Giving Thanks And Calling For Change

12/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two years ago today, I was boarding a plane to Kabul. I was going to work on one of the many post-conflict development programs being implemented in Afghanistan. I believed that I was going to help its citizens define a new future for their country.

The decision to go to Afghanistan was a difficult one for me to make. Even though I had much experience traveling and working in developing economies, this assignment would be different. The issue of safety and security on this trip was of much greater concern. However, at that time, I could assure my friends and family that I would not be a likely target for violence myself.

I would be careful to stay away from certain political hotspots -- the US Embassy, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, and the caravans of armed forces commuting through the capital's streets. I would be staying and working in secured buildings, and limiting my time in public areas. By taking these precautions, I could mitigate my risk being caught in the crossfire.

Today, I could not make such assurances. Today, violence in Afghanistan is indiscriminate. It is no longer isolated to the fight between ISAF and the Taliban. Violence is becoming a way of life, and an easy way to earn a living. It is also threatening those who are working to establish legitimate businesses, and help the country transcend its identity as a battlefield.

In the last few months, the business community in Afghanistan has experienced some alarming setbacks. Amongst them is the recent withdrawal of DHL, an important partner in establishing reliable transportation of goods in and out of the country. The company's top two officials in Afghanistan were recently murdered. The Business Council for Peace (Bpeace), an organization that I work with which helps women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries expand their businesses, reported more disturbing news last week. Three of our Afghan partner-businesswomen have recently had family members kidnapped and held for ransom. Two more regularly receive death threats. These entrepreneurs, along with many others have become targets of violence because of their success, and their perceived ability to meet extortionist's demands.

Most disturbing, is the fact that it appears no measures are being taken to stop or prevent these types of attacks from occurring. If and when Afghans become targets of threats or violence, they have no outlet to turn to for help. Not the local police. Not the Afghan government. Not ISAF. The violence continues to escalate because criminals know that they face no consequences for their offenses.

The obstacles to reconstruction are already great in number. Basic services vital to business, including transportation, reliable power sources, and quality raw materials are virtually non-existent. Entrepreneurial spirit has been dampened by three decades of war. However, over the past two years I have been continuously awestruck by the resilience of the Afghan business owners that I have worked with. They have displayed the courage necessary to rebuild that which has been destroyed over and over again, and the faith to believe that this latest effort will lead to progress.

Together with Bpeace, I remain committed to working with Afghan entrepreneurs to rebuild the country despite these challenges. For us, the increase in violence in Afghanistan is an inconvenience, not an impasse. We minimize our travel there, but we find other ways to help entrepreneurs find the shortest path to success.

We rely on their determination despite the painfully restrictive and demoralizing conditions that they endure to make it work. They don't have the option of retreating to a safer place -- they live there. But, they do have the ability to choose how they live their lives in that environment. And they are choosing to continue pursuing the success that is now threatening their lives.

We admire and respect the determination of these incredibly resilient women. But more importantly, we need to show them that they are not standing up to the violence by themselves. Please join me in calling on members of our government and theirs to make civilian safety and security the top priority of our work in Afghanistan. By confronting this violence, we have a better chance of preventing another generation of children from growing up in society defined by conflict. We can help them develop a society which allows them to define their own future, like ours.

This Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for the safety and security that are provided to me through the cooperation of members of my local and national community. And, it is my hope that next year Afghans will be able to be thankful for the same thing.