Assessing the Transition in Afghanistan

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
July 11, 2013

Thanks for giving both Peter Lavoy and I an opportunity to appear before you. And thank you for your constructive opening remarks and your advice, which we will certainly take to heart and make sure others in the administration are aware of.

As you noted, I've only been in my current position for a couple of months, having come back essentially to the same job I had 12 years ago with respect to Afghanistan just after 9/11. And this may give me a somewhat different perspective than those of you who have been following Afghanistan from day to day.

I know we tend to look at the efficacy of our efforts in Afghanistan day to day, project by project, measuring it largely in terms of inputs and outputs. But the true measure of our efforts in Afghanistan is not either what we put into it or the direct outputs, but rather the outcomes.

The best measure of education assistance is not schools built or even students instructed, but literacy rates. The best measure of health assistance is not the number of hospitals built or even patients treated, but increases in longevity.

Of course, it takes a long time to measure outcomes like this, but we've been in Afghanistan and helping Afghanistan for a long time now. By measures of this sort, outcome measures, and on the basis of some research that I completed with some colleagues at RAND just a few months before taking up my current job, I believe Afghanistan may actually be the most successful international effort at reconstruction in a conflict or post-conflict country over the last quarter century.

In a study that we did at the RAND Corporation, we looked at 20 cases over the last 25 years where there were civil-military interventions in a conflict or post-conflict environment. This included all the big U.S. efforts in Somalia, in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and about a dozen smaller UN and other efforts of this sort.

And we tried to measure the outcomes in these efforts over a 10-year period using statistics and indices that were kept by Freedom House, the IMF, the World Bank and UNDP.

Afghanistan rated quite high on most of those indexes, but rather remarkably in the category of human development it had the best -- it showed the best rate of improvement of all 20 of these countries. Human development is an index kept by UNDP and it measures a combination of health, education and standard of living outcomes.

And as I said, Afghanistan rated top of all 20. Now, this is not just because it was the poorest to start with, because some of the others were actually poorer. And it's not just because it got a lot of assistance, because a couple of the others actually got more assistance on a per-capita basis.

What does this mean in practical terms? In Afghanistan, it means life expectancy has gone from 44 years to 60 years, and that's in a country that's still at civil war.

What does it mean in terms of literacy? It means that Afghanistan has gone from having the worst rate of literacy in the entire world, maybe 15 percent back in 2001, to 33 percent literacy today and to 60 percent literacy by 2025 if the kids that are in school today stay in school.

It means going from one TV station that was owned by the government to 75 nearly all independent TV stations.

It means going from 40,000 telephones to 18 million telephones.

It means cellphone coverage going from zero to 90 percent of the country.

These are pretty remarkable outcomes. In fact, taken as a whole, they may be unmatched outcomes in a conflict or a post-conflict society.

Now, this is a pivotal time where NATO and the United States are transitioning from a combat to an advisory and assistance role. As I think both of you stressed, the U.S. is committed to continuing to support a fully sovereign, democratic and united Afghanistan. We do not intend to repeat the mistakes made in the 1980s and '90s.

As the Afghans stand up, they won't stand alone. We remain committed to a long-term, strategic partnership with the Afghan government and the Afghan people. As the President said in January, along with President Karzai, the U.S. has two goals: Number one, to train, assist and advise Afghan forces so they can maintain Afghanistan's security; and number two, making sure that we can continue to go after remnants of al-Qaida or its affiliates.

At the NATO Defense Ministerial this year in June, NATO allies and partners endorsed a detailed concept of the new mission for Afghanistan after 2014.

Regarding the number of American troops to remain in Afghanistan, that is to say the number of troops that would remain 18 months from now, the President is still reviewing his options.

We are at the same time continuing our conversation with the Afghans about how we can carry out those missions. We've made significant progress on the text of a new bilateral security agreement. Of course, without an agreement on our presence in Afghanistan, we would not remain, but we do not believe that that's the likely outcome of these negotiations.

Unlike Iraq, to which comparisons are often made, the Afghans actually need us to stay. Most Afghans want us to stay and we have promised to stay. None of these three things were true in Iraq, and all of these three things are true with respect to Afghanistan.

While we continue to help Afghans take responsibility for their own security, we're also continuing to support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process designed to find a political solution to conflict with the Taliban. At the same time, we must be clear that our main priority for the coming year is neither the military transition, nor the reconciliation process, but rather the political transition that will occur when Afghan people choose a new president and a new president takes office next year.

The future stability of Afghanistan rests on the peaceful transition of political authority in the course of 2014. And if this occurs, then I believe these other problems and challenges will resolve themselves quite satisfactorily.

The first steps in this process is already under way, and we will continue to work with the Afghan government to support their electoral process and achieve a successful and unifying political transition.

Like any developing country emerging from conflict, Afghanistan will require international support for some time. A country that has -- we should, however, recognize that a country that a little more than a decade ago provided a haven from which the 9/11 attacks were planned has already become a staunch partner in the fight against international terrorism.

There is much the Afghan people can be proud of and we can be proud of in the work we've done over the last decade and more.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. I look forward to your questions.