KABUL - On Saturday night, U.S. President Barak Obama spoke at a White House press conference and emphasized the importance of Afghanistan having a government that serves the needs of all ethnicities and women once coalition troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
The press conference was held upon the visit of Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to Washington. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations, including their roles in the NATO coalition in Afghanistan.
"...We both reaffirmed our commitment to make sure that when we end combat activities in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 that we are in a position to leave behind an Afghanistan that has a strong professional security service and a government that is meeting its obligations to all its people, including all ethnic groups and women and others who have started to see greater opportunities and greater freedoms over the past several years," said President Obama as he recapped his discussion with Letta to reporters.
There is little doubt that the quality of life for women and ethnic minorities has markedly improved since the government of President Hamid Karzai came to power in 2004. Under the Taliban regime, ethnic Hazaras were ruthlessly persecuted and women marginalized from public life. Now, although much ethnic inequality still exists and violence against women is still pervasive, both ethnic minorities and female Afghans are better represented in government and afforded equal rights under the Constitution.
Nevertheless, ahead of the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014, many have expressed concerns about some of that progress being rolled-back, or stalled, once foreign forces leave.
At the very least, however, it is likely any trend of regress when it comes to human rights and equality would be fought vehemently by the many advocacy groups that have sprouted up around Afghanistan over the past decade. Moreover, issues like human rights and women's empowerment have been a staple of the rhetoric in the lead up to the upcoming Presidential and Provincial Council elections. Whether or not that translates into action, and further progress, remains to be seen.
President Obama also spoke briefly about the productive partnership American and Italian forces cultivated over the years in Afghanistan.
"Italian troops have been extraordinary in their sacrifice and their efforts in helping to create an Afghanistan that is secure and safe for the Afghan people....We talked about how well our militaries coordinate with each other and the genuine partnership that has been created," Obama said.
President Obama also highlighted the development of the Afghan security forces, and their importance for future peace and stability in Afghanistan. Many International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel and Afghan officials have also been loud in clear with their satisfaction about the progress Afghan forces made this year. The New York Times recently ran an article cautiously praising the success of the Afghan forces in combating insurgency this year, the first time they have been at the helm of security operations throughout the country.
Nevertheless, anxieties about how the forces will respond to the absence of coalition troops post-2014 have been voiced by many experts. The success or failure of the Bilateral Security Pact (BSA) between Washington and Kabul, which would outline a continued "training, advising and assisting" role for the U.S. in Afghan national security post-2014, has become a kind of bellwether for Afghanistan's future in the eyes of many. (Tolo news)