June 1st, 2014
07:43 AM ET

Why there might be cause for optimism in Afghanistan

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By Global Public Square staff

As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghans are preparing to usher in their own new era. Soon, the nation could witness its first ever democratic handover of power. So, what if we told you that Afghanistan seems poised to effectively navigate this transition? In other words, what if we told you that Afghanistan could actually work out?

Almost two months ago, Afghans headed to the polls in record numbers. The election went remarkably well. Afghan security forces performed better than anyone expected. There were few reports of ballot stuffing or corruption that had marred the 2009 election of Hamid Karzai.

Since no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off in June. And two front-runners have emerged. Guess what? They're both great – highly qualified, modern, reformist and articulate.

Compare them to the hardline Shiite thugs running Iraq and you will see a world of difference. Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a trained ophthalmologist, secured 45 percent of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, garnered nearly 32 percent of the vote. Honestly, either would mark a significant improvement for the future of Afghanistan and for Afghan-U.S. relations.

Fareed interviewed both men and was struck by how much they agreed on and how different they were from Karzai.

First, let's consider the Bilateral Security Agreement. The BSA would allow American forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Karzai first negotiated it, but ever since he's refused to sign it.

Here's the frontrunner Abdullah on the BSA:

And here is Ghani:

As for whether the leading candidates would bring the Taliban into the political process to help broker some sort of a peace deal, listen again to what they have to say.

Here's Abdullah:

And here's Ghani:

Both candidates are also less anti-American – decidedly so – than their predecessor.

Abdullah refutes Karzai's claim that American forces have wantonly and deliberately destroyed Afghan villages and killed its civilians:

Ghani, a U.S. citizen until he gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009, largely agrees:

Also, Abdullah talked about U.S. troop levels:

And here is what Ghani said:

In addition, Abdullah talked about relations with Pakistan, and whether the country's intelligence services are supporting the Taliban:

While Ghani had this to say about why he believes there is a new way of thinking about extremism in Pakistan:

And finally, Abdullah explained why corruption is such a threat to the well-being of Afghans:

While Ghani explains the link between property rights and corruption in Afghanistan:

Of course, it remains to be seen what the eventual victor actually does when he gets into office.  But it all sounds promising – and very different from Iraq.

So, Obama's announcement and the candidates' willingness to sign the agreement to keep American troops there means that Afghanistan has a two year head start – Afghanistan has two years to start developing a viable plan, to engage in diplomacy with its neighbors and to start putting the institutions and mechanisms in place to create a sustainable, independent future.

Barnett Rubin, the director of studies at NYU's Center on International Cooperation and a great Afghan scholar, points out that if the Taliban is fighting to get U.S. troops to leave, they will now no longer have a reason to fight – and they should start living peacefully with their fellow Afghans. If it is only an excuse for another agenda, then they will now be exposed. And the fact that the U.S. will not have a military base in the heart of Afghanistan in perpetuity should make regional powers like Russia and China more willing to support the new Afghan state.

Our optimism is mixed with caution, of course, but after 30 years of civil war in Afghanistan, it's a pleasure to be able to even have a qualified sense of hope for the country and for its people.​


soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. George patton

    Another U.S. backed pseudo-democracy in the making and another bottomless pit for U.S. taxpayer money. How sickening!!! This just goes on and on and..................

    June 1, 2014 at 8:20 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, there's hope that Afghanistan would elect a better president than Hamid Karzai. How stable Afghanistan will be depends on whether the new government could negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban and the warlords. The Afghan army is still weak and who would support these armed forces after 2016?

      June 2, 2014 at 10:54 am | Reply
  2. Dilawer

    Fareed, you described the Iraqi government as "Shiite thugs", How politically incorrect.!
    Have you ever described the Saddam Husain regime as "sunni Thugs" or the Egyptian brotherhood or the Ghadafi dictatorship, and on and on, as Sunni Thugs?

