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Afghanistan is at a crossroads, with a presidential election April 5 and international troops leaving by year’s end. WAMU 88.5 and America Abroad Media connect studio audiences in Washington and Kabul for a town hall discussion about what comes next after a decade of war and rebuilding.
- Mark Jacobson Senior Transatlantic Fellow at The German Marshall Fund, Navy Reserves intelligence officer; former Defense Department official and former advisor to General Stanley McChrystal and General David Petraeus in Afghanistan
- Ryan Sparks Retired Marine Commander in Afghanistan and recipient of two Purple Hearts
- Fawzia Koofi Member of Parliament in Afghanistan; women's rights activist
- Lotfullah Najafizada Head of TOLOnews TV in Kabul, Afghanistan
- Sam Schneider Freelance journalist in Kabul, Afghanistan
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom Public Radio International, I'm Kojo Nnamdi, and this is "America Abroad." Today, Afghanistan after Karzai, an international town hall. The discussion between audiences in Washington and Kabul is brought to you by "America Abroad" media and WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Afghanistan is at an historic turning point. After two terms in office, Hamid Karzai's Presidency is at an end. The leader, who stepped in just after 9/11, became an ally of the United States and other NATO powers. He leaves office as an antagonist.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAt the same time, NATO has begun its final draw down of combat troops from Afghanistan after a decade of deployment there. A small training force could remain, but the bulk of western troops will be gone by December. So, this is a moment of both challenge and possibility for the people of Afghanistan. Today, we'll hear from Afghans in Kabul about the opportunities and obstacles they face. And the role they want the West to play as their country moves forward. Here in Washington, we'll ask our American audience what they think about the US role in Afghanistan after a dozen years at war there, and how that role should change in the years ahead.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, allow me to introduce the audience here in Washington, D.C. Hello. And let me introduce our guests for this discussion. Mark Jacobson has spent 20 years in the US military and held a variety of posts at the Defense Department. He served two years at the NATO International Security Assistance Force Headquarters in Afghanistan, where he advised both General Stanley McChrystal and General David Petraeus. He's now an Intelligence Officer in the Navy Reserves and a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Mark Jacobson, welcome.
MR. MARK JACOBSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Ryan Sparks. He is a retired Marine Infantry Officer. He first served in Afghanistan in 2001, immediately after 9/11. He returned to Afghanistan during the US Surge in 2010 as a Company Commander. He has received several military honors, including two Purple Hearts. He now works as a Financial Services Consultant in New York. Ryan, welcome to you.
CAPT. RYAN SPARKSGood morning, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIBefore we meet our audience in Kabul, I'd like to ask Ryan and Mark to help set the scene. Elections for a new President are about to take place, and the US will remove its remaining 34,000 troops in the coming months. Ryan, how do you think this draw down will affect security in Afghanistan, in both the short and long term? And do you think a bilateral security agreement matters?
SPARKSI think, historically, our mistake, decision-wise, in Afghanistan, has been to underestimate the time that's required to accomplish anything. And I think a BSA, at this point, will not get us to a tipping point, that we haven't already achieved. As far as the security situation, when we draw down our actual combat troops in Afghanistan, I think that it will be a very interesting time, as we see truly what the Afghan National Security Forces can do.
SPARKSAnd really where their motives lie in conjunction with their interactions with the local people. I think that they're capable of protecting the people from the Taliban. It will be more interesting for me to watch how they treat the population itself.
NNAMDIMark, what do you think? Do you see the BSA, the Bilateral Security Agreement, as a critical part of Afghanistan's future development?
JACOBSONWell, certainly, what the United States has put forward, and actually the NATO Alliance has put forward, in terms of their own bilateral agreement with the Afghans, this is seen as a critical piece of the future support, by the United States, to Afghanistan. It would allow troops to continue serving in Afghanistan, to train the Afghan National Security Forces, as they continue to develop into a force that can keep things calmer in Afghanistan and allow Afghan governance and rule of law, and the type of stabilization that's required for Afghanistan to move forward.
JACOBSONAs their former Defense Minister Wardak used to say, on the path to self reliance. However, I actually agree with Ryan. If there is no BSA, from a political standpoint, I think we'll see the White House and other capitals say, you know what, this isn't critical anyway. If the Afghan government agrees to some other mechanism that allows forces on the ground, wonderful. And frankly, as I just said, the strategy has been turning this over to the Afghan people. This conflict will not be won either by foreign troops or in a military sense.
