Four weeks ago, millions of courageous Afghan men and women participated in presidential elections to determine the first democratic transfer of power the country has ever seen, and demonstrated, once again, their commitment to a peaceful and democratic future for Afghanistan. Yet even as we recognize steps forward, we are mindful of the challenges that remain, including the evaluation of allegations of electoral fraud.
As the Political Officer covering the EU’s relations with countries in South, Central, and East Asia, I proposed that the U.S. and EU highlight our support for Afghanistan’s political transition, economic development, and regional integration through a public panel discussion in Brussels, which USEU hosted July 9 at the Centre for European Policy Studies. USEU Ambassador Gardner’s opening remarks emphasized the leading role the EU and its Member States play, and the long-standing partnership between the EU and the United States in assisting Afghan efforts toward peace and prosperity into the Transformation Decade.
Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery, whose travel to Brussels was sponsored by Public Affairs, and the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the EU, Belgium, and Luxembourg Homayoun Tandar acknowledged that while Afghanistan is still a poor country, thanks to development assistance from the United States and the international community, Afghanistan’s per capita income has increased more than five-fold over the last 12 years, the number of universities in the country has increased from one to 100, and civil society and a free media have flourished.
Ambassador Tandar said that Afghanistan’s future lies with the region. To assist with Afghanistan’s regional integration, the U.S. and the EU are working together to support regional energy projects such as the Central Asia-South Asia electricity distribution project CASA-1000, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline. We are linking youth and entrepreneurs and helping to strengthen Afghanistan’s rule of law, democratic institutions, border management, and the capacity of its national police to build upon the gains Afghanistan has realized over the past decade.
As USEU prepared to host the panel discussion, I was reminded of my experience observing national elections in another South Asian country. In February 2008, Senators Joseph Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel came to observe polling stations in Lahore during Pakistan’s 2008 Parliamentary election – when we witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from a military dictatorship to a democratically-elected government. Back then, the U.S. Embassy worked closely with observers from the EU and its Member States to help ensure that Pakistan’s election was free, fair, and credible. Then and now, there is scarcely an issue or region of the world where the United States and the European Union do not work together. After the United States, the EU is the largest contributor of assistance to Afghanistan, and together, we are supporting the Afghan people and their desire to live in a safe and secure country where their human rights are respected and their votes matter.
By Lisa Buzenas, USEU Political Officer