Exploring Afghanistan- Pakistan Dilemma

International event explores security, governance and public health issues



By Vickie Chachere


TAMPA, Fla. (March 24, 2010) – The United States and its allies must be careful not to have too high of expectations for Afghanistan’s ability to provide security for its people because impatience will push the fledgling movement for sustained peace, democracy and security beyond its capability and could cause it to fail, a former U.S. ambassador to the country said Wednesday.


Ronald Neumann, who was the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, said deadlines for U.S. troop withdrawals could have the unintended effect of forcing the skittish Afghanistan people to turn back to the security they know – tribal leaders and warlords – rather than continuing to work on the difficult task of building a central government and security forces.


Neumann warned it is unreasonable to expect the world’s fourth poorest nation which has seen governments come and go in decades of bloody turmoil to have an effective and efficient government in a year. But he also remained optimistic that the Afghan people can slowly secure a stable nation.


“Progress, if it comes, will be incremental, it will have setbacks,” he said.


His assessment came in the keynote address of USF’s Symposium on Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Challenges and Opportunities for Governance and the Role of Regional Actors, which opened Wednesday. More than 200 people attended the first day’s sessions, which focused on Afghanistan’s governance.


The program continues Thursday, featuring more than two dozen of the world’s leading authorities on Afghanistan and Pakistan for three days of discussions on the challenges and opportunities in one of the world’s most volatile and important regions.


The event will include an hour-long conversation with U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. David H. Petraeus at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 26, in the Oval Theater of the Marshall Student Center.


The general’s talk, as well as other conference discussions, are free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP at RSVP-GenP@usf.edu.


“The importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan to American national security is irrefutably profound,” said conference co-organizer Mohsen Milani, chair of USF’s Department of Government and International Affairs and an internationally renowned scholar on the region.


“There are thousands of American troops stationed in Afghanistan, and Pakistan is a nuclear power. In three days of intense discussions, our invited experts, who come from a truly diverse academic and career backgrounds, will analyze the challenges faced by these two countries and their ramifications for the U.S. national security and interests.”


USF is organizing the conference as a means of advancing discussion on the development of future regional policy. Attending the event will be contingents from U.S. Central Command, the U.S. diplomatic corps, scholars, students and concerned citizens.


Experts also will explore the connection between security interests and the dire healthcare situation in both nations.


“Public Health plays a major role in creating a stable Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” said conference co-organizer Tom Mason, an epidemiologist in USF’s College of Public Health. “Without good health, people are not only susceptible to disease but also to manipulation. By addressing health needs we can achieve recognition as a caring society, which is committed to providing care to all.”


Five panel discussions will feature scholars from diverse backgrounds. Experts from the U.S. Army War College, the Rand Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment, Boston University, the Ministry of Health in Kabul and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be among the panelists.


Kevin McGurgan, British Consul-General in Miami, opened Wednesday’s session, drawing on his experiences in the country helping to develop a “wheat for poppies” program that paid Afghan farmers to turn away from the illegal crop and toward a major food source. McGurgan also urged patience in creating a more stable Afghanistan given the complex interplay and dependency between factors spanning culture, ethnicity, education, health care and economic development.


It could take a generation to bring true stability to the nation, McGurgan warned.


“It’s very clear we are working with a country that has been wracked and ravaged over time,” he said. “You are working with security concerns in the short-term, but you will be back if you don’t get it right.”


Thursday’s discussions will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater and will concentrate on Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, Russia and Iran; the role of tribes in Afghanistan and the status of women in Afghanistan.


Friday, the focus moves to public health at 9 a.m. in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater with a wide-ranging discussion on maternal and child health; water security and the future direction of U.S. health services in Afghanistan.


The conversation with General Petraeus will conclude the event.


Members of the public planning on attending the general’s talk should be advised that no purses, bags or backpacks will be allowed in the theater and seating is limited. The general’s talk also will be broadcast live at on USF.edu.


A complete schedule of events can be found here.


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.