JACOBSONThis is about the trust of Afghans in their government, specifically, I think, a feeling of disenfranchisement by southern Pashtun's, and how the problems have turned from an insurgency based on ideology to one that's supported by people who feel their government doesn't represent him. And I'm not placing a value judgment on it. The violence is wrong. But the political conflict has to move from the battlefield, frankly, to the Afghan Parliament. So, in the end, this election we have coming up is 10 times more important than any bilateral security agreement.
NNAMDIOK, let's go to Kabul now. Our host there is Mujib Mashal. He is a freelance journalist in Afghanistan who's also written for American media. Hi Mujib and hello to your guests and audience there.
MR. MUJIB MASHALHello Kojo. And good morning to our friends in Washington. I would like to explain the circumstances, a little bit, of the audience we've gathered today. Today is a celebration of the Afghan New Year's, and we've got Presidents from Iran, from Tajikistan, from several countries in town, and that means, pretty much a lockdown on the city. So, the audience we've gathered is the young people we could find around the studio. I'll ask my audience to say hello to Washington.
MR. MUJIB MASHALThe couple questions that were discussed by the panelists in Washington, and I would like to have a couple Afghan voices on this. And the first question I would like to ask you is about the timing of the withdrawal of the American forces. Do you think it's the right timing as it happens this year, without a bilateral security agreement signed? And do you think Afghanistan is in a state that it can hold itself together as the foreign troops withdraw?
ARAJMy name's Araj (sp?). I work for the TOLOnews. I would think right now is a very good time for the US troops to pull out, or at least without a BSA agreement. Because, what we have right now -- our Afghan troops are not able to held the security for the Afghan elections, which is very critical for the power transition. And right now, what we can see as the example is that our troops are not able to secure the capital. People are discouraged by the local Taliban or the local armed groups, not to go and vote. So, I think right now, at this critical moment, it's not a very good decision for the troops pull out, or at least the numbers to drop down.
MASHALAnybody else like to share thoughts on that?
DAOUYeah, this is Daou (sp?) from Kabul University. Well, it was a -- leaving the withdrawal of the international troops will put Afghanistan into lots of more pressure, because we are getting two incidents, two huge things at the same time. The first election in Afghanistan, the peaceful transformation of the government from one President to another. And then the withdrawal of the international forces. And then the President resisting the BSA -- not signing it. So, all these things are pressurizing us, the people, the common people and the security forces.
DAOUSo, they are losing their morals, mostly, and they cannot maintain the security anymore. We are under pressure in our -- all of the borders with our neighboring countries. The Taliban, they are coming here. All of their Taliban headquarters in other countries are locked and they are focusing on Afghanistan. And this critical and crucial moment, we really need the international forces to be here with us, and we need their support. And if they leave us here, I think that will be not only a problem for us, but also a -- some sort of failure for the international community as well.
MASHALThe American force would eventually have to leave, at some point. You were just saying the timing and the schedule has to be slower than it is right now.
DAOUYeah, yeah. I totally agree. They have to leave. We don't need to be dependent on the international community for our entire lives. But, this is not the right time to leave. They should leave eventually. They will leave and we will take the responsibility, but at this critical and crucial time, where we're having elections, and for the first time, peaceful transformation of power, and our security forces and all of the Taliban insurgents -- they are focusing on Afghanistan. At this time, if they leave, that will be a failure for them and a huge problem for us. We will not be safe in our cities and in our country. That will create lots of problems.
MASHALBack to you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou're listening to Afghanistan After Karzai, an international town hall, where we have an audience gathered in Washington that's communicating with an audience in Afghanistan. We do have questions for your audience here, from Washington, Mujib. Please identify yourself.
LISA CURTISYes. Hi. I'm Lisa Curtis. And I would like to ask how much the Afghanis blame Pakistani support for the Taliban for the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan. When the Karzai government points the finger of blame at Pakistan after attacks such as the attack on the Serena Hotel Restaurant, just a few days ago, does the average Afghan believe that? Or do they believe, simply, that the Afghan government is trying to deflect attention from their shortcomings in addressing the insurgency?
NNAMDIMujib Mashal, feel free to share whatever you know about this situation, or with -- or you can ask any member of your audience.
MASHALThe question that Lisa asked about support for -- blaming Pakistan for the Taliban and recent attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALEMy name is (unintelligible) .
MASHALAnybody else wants to jump on?
MALEI think I have a very complete different opinion. In regards, I would like to say that Pakistan does have a hand in the suicide bombings or the insecurity or even the support of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And the Karzai blaming the Pakistan, I would like to support it, but at the same time, the Afghan, an average Afghan is also fed up with the Karzai behavior of, at the same time, calling the Taliban his brothers and then calling -- blaming it also on Pakistan. An average Afghan is fed up with that issue too. So, I would like to say that yes, average Afghan does think that Taliban are supported by the Pakistan.
