- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Afghanistan’s Future Holds Promise, Danger, Experts Agree

| Summer 2013

Even as they acknowledged that potential dangers loom in Afghanistan over the next two years, experts at a Harvard conference pointed to some encouraging signs. One example: the number of schoolchildren has grown from 800,000 in 2001 to nearly nine million today—nearly 40% of whom are girls.

Speakers from Afghanistan and the West recognized that violence persists and problems such as endemic corruption still plague the country 12 years after the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban government and routed Al Qaeda following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But they took solace from the work of Afghans themselves in building a credible national military force that has increasingly taken on the brunt of combat duties as U.S. and other Western troops withdraw to bases and transition to training and support roles.

The event brought together some of the key actors shaping Afghanistan’s transition. Senior officials from the Afghan government, top U.S. diplomats and military figures, and leaders of non-governmental organizations debated prospects for stability, security and economic growth after 2014.

The conferees also lauded the work of Afghan non-profit groups such as Women for Afghan Women, represented by Executive Director Manizha Naderi, and the Afghanistan Women’s Network, whose chairperson Mahbouba Seraj shared stories of courage and progress.

The two-day conference on April 4–5 was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center’s projects on the Future of Diplomacy and South Asia, along with Harvard’s South Asia Institute. Speakers included U.S. Ambassador Marc Grossman, the Obama administration’s former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who spoke on “The Diplomatic Campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and Afghan Ambassador Salahuddin Rabbani, chair of the Afghan High Peace Council.

Rabbani opened the conference Thursday night with a seminar moderated by Professor Nicholas Burns, director of the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project and South Asia Project, along with Ambassador James Warlick, the current lead U.S. negotiator and deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Friday session was held under the Chatham House Rule, which forbids disclosure of who said what while allowing the content to be disclosed.

One Afghan speaker said the advances in his country since the U.S. invasion are all but irreversible, especially the progress in creating more learning opportunities for young people. He said the Afghan people would never tolerate seeing those gains reversed by hardliners.

At a separate seminar the following week, Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of a new book on the Obama administration’s surge in Afghanistan, cited what he called a series of mistakes by the U.S. military and State Department since 2009. He agreed that the Afghan Army was taking up the burden as U.S. and Western forces draw down, but said many questions remain to be answered about the country’s fate in 2014 and beyond.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Smith, James F.. Afghanistan’s Future Holds Promise, Danger, Experts Agree.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2013).

The Author