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Ambassador Crocker Focuses On Afghanistan's Future


Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, travels soon to Chicago. He'll attend a summit of NATO, the North Atlantic Alliance, on whose troops Karzai's government depends. At that summit, NATO countries will be asked to pledge billions of dollars to support Afghanistan's security forces after NATO combat troops withdraw in the year 2014. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan will also attend that summit. And as he prepared to leave Kabul, he sat down with our own Renee Montagne.


When we talked, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said one key argument that will be made in Chicago for supporting Afghanistan security forces is that it's far less expensive than keeping NATO troops in Afghanistan. These days, the State Department is looking ahead to the 10 years after 2014, calling that time a transformational decade. Ambassador Crocker in particular has been focused on how America can support Afghanistan in the coming years. He's the one who negotiated the long-term partnership agreement signed this month by Presidents Karzai and Obama.

AMBASSADOR RYAN CROCKER: The most significant thing about the agreement, in my view - and I think that is a view shared by an overwhelming majority of Afghans - is the agreement itself. As you know, from being around here so many times, there is a deep-rooted fear that 2014 means the West and the U.S. just vanish in a puff of smoke. This agreement says no, we don't. And, again, there are commitments. On our side, we are committed to seek funds on an annual basis to support Afghanistan's economic development and its security forces. Under our system, that's the limit of what we can say. Congress passes the budget annually, and that is Congress' prerogative. Reciprocally, they've got some obligations, too, on free and fair elections, on the further promotion of democracy, human rights, transparency and an all-out fight against corruption. These, again, are not insignificant commitments in a binding agreement.

MONTAGNE: Although it may be a binding agreement, but within the agreement itself, were these commitments not to be honored - let's say, on the Afghan side - their pledge to increase efficiency in their government and to curb corruption, were they to do nothing about that, in the agreement, there is no punishment if they don't succeed and even if they don't try.

CROCKER: You're right in the sense that there is no court you take an agreement like this to. But they realize they are bound by the commitments they've made. There is also a termination clause that could be invoked. I'd certainly hate to see it come to that, and I don't think it will. But that's a fairly powerful lever.

MONTAGNE: Clearly, when you talk about this country being transformed from 2014 to 2024, you're talking about a country that will no longer be part of what is, in fact, a false economy. It's an economy where billions of dollars of aid money and military funding has poured into this country. How do you envision that economy?

CROCKER: Part of it will be investment. We brought a trade mission out here in February that is looking at 20-odd million dollars of potential investment.

MONTAGNE: Of what nature?

CROCKER: Some manufacturing. We've got a significant private investment mining and processing marble, because some of the finest marble in the world comes out of Afghanistan. They've signed contracts with the Chinese and the Indians on copper and iron ore deposits, respectively, and they have a wealth of rare earths, like lithium. They've also already taken steps to limit the amount of money that can be exported from the country to $20,000 and have made a number of seizures out of Kabul Airport.

MONTAGNE: Suitcases filled with billions...

CROCKER: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

MONTAGNE: ...of American dollars out of Kabul into parts unknown - Dubai, other parts unknown.

CROCKER: Ironically, you know, the fact that vast sums of money have been expatriated may lessen the impact on the overall economy of the true drawdown, because the money, in many cases, never made it into the Afghan economy. You know, I'm not saying that's a good thing, but it may significantly lessen the blow when we get to the end of 2014.

MONTAGNE: Meaning, of all the billions that poured into this country, enough of it went to make some people rich and didn't find its way into the economy, so that the economy will not be as hurt as it might have been had the money been more honorably distributed.

CROCKER: Absolutely. You know, in many cases, arguably, there was nothing illegitimate about a lot of it. I mean, these were contractors. They made their profits. Capital will go anywhere, where it's the best investment opportunity. That's where the capital will go, and that's what happened in many of these cases.

MONTAGNE: Well, then, let me ask you: There was talk - certainly before this long-term strategic partnership agreement - that this country could descend into its past history, basically, another civil war or an insurgency that's so powerful that it would keep out all capital. What's your thinking on that?

CROCKER: I don't see either as a possibility in terms of the civil war scenario. You know, it is a case of been there, done that. Nobody is talking about let's back off into our separate corners and repeat '92-'96.

MONTAGNE: The civil war, 1992 to 1996.

CROCKER: Yeah. And one of the most, I think, important indications of that is how those who play a role in that war are now very much oriented to the center, you know, both vice presidents.

MONTAGNE: They were warlords at some point.

CROCKER: They sure were. They sure were.

MONTAGNE: Tough guys.

CROCKER: Very tough guys.

MONTAGNE: And willing to fight.

CROCKER: Right. And now you're talking to either both of them, it isn't about conflict. It's about, you know, a state that will increasingly be able to secure itself and develop its economy. So I just don't see the elements that could bring about another start to a civil war, another '92. And you know how that happened. When the Soviets withdrew, they left behind a number of advisors to the Afghan security forces of the day and continued to provide financial assistance. And the army did quite well until Soviet funding stopped, and then it fell apart.

MONTAGNE: The army fell apart.

CROCKER: The army fell apart, and the war started. In falling apart, they, you know, everybody headed for their clan, tribe, ethnic group. So, again, why is Chicago important and why is sustaining, over the long term, a credible, capable Afghan national security force, why is it important? That's how you ensure we don't get on another road to 9-11.

MONTAGNE: Where does this country stand in terms of its insurgency?

CROCKER: Well, Secretary Clinton said it pretty well when she said: You know, we can fight and talk at the same time. In other words, you keep whacking them. You get reconciliation when your opponent no longer thinks he's winning, or that he's going to win. So I think it's a combination of the pounding they've taken and, again, the partnership agreement which says if you can't outlast us, we're not going to win, is probably going to change calculations.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, ambassador.

CROCKER: Thank you, Renee. It's great to talk to you again.

MONTAGNE: That's America's ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, speaking with me at the U.S. embassy here in Kabul.


INSKEEP: And we're going to hear more of Renee's reporting from Afghanistan this week on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.