MASHALAnd just to elaborate a little bit more on that, the President, our President, President Karzai's rhetoric, has changed towards Taliban over the years. He calls them brothers now. But he continues to blame Pakistan for supporting the Taliban. So, he blames the roots of the cause. He doesn't blame the tool that actually carries out the trigger. You know, pulls the trigger. And that's where the, you know, the discrepancy sort of confuses the population now, a little bit. Yes, Pakistan might be supporting it, but those who end up pulling the trigger are oftentimes our own Afghans.
MASHALAnd you end up calling them brothers. So, there is a perception of Taliban supports it, but there's also anger towards the President that those who carry -- who pull the trigger, as you call them brothers.
NNAMDII'd like to have, on this end, our panelist Mark Jacobson weigh in on this conversation.
JACOBSONGreat. Thank you. I think Mujib's explanation is actually spot on. Not only has President Karzai changed his rhetoric, but it's reflective of the challenge where you have an Afghan insurgency. Make no mistake, I think the comments that were made were very clear. I mean, the Taliban did not come from outside. However, they are certainly supported by Pakistani intelligence, to various degrees, and one of the challenges for the United States, in trying to support the Afghan people, is to pressure the Pakistani government to reduce its support for the Taliban, for the Haqqani Network.
JACOBSONWhat is, I think important to raise at this point, is how frustrating it is for me personally, and I think for many Americans, especially those who have served, whether it's in the military or with the development agencies, or the international community in Afghanistan, to see President Karzai's rhetoric focus on blaming the international community for the problems.
JACOBSONGranted, we have done some things wrong, incredibly short-sighted in some situations, whether it's military or financial. But at the same time, to see the blame for what's happening, that the woes of Afghanistan are entirely the support -- or entirely the fault of the international community, really makes it difficult to continue political support, in the United States, for continued operations. And I think that's why, again, this is such a critical time.
NNAMDIMujib, how widespread is that sentiment that the international community is to blame for all of the woes in Afghanistan as far as you know?
MASHALI would go to -- I'd go to one point that Mark made that there's definitely a need for fresh leadership in Afghanistan. That's not because President Karzai has not done a great job in difficult circumstances. It's just that 12 years for anyone is too much. And what that has done is create a relationship between Afghanistan and the United States. A relationship that is sort of based on perceived hypocrisies.
MASHALYou've had one man be in power for 12 years in Afghanistan. On the other side, you've had changes of administration, changes of political parties from Republicans to Democrats. And this one man thinks that that change of policy is actually American hypocrisy. So there is definitely a Karzai nostalgia because especially my generation, this younger people, they feel like we've only known one man in relative peaceful times as a leader who's been elected by the people, who's been a presentable, legitimate leader, and who's been, sort of, who's felt the people -- the people's needs.
MASHALBut at the same time, there is definitely that perception that any man, any person after 12 years would be tired, would be out of ideas and would be exhausted and we would need a new face for this country. And I think that new face will automatically, naturally reset the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, but also open up the space for new ideas to be tested.
NNAMDIMujib, I'm going to have to interrupt because we're going to have to take a short break. When we come back, more of our town hall discussion between Americans and Afghans on the future of our relationship. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi and you're listening to Afghanistan After Karzai: An International Town Hall from America Abroad and WAMU 88.5 in Washington. Here in Washington, we have a studio audience and two panelists. Mark Jacobson has spent 20 years in the U.S. military, held a variety of posts at the Defense Department. And Ryan Sparks is a retired Marine infantry officer who first served in Afghanistan in 2001, immediately after 9/11. I'm joined by Mujib Mashal, host for TOLOnews and a studio audience in Kabul. Hi again, Mujib, and please introduce your panelists.
MASHALHello, Kojo. So we have two panelists here with us, Lotfullah Najafizada who is the head of TOLOnews. He's director of basically the editor of one of the largest private news channels in Afghanistan. And we have Sam Schneider who's an American journalist, freelance journalist writing for U.S. outlets. And we have an audience of young Afghans, university students but also journalists who will be sharing their thoughts and also answering the questions.
NNAMDIWell, we do have questions for them. And we will start with, ma'am, please identify yourself.
CAROLINE WADHAMSYes. Hi, everyone. My name Caroline Wadhams, and I'm from the Center for American Progress. I wanted to make a comment and then throw out a question to you all in Kabul. The first is that I do want to push back a little bit on the U.S. panelists' opinions of the BSA. I actually think the BSA is incredibly important not only because it lays out the parameters of what a small U.S. military presence might look like in Afghanistan after 2014, but the psychological impact, the psychological implications of a BSA, not only for Afghanistan but for our public and for Congress.
