, regardless of what you’ve formed in your imagination.

Posted by Learn_History | Report as abusive
 

“nation building does not work”

Yeah, tell that to Germany, Japan and South Korea — and half of the former British empire, including the United States, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand.

That’s not exactly a horrible record when it comes to “nation building.”

Posted by SPQR2010 | Report as abusive
 

“U.S. support could wither in the face of an illegitimate transfer of power.” In other words, if we don’t like who gets elected we’ll have to go in again and install a drug lord who is loyal to the business interests in the US.

Posted by j8h9 | Report as abusive
 

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