A fate unknown

Hillary Salvian
March 24, 2014
In Transition or Stalemate? Ambassador Omar Samad speaks on Afghanistan, at CIGI. (CIGI/Lisa Malleck)

"History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme, and every gloss by a deconstructionist need not be a loss, pushing us further into an abyss of skepticism and indeterminacy."  This particular sentiment, as Mark Twain once wrote, is a quote worth remembering when it comes to the controversy over Canada and the West’s role in Afghanistan. While our country’s 13-year military mission officially came to an end earlier this month, the political debate over its effectiveness continues. As many Canadians are left wondering “was it worth it?” former Ambassador of Afghanistan to Canada Omar Samad, provided a CIGI audience with some valuable insight into Afghanistan’s current situation, its prospects for the future, and some all-too-relevant lessons from the country’s tumultuous past.

At the CIGI Signature Lecture “Afghanistan 2014: In Transition or Stalemate?” Ambassador Samad addressed not only Afghanistan’s potential progress, but also whether or not the foreign assistance it has received for more than a decade has had an impact on the country’s prospects.

Samad explained, “People always try to ask, ‘have we done well? Is Afghanistan failing? Was this all a waste of time and energy and lives and money?’ My answer to them is that it is a very mixed picture. It’s a mixed bag of accomplishments and failures, of gains as well as some setbacks, and some very precise and concrete challenges that still exist on the security front.” As he delved deeper into the mission’s effectiveness, he explained that yes, to this point, it has been “worth it”. But this might not remain the case if post-mission Afghanistan, once again, finds itself on its own, in a state of weakness, stalemate or worse.

The premature withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in past military missions had serious and destructive consequences, and the country is currently facing a similar fate if foreign aid and assistance does not continue. Just as the Soviet occupation and civil war of previous decades led to the country’s decline, and the emergence of extremist groups such as the Taliban, the threat of regression after years of international effort to help rebuild is once again very real.

“Tens of thousands of your citizens served in Afghanistan, and I’m sure that if you asked, most of them would say that yes, it was worth it; yes, we are proud of it; and yes, we should continue to do something,” said Samad. “My hope is that Canada will find a new civilian mission to pursue in Afghanistan from here on.”

The importance of continued international support is difficult to dispute, especially after Samad’s historical analysis and assurance that Canadian efforts have not been lost. Most interesting, however, was the former Ambassador’s emphasis on a new crucial turning point in Afghanistan’s development: how will the country be affected by the results of upcoming elections.

With the current administration coming to an end, there is hope that a new security agreement (currently being stalled by Karzai) will allow for continued training and equipping of Afghan forces by the international community, and the flow of billions of dollars in aid and security. Samad explained, “as Afghanistan looks forward one day to increasing its revenues through mining and agriculture and other sectors, right now it is facing a dilemma because it does not generate enough revenue to run a government. And so foreign assistance, as promised by the international community, is going to be critical. And that assistance is somewhat beholden to the security agreement being signed with the Americans and with NATO.”

“I think the Afghan people are looking for better leadership,” said Samad. “I think the Afghan people are looking for better governance, rule of law, a respect of human rights and gender rights.” Moreover, they’re looking for a fight against corruption and narcotics, and against the daily threat of Taliban and extremists who “want to disrupt normalcy in Afghanistan, and want to turn Afghanistan once again, into a terrorist hub.”  

Perhaps once all this is realized, Afghanistan’s fate will no longer be unknown. After the upcoming election, maybe Afghanistan can transition in to a country of peace and stability, with no risk of history repeating itself this time around.

To watch Samad’s lecture, visit: http://www.cigionline.org/videos/afghanistan-2014-transition-or-stalemate. You can follow him on Twitter at @OmSamad.

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