CAROLINE WADHAMSIf there is no BSA, I think it's going to be very difficult to maintain the funding from the U.S. Congress that is required to keep the state afloat for post-2014. There is a huge fiscal gap, as everyone is well aware, in Afghanistan in terms of its ability to support -- to pay for its own security forces and its state. And it will require ongoing money from the United States and from the international community, billions of dollars.
CAROLINE WADHAMSAnd if there is no BSA, I think that undermines the political will of our Congress to continue supporting Afghanistan at the levels that it needs to happen. How will the Congress make the case to the American public that we should be funding $4 billion per year for the next decade if we can't see a commitment by the Afghan leadership that a partnership is important? So I think it's hugely important. And then just a question to you all. I would be very curious. We haven't talked about the election yet.
NNAMDIWe're about to.
WADHAMSHow you see the election play now? What your hope is? What you think could new leadership can bring to your country and just your hopes for the future of Afghanistan. Thank you.
NNAMDIMujib, allow me to have Mark Jacobson respond to the issue of the bilateral security agreement before I come back to you in Kabul.
JACOBSONI don't disagree with Caroline in terms of the political impact, particularly in the United States. What I am less certain about is the ability of new Afghan leadership to take the BSA as it's currently written and sign it despite pledges, I believe, by all of the major candidates that they would do so. I think it's going to be very hard for them to go in and sign without renegotiating.
NNAMDIMujib, over to you and your panelists and audience.
MASHALI'll ask Lotfullah the question because the issue of BSA got a lot of coverage in Afghanistan -- in the Afghan media. And Caroline asked about the psychological impact. So if you could tell us about -- if you could gauge the public perception around BSA and its impact, but also in terms of elections and the candidates' willingness to sign it or now.
MR. LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADAI think the overall perception is that no BSA is not an option for the Afghans. We have demonstrated that through polls, through other studies, through interviews of Afghans across the country. So some sort of security relationship with the United States is a must for sustainability of our forces, the sustainability of, you know, of the country at large. There are people, of course, who don't favor it.
MR. LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADAThere are people who want the Americans to leave based on their own interest, which is very limited to a small proportions of the Afghans. But the unanimous support is there for the BSA. Most of the candidates that -- you know, we've had them on our debates in the past two months or so. They have said that they're going to sign the BSA as soon as they're in the office. Two of the main candidates promised that they're going to sign the BSA in the first week and month.
MASHALAnd in terms of the average and the impact, the psychological impact whether it was signed or not, how do you gauge that? They feel the impact in their daily life?
NAJAFIZADAI think they do, yes. So we've -- it just created an environment of uncertainty, which has a lot of NGOs leave the country, you know, capital flight of Afghan businessmen has been a huge issue. A lot of people have lost jobs and that is a very direct impact, you know, at the Afghan lives. But the hope is still there. I think, you know, both countries can't live without having some sort of security arrangement, which is in the core interest of both countries and their security. So I think it's a must and, you know, having no BSA, again, is no option.
MASHALAnd I'd like to ask you, Sam, one of the panelists said that the United States has made it clear, no BSA means no residual force, no money. Do you gauge that the Afghan leadership understands that urgency? Do you see that in the political leadership here?
MR. SAM SCHNEIDERWell, I think there's -- you know, the political leadership here is not a monolith. And you see -- you saw over the past few months with Karzai's, you know, kind of a hard ball negotiations with the -- over the BSA, a lot of backlash. A lot of backlash at parliament, a lot of backlash from political party leaders and the candidates. So I think, you know, generally, the political leadership is afraid that zero option is actually, you know, a real threat and a real possibility if the BSA is not signed.
MR. SAM SCHNEIDERNow, if that is also seen as the reality in the presidential palace, I think is a question left to be answered. But I think, overwhelmingly, the political leadership here sees that as a very legitimate threat and does not want to see it happen.
MASHALJust to add one little thing about the candidates supporting the BSA. Actually, most candidates on a lot of issues have been very hesitant to take a stance that is -- that goes against what Karzai believes because they think if we're not going to have Karzai supporting us, we don't want them to prevent us from getting votes as well. But the BSA is one issue where most candidates and Karzai have disagreed. And they have been very vocal in their disagreements with Karzai. Kojo, back to you.
NNAMDIWe have a comment and question here. Please identify yourself.
