Afghan-U.S. relations are entering a new and uncertain period. While many U.S. policymakers are buoyed by the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and focused on completing the troop drawdown in 2014, there is no clear vision of what America’s future engagement with Afghanistan will look like. The sole certainty is that the United States is anticipating a less intensive, less costly involvement.
What can the United States hope to achieve in partnership with Afghanistan in the coming years? What is the current state of Afghanistan’s development and private sectors and how can their untold success stories be replicated? How can Afghan cultural heritage be preserved in the face of domestic turmoil, economic scarcity, and social cleavages?
To address these questions, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue convened a three-day Next-Generation Dialogue in May 2011 entitled The Future of Afghan-U.S. Relations: Development, Investment, and Cultural Exchange. Held in Istanbul, Turkey the dialogue brought together a select group of Americans and Afghans that included development practitioners, international organization and NGO officials, private sector executives, think-tank representatives, and government advisors.
This report presents a snapshot of the dialogue and concludes with implications that policymakers, practitioners, and private-sector individuals may find essential for the future of U.S.-Afghan relations. Three recurring themes ran throughout the dialogue’s development, investment, and culture sessions:
- Afghanistan faces a narrative problem. Negative international media coverage and public policy discussions overshadow fragile but appreciable progress.
- The private sector in Afghanistan is alive and well. It stands to make huge contributions across the fields of development and culture.
- These gains are threatened by uncertainty about American policy beyond 2014. The Afghan economy is beset by the growing fear that the US will abandon the country to the Taliban.