Progress in Afghanistan has been uneven but undeniable

By Arthur I. Cyr

The visit of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington has dominated news headlines and discussion. Meanwhile, the visit of another leader of an important U.S. ally has received far less coverage.

That is unfortunate, because Afghanistan’s new President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani plays pivotal roles in regional and global terms. He received uniformly positive welcomes from President Barack Obama and both parties in Congress, where he delivered a message of hope and progress. Last year Afghanistan carried out a peaceful transition in power. Initial and runoff presidential elections were held in April and June. Turnout was high, despite Taliban intimidation and violence.

World Bank veteran Ghani won among a total field of eight candidates. The national election commission testified that corruption was much reduced from the 2009 presidential election, and the U.N. did a careful audit of votes cast.

In September a new agreement was signed, to continue the U.S. partnership beyond 2014. A major London conference Dec. 4-5 highlighted the broad international community aiding Afghanistan. Previous Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a durable survivor but had become increasingly erratic. Late in his tenure, he denounced the alliance with the U.S. This occurred despite the fact that he was the recipient of sizable regular cash payments from the CIA. During the election, the Taliban mounted hundreds of attacks but no major government installations were struck. By contrast, in June 2013 Afghanistan rebels detonated a car bomb and battled security forces in front of the presidential palace, the most heavily guarded installation in the country. Long-term ties between Afghanistan and the U.S. have deepened. In a July 2012 visit to Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a formal alliance between Afghanistan and the U.S. This relationship goes beyond the long-term but limited multilateral effort under United Nations and NATO authority.