ANN VAUGHANHi, my name is Ann Vaughan and I work for Mercy Corps. We're an international humanitarian and development organization. And I wanted to comment on the -- a panelist in Kabul's comment about nongovernmental organizations. And Mercy Corps has been in Afghanistan since 1986 and plan on staying past this election and for many years to come because we are committed to working with our Afghan partners and want to keep working on economic development and agricultural development in different rural areas, parts of Afghanistan and doing technical and vocational training.
ANN VAUGHANWe know, though, there's a lot of pressure and I would like to hear more from our panelists about some NGOs leaving the country. But one of the things that we're most proud of and excited about is working with youth in Afghanistan, including doing types of training that help move youth from informal economy into the formal economy.
ANN VAUGHANAnd we're interested in hearing a lot from the young people in the panel about what motivates you to stay inside Afghanistan and continue to work in the country and not have this brain drain that we've seeing a lot of young people leaving to go to other countries. And how to strengthen the ties that will keep you working and helping to build a better Afghanistan. Thanks very much.
NNAMDIMujib, what's causing young people to want to stay and to help to build what, in their view, is a better Afghanistan?
MASHALI think before I pass that question, we just have one of our panelists who joined us. We know that the roads are blocked and you had to go through a lot of trouble to make it, so we are very thankful. Ms. Fawzia Koofi who is a former deputy speaker of the parliament, an Afghan parliament here. She's the head of women's rights and human rights commission of the parliament. We're grateful that you've joined us.
MASHALAnd you've joined us at a perfect time as well. We were just discussing the election and the BSA and where most candidates stand on the BSA and what the impact, the psychological impact of the BSA signing or not signing is. And we would like to have your thoughts on that as well before we pass our question to the audience.
MS. FAWZIA KOOFIThank you. My apologies for being late. And my greetings to my friends who watch me right now in the United States and to the audience here. The psychological impact of the BSA. If the BSA is signed, the important message that it gives to the Afghan public is that we will not go back to where we have to start from scratch. We will not go back to either Taliban period or the civil war, which a lot of people were killed and a lot of people had to leave the country and the country was basically destroyed.
MS. FAWZIA KOOFIOr to the Taliban period where it was hard for everybody, including for women to live in this country. Right now, the fact that the BSA is not signed, it has impacted our -- not only political atmosphere but also I think that investment as well to a great extent, even the real estate. I mean, if you look at the market, a lot of business will not invest because they think the future is so uncertain. So, therefore, I think it will have a greater positive impact both in terms of politics but also in terms of economy and in terms of the social life.
MASHALAnd to direct one more question to you. One of the audience members asked, what keeps young Afghans going when you said the impact of the BSA but also the violence around it continues, the uncertainty of the political transition. What is it that keeps Afghans hopeful about the country?
KOOFIWell, traditionally, Afghans have been very hopeful and optimistic nation. I remember days when in the Kabul streets in each five minutes you couldn't even see a car during Taliban because the city was almost a dead city. But even by then people were hopeful for their future. They were hoping for a change. Right now, I think, Afghan society has transformed a lot and the youth generation is part of this transformation.
KOOFIThey see themselves part of this change. They are almost agents of change in their society. So, therefore, I think they understand the point that this country belong to them and they have to -- what is the alternative if they leave the country? Yes, there are opportunities. But in the meantime, this the country they belong to and they have live with the -- I'm sure they understand that they have to live with the -- suffers -- with the troubles.
KOOFIBut they also have to enjoy the life. I think for many Afghans, despite the fact that the country right now is going under tremendous challenges, including security, we have recently had few security incidents which was heartbreaking, especially the one at Serena, which is one of the most secure hotel in Kabul. And as a result of that, a journalist, a very prominent journalist and his family was killed.
KOOFIBut I think that has also -- Afghan people have accepted that as part of their life. Yes, there are problems, but they have accepted to live in a country where there are violence and there are -- it's a violent life but they have to continue their life. And for many of us, life is quite normal.
MASHALAnd I think that's an important that I would like to have another voice as well. And I will translate the question in Dari because if somebody else -- (speaks foreign language) .
MALEThank you. First, I would like to say a warm greeting to the audience out there and to the audience right here. So basically (word?) to the question you've been talking about what is going -- what is giving you the optimism to stay in Afghanistan. Well, I think basically the youth generation in Afghanistan does not see any better option instead of living in this country and working for this country.
MALEBecause we have seen a lot of youth travelling out of Afghanistan, went to seeking refuge in other countries or hopefully going for other countries to have a better life or a better education. For example, being safe or finding security. But, unfortunately, they didn't receive all of the things that they're seeking for. And for -- especially like for me as an Afghan, I would prefer staying in this country and working for this country rather than seeking my destiny or my fate somewhere else outside this country.
