Afghan elections redefine U.S. role
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