In his recent 60 Minutes interview, President Obama did little to ease my fears and those of members of the Afghan Diaspora. We worry that his July 2011 deadline for removing American troops from Afghanistan will merely embolden the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Make no mistake. My Afghan countrymen and I want the Taliban and Al Qaeda to be destroyed. We want to root out corruption in our country. But we believe our enemies will simply hide out during the next 18 months despite the surge of U.S. and NATO forces. We believe our enemies will do all that they can to prevent genuine peace from taking root and a competent and accountable government from emerging.
The president defended the deadline, telling CBS that he didn't want the Afghans to think the surge will be an open-ended commitment. As Mr. Obama put it: "Very frankly there are, I think, elements in Afghanistan who would be perfectly satisfied to make Afghanistan a permanent protectorate of the United States, in which they carry no burden, in which we're paying for a military in Afghanistan that preserves their security and their prerogatives."
I politely disagree, Mr. President. Afghans do not want to become wards of the United States. We want to be equal partners. We want to cooperate with you in political and diplomatic arenas. We want to build up our own defense and security forces, including counter-narcotics forces. We want to ensure the rule of law in our country, work with Americans to develop our economy and protect our natural resources. We want to rebuild our educational system, our once vibrant cultural institutions and health infrastructure. Most of all, we seek an open, accountable government, a government that respects traditional customs but also guarantees basic rights and freedoms that Americans enjoy.
How can we accomplish this mighty task? The United States can reassure the Afghan people by entering into bilateral agreements similar to the two signed the end of last year between the U.S. and Iraq. One was the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), a non-binding agreement with mostly aspirational language, and the other was a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), an agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
It is important to note that the U.S.-Iraq agreements reaffirmed that a long-term relationship in economic, diplomatic, cultural and security fields will strengthen a country, and had dramatic psychological effects inside Iraq.
The 3,000 members of the Campaign for a US-Afghanistan Partnership (CUSAP), which I helped to found earlier this year, called for a bilateral agreement six months ago.
We believe that a U.S.-Afghanistan agreement is in the clear interests of the Afghan people, as it was for the Iraqi people. In return for memorializing its long term commitment to our country, the Obama administration can and must set forth clear benchmarks and metrics that the Afghanistan government must meet to continue to receive support. A bilateral agreement would give the U.S. an effective tool with which to demand better results from Kabul. It would benefit the citizenship interests of the people of Afghanistan no less than the security interests of the American people.
Yes, we believe that an agreement must include commitments to support Afghanistan against armed internal and external insurgent attacks by the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies. Our mujahadeen warriors have proven to the world their ability to repel foreign armies. Just look what happened to the former Soviet Union's army in the 1980s. The aging heroes of that conflict strive today for the peace and security that was lost when the Soviets left and our allies turned away.
The Afghan people are a critically important partner in the world-wide effort to eliminate Al Qaeda. While that terror organization still thrives within and across our border regions, our security interests are inextricably linked to those of America. And unlike our neighbors in Pakistan, we have no history of conflict with our neighbors in India which complicates their political interests in defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban who support them.
We look forward to American investment in strengthening and equipping our Afghan National Army. This investment will pay dividends when the army becomes the valuable ally that the U.S. needs. In return, we seek a formal, long-term, unambiguous commitment of support without a timeline for withdrawal.
Many of CUSAP's members, who like me were educated in the West, want to return home to rebuild the country of our forefathers. We do not shrink from carrying our load, but cannot do this without America.
For centuries, my family was part of the vast network that transported goods along the southern route of the famed Silk Road. We helped to make sure that ivory and gold, pomegranates and safflowers went East from Europe. On the return trips, silk, jade, furs, ceramics and manufactured objects of bronze and iron went West.
We want to return to our role as international traders, return to our people the the wealth and status that came with that role. Afghanistan is rich in copper, natural gas, oil and iron ore. All we need to build our future, is to secure peace in our country. International investment will follow peace.
Hamed Wardak is president of The Campaign for a US-Afghanistan Partnership