MALEAnd I think it's not logical to leave a country which really needs you, which there is a hope still in Afghanistan. We see there -- the only thing that's not BSA in Afghanistan. We see why is this BSA causing a lot of problem to our society is because the United States of America is saying that it's the last chance for this if there's no BSA and there's no money. This is the point where it pressurizes the government and the people.
MALEAnd they say if there is no BSA, there is no money. If this option would not be there, they would say if there is no BSA we would in the long term be in support of the government of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, this will positively affect the minds of the society, the people, everybody who's escaping Afghanistan because they would feel that there is support still. And that's why it's causing problem.
MALESo I'm saying, to conclude, like, it gives more logic and sense for us to stay and work and build our country rather than leaving our country and going outside and seeking out fate and destiny in other country.
NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion about Afghanistan's future with an audience here in Washington and one TOLOnews in Kabul. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi and you're listening to Afghanistan After Karzai, an international town hall from America Abroad and WAMU 88.5, in Washington. I'm joined by Mujib Mashal, host for TOLOnews and a studio audience and guests in Kabul. Mujib, I'll start with a question about the election. How important is it to Afghans that this election be seen and be, in fact, free and fair?
MASHALWe will address that question and then our participants also have some questions from the audience in the States.
MASHALMs. Koofi, we'll start with you.
KOOFII think this is the first -- it's very interesting, because this is the first time Afghans don't know who is going to be our president in, for instance, a (unintelligible) time. Who is going to enter the palace? And this is the first time in our history, because we have had two elections before, 2004 and 2009. To some extent we know that President Karzai might get elected. So therefore that enters -- he has an interest around election was not there.
KOOFITherefore, many people see this as an opportunity. I see election as an opportunity with all the challenges, but in the meantime it could be also as a challenge. If the elections are not defined based on the content of the Afghanistan. How -- what is our expectation of elections? Do we expect an absolutely fair and fine election to the extent that it's held in United States? I think that would have been a wish, but it will not come true. But I think many people see it as an opportunity and we hope that the people's participation in the election will be high.
KOOFIAnd we hope that the woman participation, in particular. But, of course, there are concerns over insecurity. There are concerns over fraud, fabricated fraud, by different candidates. And when I talk about fraud, I'm sure that, you know, if there are fraud, which we hope it will -- there will not be, but if there are fraud it will be in the interest of different candidates, not a particular one because they all, in a way, all have influence in this process.
MASHALSam, if I could come to you, what have you observed of the process, the campaigning process? There have been massive rallies around the country, despite the security challenges that Ms. Koofi mentioned. Do you see interest in the average Afghan, in terms of going out and voting? And do you see some election fever, in essence?
SCHNEIDERYes. I definitely see interest. You know, it's hard to necessarily tell and gauge that interest across the country. I think in Kabul you have a bit of a sample bias because everyone here is so focused on politics and what's coming for the country that I -- it might be different in other parts of the country. But from, really, what I've been -- the news I've been hearing from other provinces is that people are very interested.
SCHNEIDERI mean the IEC registered over 3 million new voters this year. I mean that's quite a feat. And I know there have been a lot of speculations about, you know, people selling voter cards and things like that. But, you know, I think that the Western media in particular has made a bigger issue out of that than it actually is, in terms of the prevalence.
MASHALAnd I think one other issue, that when we talk about insecurity, we should also stress that there are parts of the country where election could not have happened last time, five years ago. This time there will be polling stations, particularly Helmand. Helmand's been discussed a lot. There are parts of Helmand there were no polling stations last time around. Yes. It's not perfect security, yet the threats are still high, but there will polling. They will happen in parts of it. I'll go to the audience and I think they have some questions from…
MALEFirstly, just to clarify, it's not us, the Afghans dependent on the international community or the USA. This is interdependence. They are dependent on us to keep their influence and dominance on the region. And majority of Afghans are fine with that, too, for Americans being here because we have had a bad experience of the Soviets. So for keeping their influence and dominance in this region or -- they need our land. And they're here as a matter of fact. We cannot ignore that or else the anti-American alliance will eventually be bigger.
MALENow the question, how much does the audience back there blame the USA or the international community as a whole for an almost failure in Afghanistan? After the decade we are still having a war, we still having problem with the election? How much is the international community to blame for that?
MASHALWe'll take one more question before we go to the panel and the audience in D.C.
