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Jim Falk: Afghanistan

Dallas Business Journal

For some, a withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan could not come soon enough. But in this commentary, Jim Falk, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, takes a different view.

The recent NATO Summit in Chicago, coupled with the Strategic Partnership signed in Kabul by President Obama and  president Hamid Karzai, signified that the U.S. will remain strategical and financially engaged in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

When President Obama and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement in Kabul on May 1, both countries stated the U.S. would remain strategically and financially engaged for the foreseeable future. That’s despite strong and rising opposition to the war. Twice before Afghanistan has suffered the consequences of America’s short-term strategy; in 1989 when the Soviets were pushed out and again in 2002 when the Taliban was overthrown.  The signing ceremony demonstrated not only to the citizens of Afghanistan but to our international partners, the Taliban and Pakistan that we were not going to cut and run.

As the U.S. draws down combat troops, a number of Special Forces and military advisors will have a presence. Moreover, Afghanistan will continue to be one of the largest recipients of U.S. development assistance. For these reasons alone, Afghanistan should not be relegated to the back page.

Last month, I traveled to Afghanistan with five other World Affairs Council leaders, where we met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, General John Allen, President Karzai, and Afghan stakeholders from across all segments of society.

Until this trip, I was a firm doubter of our presence in a country that had consumed so many American lives and so much money over the past decade. Afghanistan has led others to peril including Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Brits, and Soviets.  Why would our path be any different? 

While I am unable to confidently predict success, I do believe withdrawing prematurely is more risky than staying the course.  We are at a critical juncture, a true turning point where the difference between success and failure is razor thin. 

Al-Qaida is on the run, but recent events leave little doubt the organization and its followers are hell-bent on delivering another horrific blow. If Afghanistan drifts back to civil war, al-Qaida and other deadly insurgent groups will fill the vacuum. 

Watching reports of Afghan citizens protesting in the street coupled with instances of Afghan soldiers firing and killing NATO troops makes one wonder whether or not we are wanted. 

But there are significant signs of progress that would be impossible without heavy contributions from the US and its international partners.  In 2002, less than 900,000 students attended schools and they were all boys!  Today 9,000,000 children are in school and 38% are girls.  Access to basic health care has jumped from nine to 64%, and infant deaths have dropped by 22%.

The American University of Afghanistan has received substantial U.S. government and private support.  More than 1,700 men and women study there together and, not surprisingly, most major in business and accounting.

While Afghanistan will never look like Switzerland, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has described three conditions required for reconciliation with the Taliban: The Taliban must have a complete break with al-Qaida; it must renounce violence; and it must respect the Afghan Constitution, including most importantly, the protection of women and minorities.

What happens in Afghanistan directly affects our national security.  Post-military success will require courage and commitment so all that we have sacrificed will not be in vain. 

Jim Falk is president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.