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Khalilzad doesn’t appear before US foreign committee

By Javad M Goraya
September 21, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Alice G Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, US State Department conceded in a hearing on Thursday before Congress Foreign Relations Sub Committee on Asia and Pacific that poverty in Afghanistan has increased from 36 percent in 2007 to over 50% in 2017.

The information establishes that the well-being of Afghan population has not been achieved despite an expense of US$ one trillion in Afghanistan by America mainly due to political disconnect between Afghan government and large section of population.

In her statement before the Foreign Relations Committee of House of Representatives, Ms Wells held corruption, government malfeasance, record-high opium production, and criminalization of the economy as the greatest challenges to the well-being of Afghan people. The House Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Congressman Eliot Engel took a classified briefing from US State Department officials on failure of Afghan peace process.

Earlier Chairman Eliot Engel had sent subpoena to US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad after Mr. Khalilzad did not appear before the committee despite three letters asking him to testify about Afghan peace talks. Khalilzad gave a classified briefing to the Committee and Ms Wells issued a written statement.

Chairman Eliot Engel had earlier remarked, “more than 2,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan, and I’m fed up with this Administration keeping Congress and the American people in the dark on the peace process and how we’re going to bring this long war to a close”.

President Trump has promised to end American’s foreign wars in 2016 and as his re-election approaches, he is under increasing pressure to make good his promise. Post 9/11 wars in Middle East and Afghanistan have cost America over USD 6 trillion. The Afghan war annual expense has reduced to half now from peak levels of over USD 100 billion in 2011. A total of 250,000 people lost their lives including civil and military from all parties of conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ms. Alice G Wells in her statement before the House Foreign Committee stated that lack of security and criminality prevent Afghanistan from commercially exploiting its natural resources or serving as a natural transit route for landlocked Central Asia. She said that US will continue to hold the Afghan government accountable for its progress in combating corruption and will adjust our assistance levels accordingly.

As per press reports on Thursday, American Secretary Foreign Affairs Mike Pompeo said the United States would withdraw about $100 million earmarked for an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan and withhold a further $60 million in planned assistance, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency in the country.

Ms. Wells called for better handling of the Presidential Elections in Afghanistan and pressed for use of polling center-based voter registration lists.

She added that 24 percent reduction in polling centers as compared to the 2014 elections is the reality of a deteriorated security landscape.

She criticised Taliban statements threatening election workers and voters.

Recounting some of good achievements in Afghanistan, Ms. Wells listed that more than 57 percent of Afghans have access to basic healthcare, compared to 9 percent in 2002. Over half of the Afghan population today has access to electricity, 30 percent via a power grid, compared to only 6 percent in 2001.

She added that more than 2,000 kilometers of roads have been constructed and rehabilitated, allowing Afghans to travel and trade. And over 9 million students are enrolled in school, 39 percent of them girls. She added that over 1 million Afghans have received advanced education, with over 100,000 women enrolled in public and private universities.

On the Afghan peace process, she reviewed that in the last twelve months, more progress in establishing the terms for a negotiated political settlement is made than in the previous 17 years.

She added that the Taliban engaged in sustained dialogue with the United States and in significant political discussions with their fellow Afghans – including Afghan government officials – at an intra-Afghan dialogue held in Qatar this July.

She concluded that even as Afghanistan goes to the polls, it cannot pause its efforts to advance peace. She added that the intra-Afghan dialogue on peace must continue. Ms. Wells stated that consultations within the US government are continuing on the best way forward.

She added that a durable peace can only come from an agreement between Afghans that is accepted by most Afghans. Ms. Wells also commented that a clear message to the Taliban is sent that they cannot simply wait us out to achieve a military victory in Afghanistan that would undo the gains of the last 18 years.