MALEWell, before going to my question, I'd like to have some short comments about the Afghan national security forces. I would like to assure you that there is no Afghan in Afghanistan that would say that they would even doubt the abilities and the competence of Afghan national security forces. The thing that Afghan people are too much concerned about is their resources and the logistics that they need and require. And we really ask -- we really hope for the United States of America would provide that, which they didn't provide at -- in 13 years.
MALEAnd so the question basically, so I'm asking is -- the question is that why is United States of America, basically, too much emphasizing on having their forces inside of Afghanistan and making it as a must in order to give more funds and support to the Afghan government in long term? Why is it so? Why is it must, like, I need some (unintelligible) …
MASHALKojo, back to you with two questions.
NNAMDIThank you very much. I will put that question, both to our panelists and members of our audience. The first question is how much do we blame the U.S. and the international community, generally meaning the West, for failure in Afghanistan? If there's anyone who would like to respond to that question raise your hand or step forward to the microphone and please identify yourself.
MARK THORNBURGHi, my name is Mark Thornburg. And I work for the United States Department of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, which covers Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I think, quite frankly, it's not fair to say that the West has failed in Afghanistan. I think that if you look at the last decade we've seen unbelievable progress in Afghanistan on, frankly, every front that we've participated in. The Afghan national security forces have stood up. They are in the lead for security in all 34 provinces. That's a huge success.
MARK THORNBURGThe Afghan mortality survey -- it was published in 2012 -- has documented extraordinary progress in every medial front in Afghanistan. Life expectancy has nearly doubled for Afghan males. It's gone up by -- over 20 years for the general population. The infant mortality rates have declined. Education is through the roof. We went from something like 800,000 students in school to over 8 million, of which 40 percent are girls. There's almost no area in which there hasn't been extraordinary progress. And I think to say that the West has failed is an unfair narrative and one that just isn't borne out by facts.
NNAMDIIn that case, I have to throw this back to you, Mujib. Was the American military involvement and, oh, the $700 billion of aid, in the final analysis good Afghanistan? I'd like to hear someone there respond.
MASHALIf we could have a follow-up question to our friend from the State Department who just expressed opinion. I think the -- that progress is not doubted in Afghanistan. The doubt is over the larger, political and security stability and the lack of progress in that. And one component of the question was the pressure on the neighbors, but also the question and the uncertainty that still remains about the resources of the Afghan security forces.
MASHALThose two larger issues, over the education, the health and the reconstruction and all that. There is consensus in Afghanistan that things have gotten better. But the two larger questions that could shape the future of this country are still up for grabs.
NNAMDIAnd those two larger questions are?
MASHALPolitics and security. Particularly security, and in terms of getting the neighbors on the same page, pressuring the neighbors where the alleged source of instability in Afghanistan stems from, to be on the same page with the U.S. interests when they are getting billions of dollars in aid from the United States.
NNAMDIThe second question that we got from the audience in Afghanistan is why so much emphasis on maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Why do we feel that that is so important? Care to address that, Lisa Curtis? Lisa Curtis is with the Heritage Foundation.
MS. LISA CURTISYes. I think that a lot of us here want to see U.S. forces stay in Afghanistan because we want to see Afghanistan prosper and thrive and remain stable. And we feel that's essential for the continuing military partnership between our two countries, albeit in a different form. Not fighting on the front lines, yet supporting, training, and funding as part of this as well. But most Americans would like to see all U.S. forces come out of Afghanistan immediately.
MS. LISA CURTISSo I think it's a misperception. It's not as if the U.S. is insisting on keeping its forces there for some ulterior motive. But I want to get to another point that Mujib raised. And he didn't name the country, but I think he was talking about Pakistan. I think he was -- I think what I sensed is in Afghanistan there is a lot of disappointment, particularly from senior leadership, including President Karzai, that the U.S. has failed to convince Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban and to assist in the stabilization of Afghanistan. And I think it's a somewhat fair criticism.
NNAMDIMujib Mashal, ball's in your court, field.
MASHALI would put that question to Ms. Koofi. The importance of the United States dealing with Pakistan. Over the past 12 years, yes, it was an important issue for us. But now, as we are entering a period of transition, where we will be on our own mostly, it's actually an even more important question because the U.S. has more leverage on Pakistan than we have. We have tried everything. It hasn't worked. Do you think the United States has failed in bringing Pakistan on the same page?
KOOFII think so. I think that the United States and the West in a larger definition or a larger content, they need to redefine their strategy partnership with Pakistan. We have been suffering a lot and we believe that most of the suffer come from the uncontrolled long borders with Pakistan. And from the uncontrolled areas of Pakistan. There are many ways that United States could actually pressurize Pakistan. That's what the expectation of the people who made the questions is. One way is the blank checks that have been given to the government of Pakistan.
