Refugees International hosted its eighth annual Washington Circle event, Protect People First: Eyewitness Reports from Afghanistan and Pakistan, last Friday in front of a captivated Georgetown audience with one message --- make civilians the priority.
The Obama administration is a much stronger supporter of the United Nations than the Bush administration was. But even for those who strongly believe in multilateralism -- and who want to see the UN play a larger role in international relations, humanitarian assistance and nation-building -- it can be difficult to understand the mandate and work of individual agencies and the cumbersome bureaucracy that sometimes prevents swift action.
President Obama’s speech to the Muslim World in Cairo was a complete home run.
He highlighted the shared religious values of peace and justice that unify the People of the Book--Jews, Christians and Muslims who live by their Holy texts, the Talmud, the Bible and the Koran. He addressed the differences that currently divide the faiths, and he proposed paths for dialogue, partnership and peace in the future.
I am always inspired when people hear about Refugees International's
work for the first time. Last night, Ambassador Said Jawad and his wife
Shamim hosted a group of some 100 influential supporters and new
friends of Refugees International at the Embassy of Afghanistan. They were
there to learn about our recent mission to Afghanistan and the latest
work we are doing to improve the lives of Afghan refugees.
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has provided Pakistan with $11 billion in military aid, a staggering sum in both absolute terms and when compared with non-military assistance. Not surprisingly, Pakistan wants this financial and logistical support to its armed forces to continue. President Asif Ali Zardari, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, urged the U.S. to “give [Pakistan] the necessary resources – upgrading [their] equipment and providing the newest technology – to fight terrorists…”
Vice President Joe Biden visited Afghanistan just one week before the inauguration, indicating the new administration’s foreign policy priorities. It is clear that America’s “to do” list in Afghanistan is a long one. But the first order of business should be regaining the trust of Afghans.
After seven years of international presence, the country is still facing tremendous challenges: a weak government, a fledging economy, a serious humanitarian situation and a growing insurgency. As the Vice President himself said on his return, "The truth is that things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they're going to get better.”
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, knows first hand that peacemaking can be dangerous and difficult. He dedicated To End A War, his book on the negotiations that ended the war in the Balkans 15 years ago, to three colleagues who died in the early stages of that effort.
In announcing the appointment last week, President Obama said: “There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al Qaida and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Barack Obama may not know it, but soon he will have refugees on his mind.
In a recent interview with TIME Magazine, the president-elect talked about the foreign policy priorities that will occupy him and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
"There’s no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority," he said. "Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority." He also said that “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority."
All of these crises are characterized by displacement problems. Here is a rundown: