At the invitation of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker, a six-member delegation of the World Affairs Councils (WAC) visited Kabul March 25-31, sponsored by the Department of State’s International Information Programs Bureau Speakers Program. The delegation members spoke with a wide range of Afghan society including women, media, and youth as well as Afghan government officials to engage Afghans on the role of civilian groups, understand key U.S. foreign policy issues in Afghanistan, and establish a greater connection between the Afghan and American people. (In January 2009, as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Crocker invited the World Affairs Councils to send the first civilian delegation to Baghdad since 2003.)
The World Affairs Councils of America is the largest national non-partisan network of local councils that are dedicated to educating, inspiring, and engaging Americans in international affairs. The delegation visited Kabul on a “Leadership Mission,” an overseas fact-finding visit by World Affairs Councils members. Leadership Mission delegations conduct programming in the United States upon their return about what they learned during their visit. These programs include speaking engagements, radio and television programs, council publications, curriculum materials, teachers’ workshops, business roundtables, conferences, and travel programs. For more information about the World Affairs Councils, please visit their website at: http://www.worldaffairscouncils.org/2011/main/index.cfm.
While in Kabul, the WAC delegation met with President Karzai, Afghan Ministers, and Members of Parliament, as well as civil society groups such as youth, media, women, and private organizations such as the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the American Chamber of Commerce. The delegation also met with U.S. Embassy officials, including Ambassador Crocker, and International Security Assistance Force Commander General John R. Allen.
The roundtables the delegation had with their interlocutors centered on topics such as progress made in Afghanistan in development sectors since 2001 (health, education, agriculture), progress made in security, economic development, good governance, women’s rights and advocacy, the development of the Afghan media, cultural preservation projects, the development of civil society organizations, and the role of civil society in monitoring the progress of domestic and international policies affecting Afghanistan and its relationship with the international community.
The delegation was impressed with the gains made in Afghanistan since 2001, particularly the gains made in the health and education sectors as well as improvements in the rights of Afghan women. During their visit, the WAC delegates had the opportunity to attend a reception hosted by Ambassador Crocker in honor of Afghan women activists.
Delegation head Maria Zammit wrote of her experience, “Many of us came to Afghanistan believing that it was time [for the United States] to pull the plug – too much blood and treasure already wasted. But witnessing first hand some of the many accomplishments that have been achieved, including those of various women’s groups and other members of Afghanistan’s public and private sectors, opened our eyes to so many gains worth preserving.”
Another delegate, Ken Furst, blogged about his experience in Kabul. In one Facebook post about the visit, he said:
“For the last week, I have been in Kabul, taking part in a State Department public diplomacy exchange program. I am here with five colleagues from other World Affairs Councils who were invited by Ambassador Ryan Crocker. We have had the privilege of meeting with a large number of American and Afghan officials as well as a wide range of Afghan citizens, ranging from high school and university students to courageous women who are battling age-old cultural prejudices. I arrived here hoping to some degree that I would leave feeling that we should and could leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible. My views have changed… to leave precipitously would throw away all of the sacrifices made… There are still reasons for optimism that tangible progress can continue to be made giving the people of Afghanistan a chance to live in peace with protection of their rights.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned the delegation’s visit during an April 3 speech at the World Affairs Councils’ 2012 NATO Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. Secretary Clinton noted, “We remain committed to working to achieve [a stable Afghanistan]… If Afghanistan is ever going to reach its full potential, the rights of women, minorities, and all Afghans must be protected, and their opportunities to participate in their society must be preserved… On [the security, diplomatic, and economic] fronts, we are helping the people of Afghanistan strengthen their country and ensure that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”