Diplomat talks Afghan politics

Former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, left, con- sidered American diplomatic strategy in the region in a Monday talk.
Former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, left, con- sidered American diplomatic strategy in the region in a Monday talk. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2011 to 2012, visited campus Monday to give a lecture that centered on the diplomatic progress that was made in his time as a representative.

Grossman, who coordinated the American diplomatic response to 9/11 while serving as the undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2001 to 2005 and will teach a course at Yale in fall 2013, spoke before a crowd of roughly 60 at the Yale Law School. During the talk, Grossman said the United States’ main role in Afghanistan was to improve human rights and political freedom while empowering the members of the country’s government to chart their own course.

“It’s not for us to decide what the future of Afghanistan will be,” he said. “Our job was to open the door for Afghans to talk about what their future will be.”

When he began his tenure as a special representative, Grossman said, he immediately reached out to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries because he did not think Afghanistan could be “secure, stable and prosperous” without a surrounding region with those qualities. He said he took part in a November 2011 conference with leaders from Middle Eastern and Asian countries at which an agreement was signed affirming the nations’ support for eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan.

The United States showed it had no plans to abandon Afghanistan through a NATO meeting in Chicago and an international conference in Tokyo, leading to pledges from the United States and other world powers that allotted over $20 billion to aid Afghan security forces, he added.

Grossman also discussed efforts to improve Afghanistan from within the country. He said he envisions the development of a “new Silk Road” of commerce in Asia, with Afghanistan and Pakistan at the center.

“A better economy means more opportunities for women, more opportunities for entrepreneurs and a better relationship with Pakistan,” he said.

During his tenure, he said, he and other diplomats tried to begin a dialogue with the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist movement that was overthrown in the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Grossman said the prospects of communicating with the Taliban were uncertain, but he was able to initiate some conversation.

If the Taliban did return to power, Grossman added, the group would face a population that would not want to give up the freedoms it had gained since 2001. Now that Afghanistan has millions more children in schools and much greater access to technology since the Taliban controlled the government, the group cannot lead in the same manner that it did previously.

While Grossman said he is pleased with the progress made in Afghanistan during his two years as a representative, he emphasized that the future of the nation remains uncertain. In his January State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from the country by the beginning of 2014 — the same year that Afghani president Hamid Karzai will step down. Grossman said Obama was wise not to make any further troop withdrawal promises, as he believes a strong U.S. presence there is still important.

Grossman said he thinks the work of diplomats is never over.

“It is like a relay race,” he said. “You are given the baton and you do your part as fast as you can and as well as you can, and then you hand it off to the next person.”

Erik Heinonen GRD ’13 said he found Grossman’s talk to be informative because it provided audience members with a “quick and thorough recap of what’s gone on from a diplomacy standpoint in a critical period.”

Reema Shah LAW ’15, who helped organize the lecture, said she appreciated that Grossman made confusing aspects of diplomacy in Afghanistan clear while also explaining the next steps for diplomatic efforts.

Grossman worked in the State Department for over 35 years.

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