    June 1, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      I never heard Farred Zakaria describe the incompetent politicians in Washington as the right-wing thugs they truly are, Dilawer. Have you? It may be politically "incorrect" but true nonetheless. Just what have they accomplished in the last ten years except more death and destruction overseas? Can anyone here answer that?

      June 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
      • Bill, Bloomington Il

        I have never heard him call democrats moronic sheep but that would be true even though it is not p/c.

        June 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm |
  3. antony sardini

    Fareed,
    don't turn into a politician, since you will lose your touch with realty. I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW MCCAIN DARE TO SAY EXCHNAGE OF ORISONER OF WARS IS A BAD IDEA!. THIS HAS BEEN DONE FROM THE PRE-HISTORIC TIME UNTILL NOW !!!!

    June 1, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Catskinner

      He was not a POW,. he is a deserter

      June 1, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Come on Catskinner, you know better than that or do you? Don't pay any more attention to those right-wing fanatics in Washington who only wish to politicize this whole thing for their own benefit.

        June 2, 2014 at 11:33 am |
      • Jef

        Where's your proof?

        June 8, 2014 at 11:52 am |
  4. antony sardini

    I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW MCCAIN DARE TO SAY EXCHNAGE OF ORISONER OF WARS IS A BAD IDEA!. Unless we assume politicians are Hippocrates. THIS HAS BEEN DONE FROM THE PRE-HISTORIC TIME UNTILL NOW !!!!

    June 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  5. chri§§y

    @ antony, McCain doesnt care about US citizens at all whether they are military or not! Hes a warmonger and hes all about the US being in a perpetual war, whatever it costs. Gotta wonder how much his pockets get lined by that huh?

    June 1, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  6. Ghandi

    I'm afraid McCain, a former prisoner himself, sadly has grown senile. He is not aging gratefully, mentally speaking. How dangerous it would be if he, and not Obama were in the White House.
    God bless McCain to overcome his capacities.

    June 1, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  7. Ghandi

    Gracefully, not "gratefully." I keep fighting my auto type.
    Please excuse me.
    Thank you.

    June 1, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  8. chri§§y

    Agreed @ Ghandi! I was very surprised that he was so against doing whatever needed to be done to get that man released! Especially since he was a POW himself. And with all the critisism Obama has been getting for NOT getting Gitmo closed, this was a step in that direction! We cant keep these people there indefinitely without charging them! And why should we keep paying to maintain their care if they arent being charged with a crime?

    June 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  9. Ghandi

    It is too long as you say, chrissy. Charge them or..
    @George . I see your point, but most governments are bureaucracies. Hence the "incompetent politicians."

    June 1, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  10. Catskinner

    The yearly cost of their military is two times the gross income of the government, that is not encouraging

    June 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  11. chri§§y

    Lol @ Catskinner youre right it sure isnt encouraging at all. As for him not being a POW...well 5 years a prisoner by the opposition...that pretty much proves he was a POW. The deserter part...thats purely speculation. And most likely a story concocted to justify no action to make his retrieveure a priority!

    June 2, 2014 at 12:54 am | Reply
  12. palintwit

    If I was Sarah Palin I would sprinkle copious amounts of Drano on my cornflakes.

    June 2, 2014 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Ah, but @ palintwit, were you Sarah Palin, you would write, "if I were Sarah Palin, I would..."
      I did not vote for her–for office. Even so...

      June 2, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  13. The Entire GOP Platform In A Single Paragraph

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    June 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Reply
    • i hate partisan bullcrap

      Amen is right!How can any middle class family vote GOP – because they are GOR

      June 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  14. chri§§y

    Lol @ ihatepartisanbullcrap, me too! Now what is GOR?

    June 2, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  15. Rick McDaniel

    Obama has made absolutely certain, that there will be no peace in Afghanistan, by releasing the worst of the Taliban back into that country. By the end of 2015, the Taliban will rule the country.

    June 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Reply

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