KOOFII think it's a time for the United States to rethink about their strategy and maybe cut those kind of blank checks. The second thing is, yes, Pakistan has pretended to be a strategy partner for United States, but lately in the past 15 years it has been proven that it's not anymore. Because, you know, even when the NATO supplies road was closed -- this was basically by the Pakistani government to create problems. So I think that in choosing Afghanistan versus Pakistan, United States needs to make a clear choice.
MASHALKojo, back to you.
NNAMDIThere's a great deal of interest here in issues of a more personal nature, how people are dealing with their personal safety. There's also a great deal of interest and I'd like to hear from your audience and panel there about that, about how important this presidential election is to the future of women in Afghanistan? We had a specific question asking how are the women who are teaching girls faring in Afghanistan. And what do you see as the prospects for their future?
MASHALI'd like to pass the question on the elections. How do you feel about the political transition? And if you look at your own lives, say from five years ago, from seven years ago to today, amid the uncertainty of election transition, where do you see yourself? Do you see strides forward, do you see yourself in a similar situation than five years ago? Just the conditions, the living conditions?
MALEI think life has improved incredibly since the last five years. And it's just incomparable to compare now with the last five years. And we are really hopeful that it might really be there are much more opportunities down the road with the upcoming elections. So but right now with the concentrations life is improvement.
MASHALAnybody else who would like to add to that?
MALEThe current government is somehow so much driven towards the called conspiracy theories that the -- everything is decided, everything is preplanned and our wills are nothings -- and our will has nothing to do with the elections. Everything has been chosen.
MASHALThat's what the government is projecting or that's what people believe?
MALEThat is what -- that's what the President Karzai has been saying for the last many years. The blame game. Blaming the Pakistan for everything. Blaming the USA for everything, that they have hand in everything. And that is what has been projected from the media. Some media -- some of the media channels are fighting this, but what has been said that everything's preplanned.
MALEGovernment is taking sides and the candidates of the president is going to win. And the same person, has played in the Russia by Putin and (unintelligible) the same game will be played here. The same person will be in power. So that is the main concern.
MASHALAnd do you think that will impact people going to vote?
MALEOf course. It does impact people because if my vote is not valued, why should I (unintelligible) to vote?
MALEYes. The only concern is the taking side of the government in the favor of one of the candidates. But I think this concern is only in the Kabul area, in the Kabul province. Majority of the other provinces and other people do not think and do not believe -- even they are not aware that -- who are the candidates and how the government supports one candidate and how the government tips in the favor of one candidate.
MALESo I believe, especially myself, I believe that most of the people are not as much disappointed as people in the Kabul, because the media and the people like surrounding here, they are focusing a lot on very minor issues. But the people that, like, in remote areas, they are not focusing a lot in these small issues and do not think a lot that, yes, the government is in the favor of one candidate. And they are very hopeful and especially me. I'm really hopeful that we will have a stable government and we will have a good election since the last -- then last year's.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. So we'll give the last word to Fawzia Koofi. She's a women's rights activist and a member of parliament. Fawzia Koofi, what are the stakes, as we look to Election Day on April 5th?
KOOFIWell, I met President Bush in 2006. And then I had a message for him. And I would like to repeat that message to my American friends. My message to him was that Americans, and West as a whole, supported Afghan people to deliver a baby called democracy. Now, that baby is almost 13 years old. That big baby needs attention and it needs to be given the required support and comfort to grow up. It's a very critical age. If you continue to support us we'll be able to grow this baby. If not, I think this baby will die. And the negative consequences of that, that will not be only in Afghanistan but to the world.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. You've been listening to Afghanistan After Karzai, an international town hall, from America Abroad Media, WAMU 88.5 and TOLOnews in Afghanistan. Thanks very much to our Afghan guests, Fawzia Koofi, member of parliament in Afghanistan, Lotfullah Najafizada, head of TOLOnews TV in Kabul, Afghanistan and Sam Schneider, freelance journalist in Kabul, Afghanistan, my co-host Mujib Mashal.
MASHALThank you. And thank you for our participants and our panelists.
NNAMDIAnd thanks to our panel here in Washington, retired Marine Captain Ryan Sparks and Mark Jacobson, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. And a special thanks to our audience -- audiences, both in Kabul and in Washington. Please give yourselves a round of applause at both ends.
NNAMDIAnd finally, special thanks to everyone at WAMU 88.5 who made this possible, Brendan Sweeney, Kathy Goldgeier, Jonathan Cherry, Paul Myakishev. And to Aaron Lobel, Martha Little and Rob Sachs at America Abroad. And thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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