Afghanistan is getting short shrift from both parties this election year, imperiling the progress that has been made in the country over the past decade, the country's former envoy to America told The Hill.
The remarks come as the White House blasted Mitt Romney for not once mentioning the longest lasting conflict in the nation's history once during his acceptance speech Thursday night. Democrats however have also avoided talking about Afghanistan’s future beyond Obama's pledge to draw down troops.
“Both parties now are trying to avoid talking about Afghanistan or bringing up Afghanistan in any form or shape,” Said Jawad said during a wide-ranging interview in his Washington office Friday. “And unless we see a long-term strategy for Afghanistan – kind of a publicly formulated long-term strategy for Afghanistan – we will not achieve our goals in 2014.”
“I understand this public fatigue about the war and this mission lasting longer than it should have,” he said. “But again, public opinion may not support talking about a long-term plan for Afghanistan, but leadership is not about following public opinion – it's about shaping public opinion.”
Jawad lived in America before returning to Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He served as President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff and then as ambassador to the United States from 2003 until 2009.
He said the country has seen huge gains since U.S. forces invaded in October 2001 to oust the Taliban, particularly in the cities. But he said those gains could quickly unravel unless the United States and other nations, including Afghanistan, don't start planning to ensure fair and free elections scheduled for April 2014.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of the few leaders in Congress who has been making the same point.
“It is imperative that the Afghan government, through an independent election commission, put out the rules of the road for that election,” Kerry said in May during a hearing ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago. “Free and fair elections are mandatory for any chance to go forward after 2014 with any possibility of success.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the conflict “profoundly important” during a gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.
“I can simply speak for myself that I was surprised not to hear mention of the 70,000 men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, executing a mission that is profoundly important to America’s national security in a conflict that was the direct result of an attack on the United States by al Qaeda,” Carney said.
Jawad said the country is undergoing three simultaneous transitions: security, political and economic. While the first gets the bulk of the attention, he said, the other two get short shrift from both politicians and the media.
“The biggest concern in the minds of the Afghans is the political uncertainty: What's going to happen to their country after 2014?” he said. “The political transition, which has to do with free and fair elections in Afghanistan, is key to success.”
If it fails, he said, people will lose hope and once again turn to the Taliban and warlords. And without “sound political leadership,” he warned, the Afghan security force that the United States has helped build at great expense could end up working for itself instead of the public interest, just as he said happened in Pakistan.
“They're an asset for Afghanistan,” Jawad said. “We don't want them to become a liability for the region.”
Jawad said Afghanistan and its partners also need to help the country's economy transition away from foreign aid and toward a free market.
“This is something that requires some attention,” he said, pointing out that taxation issues are included in the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan.
“For the economic transition, a lot of it has to do with coming up with better taxation regimes internally, or economic encouragement and facilitation for the companies to be able to go into Afghanistan, in terms of financial tax incentives,” he said.
Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.