Afghanistan Meets the USA: A Forum for Young Leaders (AFMUSA)

"Collaborating for a Peaceful Partnership: Framing the Post-2014 Bilateral Agenda"

(Washington D.C. & New York City; September 19th - 23rd, 2017)

Afghan - US Relations

Introduction

Relations between Afghanistan and the US can be dated back to 1919, when King Amanullah, the reformist monarch of Afghanistan, dispatched the first Afghan envoy to Washington following independence from Britain.  However, full diplomatic relations were only established in 1934 and 1935, when the two countries designated ambassadors to the respective diplomatic missions. Far from being stable, relations between the US and Afghanistan, since the establishment of diplomatic exchanges, have been characterized by inconsistent patterns of tension and collaboration. 

During the Cold War, Afghanistan became the locus of the superpower proxy war for influences in the Middle East. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US actively supported mujahidin resistance fighters in its quest to contain the Communist threat promulgated by the Soviet support for the Afghan government. The Soviet occupation ended in 1989 with the takeover of a coalition of US-supported mujahidin under the military leadership of Ahmed Shah Massoud. The subsequent years witnessed civil wars and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who would become the enemy of the US shortly after.

The immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack marked the obvious deterioration of relations between Afghanistan and the USA.  The Taliban regime, which controlled the majority of Afghanistan at the time, was host to Al Qaeda leadership, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden. In response to the refusal of the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden, a US-led full scale invasion of the country began in 2001 as part of George W. Bush´s ´War on Terror´. The Taliban was ousted from power in the same year, yet continue to exert a reign of terror across the region. As such, US involvement in Afghanistan continues until today, with the US providing support in various ways, including humanitarian relief and assistance, capacity-building, security needs, counter-narcotic programs, infrastructure projects and in training the Afghan security forces.

The year 2014 will see the withdrawal of US troops from the country, thus launching a period of military transition. Furthermore, presidential elections are currently set for April 2014, marking the beginning of the political transition for the country. Lasting peace for Afghanistan is finally on the horizon, but will continue to need the maintenance of economic and diplomatic support from the US. The survival of such a peaceful partnership post-2014 will depend on the incorporation of strategies of Cultural Diplomacy into bilateral relationships between the USA and Afghanistan.

Current Spheres of Interest

Political Relationship:  In May 2012, the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America was signed. This agreement affirms cooperation between the two countries beyond the 2014 withdrawal of US combat forces. Mutual commitment to the strengthening of Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and to the final defeat of Al Qaeda forces forms the basis of the agreement. This significant event of political cooperation signals bilateral collaboration towards achieving the shared goals of protecting and promoting shared democratic values, advancing long-term security, reinforcing regional security and cooperation, social and economic development and strengthening Afghan institutions and governance. Furthermore, the US has designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally. As such, the groundwork for the post-2014 bilateral agenda has been laid.

Trade & Investment: The United States-Afghanistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), has, since its inception in 2004, acted as the primary forum for bilateral trade and investment discussions between the two countries. Since the signing of the agreement, there has been a significant increase in trade flows, with Exports from the U.S. to Afghanistan increasing by 1,333% from $150 million in 2004 to $2.2 billion in 2010 and imports from Afghanistan to the U.S. increasing by 243% from $25 million in 2004 to $85 million in 2010. The regular meetings of the TIFA Council ensure the constant development of economic agreements benefitting both parties.

Culture: One of the most important aspects of relations between Afghanistan and the USA is promoting a better understanding of each other's interests and values. The USA and Afghanistan possess very strong diverse cultural identities and therefore it is crucial to engage in intercultural dialogue which would contribute into greater Afghan-US awareness. One such initiative is being undertaken by the Cultural Affairs Office of the US Embassy in Kabul. This department spearheads academic exchange programs, such as Hubert Humphrey Fellowships, Fulbright Fellowships, Partnership for Learning Undergraduate Studies Fellowships and the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. In addition, the Cultural Affairs Office organizes artistic programs and exhibitions to promote US-Afghan cultural relations. Such activities will prove crucial in the securing of a durable and peaceful partnership not only between the two governments but between their peoples.

Conclusion

It is evident that Afghan-US relations have undergone phases of both collaboration and unease. The end of the US occupation of Afghanistan however, will mark a new era in bilateral relations. The various political and economic agreements between the two countries give force to optimistic predictions about future engagement towards a peaceful and sustainable partnership.  

However, economic and political cooperation must not exclude intercultural dialogue if such a relationship is to be fruitful and durable. It is without question that the cultural landscape of the two countries differs significantly. However, contrary to common perceptions, such differences are no impediment to the flourishing of relations. Indeed, the cultural particularities of each nation can aid the development of relationships. For this to occur, efforts to foster mutual understanding not only between the governments but between the ordinary citizens must be strengthened so as to rebuild the trust that has been lost over the years of the US occupation of Afghanistan. Only then can a future peaceful partnership between Afghanistan and the USA be safeguarded.