June 27th, 2014
By Stephen J. Hadley and Kristin M. Lord, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephen J. Hadley is chairman of the board of the United States Institute of Peace and a former White House National Security Adviser. Kristin Lord is acting president of the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed are their own.
As the United States draws down its forces in Afghanistan and shifts from direct combat to the narrower mission of countering terrorism and training Afghan forces, some might think this is the time to declare “job done” and focus U.S. attention elsewhere. That would be a mistake. As the current violence in Iraq illustrates, the gains won by our military are fragile. Peace, once won, must be sustained.
Afghanistan is now in the delicate process of laying the foundation for a democratic political transition – the first since President Hamid Karzai assumed the presidency. As many as 7 million Afghans, or around 60 percent of eligible voters, have twice defied the Taliban and cast ballots to select the country’s next president, first in the general election and again in this month’s runoff.
The high turnout and lower level of violence than many had expected are a testament to how non-violent conflict resolution and peacebuilding can multiply and solidify the investments of the United States and the sacrifices made by American troops. The potential for international assistance to help resolve electoral disputes that have cropped up in the past week illustrates the need for continuing engagement.
Organizations like the United States Institute of Peace, which we both serve, have been helping create the conditions for a peaceful transition that will make Afghanistan more stable and less violent, while improving the lives of the Afghan people. A stable and prosperous Afghanistan can be a vital ally of the United States in a troubled region, and will help ensure that al Qaeda and its associates never again gain a foothold in the region’s mountains and valleys.
Investing in the powerful tools of peacebuilding is both effective and cost-effective, but peacebuilding takes time. Some of the best-spent dollars are those used to prevent or reduce conflicts that can engulf regions and threaten American interests, investments that foster strong allies and partners. We should heed the lessons of our experience in Germany and South Korea, where our unflagging, long-term commitments in the aftermath of war have established thriving partnerships with now-critical allies.
For the past several years, U.S. and other international organizations in Afghanistan have been supporting local institutions and civil society groups, working hand-in-hand to develop and employ innovative approaches that would help ensure a credible, inclusive and transparent election.