Kerry Statement on Nomination of Ambassadors to Afghanistan, Pakistan
Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered the following statement on the nominations of James B. Cunningham to be Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Richard G. Olson to be Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
“The signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement earlier this year marked the beginning—not the end—of a new phase of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Kerry in his statement. “As international conferences from Istanbul and Bonn to Chicago and Tokyo have made clear, the world is not going to simply walk away from or abandon its investment in a stable Afghanistan. Our task now is to leverage our commitment into a sustainable transition that prevents Afghanistan and the region from backsliding into widespread ethnic or sectarian violence.”
The full text of Chairman Kerry’s hearing statement, as delivered, is below:
“We are delighted to welcome everybody here to consider the nominations of two distinguished career Foreign Service officers who are selected to serve in the very important posts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassadors James Cunningham and Richard Olson are very experienced and talented diplomats, and I am convinced, as I think the Committee is, and will be, that they bring the combination of intelligence, experience, and diligence necessary for both of these critical assignments.
“Obviously, today’s hearing comes at a pivotal moment – all you have to do is pick up the newspapers on any given day in the last few weeks and Afghanistan and Pakistan are, as usual, swirling around in them. The signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement earlier this year marked the beginning—not the end—of a new phase of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. As international conferences from Istanbul and Bonn to Chicago and Tokyo have made clear, the world is not going to simply walk away from or abandon its investment in a stable Afghanistan. Our task now is to leverage our commitment into a sustainable transition that prevents Afghanistan and the region from backsliding into widespread ethnic or sectarian violence.
“A coordinated political, security and economic transition will be challenging. As we move forward, there are several key steps we need to focus us on.
“First and most important, we must prepare now for Afghan elections in 2014. Ultimately, it is the political transition that will determine whether our military gains are sustainable and the strength and quality of the Afghan state we leave behind will be determined by that political transition.
“Our role should not interfere in domestic politics. It is critical that Afghans must pick their leaders freely and fairly. But we should make clear that we will only support a technical process that is transparent and credible. Selection of an accountable Independent Election Commission, transparency in new elections laws, and early preparation of voter lists are all critical steps for Afghans in order that they have a voice and choice in the election.
“Just as important, our political strategy has to go beyond reconciliation in order to support a national consensus among key Afghan stakeholders. Too many Afghans are preparing to fight to secure their interests instead of uniting for the good of their country. I think we need to send a strong message that the United States supports a comprehensive political process that is fully inclusive, transparent and respectful of the rights of all groups, including women and ethnic minorities.
“Facilitating a political transition also requires us to consider how best to build and sustain the Afghan army and the police in order to leave behind a force that can independently secure key terrain, and there are a lot of questions about the viability of that, needless to say. We have two years to lay that foundation for a force that is responsive to the needs of its people. It’s interesting; as I talk to leaders in Pakistan you get a difference in stated interests about the size, scope, and capacity of that force. Obviously there is a connection to those interests with respect to each country’s choices that it is making right now. So we need to continue to focus on combating corruption, on emphasizing respect for human rights and the rule of law. We also need to focus our assessment tools on creating an affordable, and sustainable effective force.
“As we build, and as the Afghans gain confidence about their future, we also need to move in the areas of economic development and stability. Despite the progress that was made in Tokyo to pledge $16 billion in donor aid through 2015, Afghanistan could very well still face a major economic crisis. We have made significant development achievements over the past decade, but I think everyone would agree the gains are fragile. Sustaining them is going to require continued investments and an Afghan government that itself can generate sufficient revenue. Our development approach must also take into account Afghanistan’s worsening humanitarian crisis and the immense needs of vulnerable populations. Obviously there’s no shortage of challenge here.
“Finally, our strategy has to continue to reflect the interconnectedness of the region’s challenges—from Central Asia and Iran to India and Pakistan. As I have said a number of times before, but I believe it even more so now, that what happens in the region, in the region as a whole, will do more to determine the outcome in Afghanistan than any shift in strategy. Pakistan, in particular, remains central to that effort.
“It’s no secret that last year was a very challenging one in our relationship in the U.S.-Pakistan axis. Many Pakistanis believe that America will simply once again abandon the region as we did after the fall of the Soviet Union, which is one reason why Pakistan continues to hedge its bets and rely on certain insurgent groups for strategic depth. The result has been a counterproductive back and forth—point and counterpoint—that undermines what really ought to be a more cooperative relationship – and we see that in today’s newspaper stories about accusations regarding Afghanistan-based insurgent initiatives in Pakistan.
“I’m pleased that recent developments with Pakistan have led to the re-opening of critical NATO supply lines. Despite many of our frustrations and setbacks, serious policymakers on both sides understand that we have more to gain by finding common ground and working together on areas of mutual concern— and those are clearly from fighting terrorism to facilitating economic development.
“I think we also need to point out that Pakistan has suffered grievously at the hands of al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated terrorist groups. Some 38,000 Pakistani citizens and more than 6,000 Pakistani army and security forces have died from terrorist incidents since 2001. Pakistan is also facing a massive economic and energy crisis, and political infighting and election-year politics complicate efforts to address deteriorating situations and none us are unfamiliar with those kinds of dynamics even here at home.
“For years now, this Administration and Congress have tried to work with Pakistan to build a stable economy. That is why our Committee led the effort to pass the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, and it’s why Senator Lugar and I have fought for continued investments in the long-term relationship that is based on mutual goals.
“Often, the reward for diplomats who succeed in difficult postings with long odds is tougher assignments with longer odds. Our nominees today are no exception to that rule.
“James Cunningham has already served a tour in Afghanistan, most recently as deputy ambassador in Kabul. He is uniquely placed, I think, to lay the foundation for a coordinated political, security, and economic transition. I want to note that the Ambassador’s wife, Leslie, and I think his daughters, Emma and Abigail, and we welcome both of them – all of you, all three of you – thank you. It’s particularly good to see him again here. I’ve been with him in Kabul, and before that when he was serving as our Ambassador to Israel. I’m delighted to welcome him back here.
“Richard Olson served most recently as the coordinating director for development and economic affairs in Kabul. I am confident that his experience in Afghanistan and previous leadership in the Middle East will serve him well as he works to strengthen our relationship with Pakistan. We’re very pleased to welcome him here today, and also, I think, Ambassador Olson, your daughter is here, am I correct? Isabella? She’s interning in Senator Tom Udall’s office. Delighted to have you here – got an inside track on the seating and other things, too.
“We really thank you for your service and particularly thank your families for their service, because everybody is part of this and no one recognizes that more than this Committee.”
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