Roundtable Discussion on Role of USIP in Afghanistan: Impartiality or Partisanship?

Posted on: 28-04-2020

On Tuesday, April 28, 2020, As part of its ongoing peace program, the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies(AISS) held an online roundtable discussion on "The Role of USIP in Afghanistan: Impartiality or Partisanship?” Shahmahmood Miakhel, Governor of Nangarhar and Former Country Director of USIP in Afghanistan, Dr. Nazif Shahrani, Professor, Indiana University, Eng. Rahmatullah Nabil, Former Director of National Directorate of Security (NDS); and Dr. C. Christine Fair, Professor, Georgetown University, were the speakers of the program. The event was moderated by Sami Mahdi, Bureau Chief of Radio Azadi. He moderated the program in his individual capacity.

Governor Miakhel said that the United State Institute of Peace’s (USIP) mandate is bipartisan, having support of both Democrats and Republicans in the United States. He said that the USIP is involved in the Afghan Peace Process providing analysis, research and briefings, in addition to, peace education and trainings. He said that the USIP only advises the U.S. government, it does not make policies. He said that Policy Making is work of the governments, not the U.S. think tanks.

Eng. Rahmatullah Nabil said that after 20 years of investment by blood & treasure, nobody can claim Afghanistan is a success story. He said, “Some of the blame goes to Afghans & the regional countries, but the main problem was the Washington policy. The Think Tank community are deeply involved in the Afghan policy. USIP is working in Afghanistan in the past 17 years. They were involved in major projects, with millions of dollars, to turn Afghanistan into a success story. It's important if organizations, such as, USIP involved in the national projects in Afghanistan to earn the trust of Afghans.”

Eng. Nabil said, “The USIP received huge funding to advice the U.S. on the Afghan Elections. They had conducted research & provided Congressional briefings. They have conducted seminars & trainings on elections, receiving millions of dollars.” He said, “the USIP was partisan in the issue of the Afghan Elections. Some of the staff members of the USIP, especially in Afghanistan, supported certain electoral tickets and lobbied for them in the U.S.”

Eng. Nabil also said that “some of the USIP staff members have close relationship with Pakistani military Generals. “The question is”, he asked “How can I, as an Afghan, trust the USIP in the Afghan Peace Process?

Eng. Nabil said, “USIP was part of the Bonn Process advising the U.S. government, but now they say the Bonn process was not inclusive of other groups. The USIP spent 1.5 Million Dollars on a small building in Kabul. If they spent this money on Afghans, institutions & the youth in the country, it would have yielded better results.” In his concluding remarks, he said, “one of the prominent members of the USIP was involved in writing the Op-Ed article by Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network, published in the New York Times.”

Prof. Nazir Shahrani said that the USIP had been supporting & strengthening the regimes in Kabul without questioning. “Our taxpayer’s money, especially mine & Dr Fair’s is wasted on major USIP projects.” On the formulation of a peace study group by the USIP, Prof. Shahrani said that some of the people involved in the USIP peace study group have been involved in the Afghanistan affairs for the past two decades doing the same thing over & over again. “I am not optimistic in the people involved in the study group.”

Prof. Nazif Shahrani said that the USIP executives in Washington do not know the country and do not understand the language. “All the knowledge given to them is produced by government in charge in Afghanistan. They do not involve and also marginalize scholars who know the country. We should ask why $30 Million annual budget plus a building worth $110 Million has been wasted by the USIP for supporting the regime in Afghanistan.”

Prof. Nazif Shahrani added that the USIP claims it provides information but others make policy. “The question is, if information is biased, then how you think the policies will be effective, and if the information is unbiased, then why the USIP did not criticize the policies? Policies are made to promote the interests of the few elite. Those particular think tanks involved in Afghanistan advise on formulating policies for the interests of certain people and especially for milking taxpayer’s money.”

Dr C. Christine Fair said that the USIP is non-partisan only in the sense that individuals from both parties, Democrats & Republicans, are involved. Dr Fair said that USIP advisors defend Pakistani military policy, and they do not even deny it. “The USIP advisors opposed and advised against holding Afghan Elections. The current USIP advisory board is a collection of people grading their prior homework without being held to account for prior mistakes. Several have been notorious defenders of Pakistan. Why should we believe them NOW? What makes them competent now?

She said, “this makes the organization the U.S. Institute of Pakistan. What the US Institute of Pakistan does is dictated by its board members. The organization has little regard for its staff on the ground.”

It must be added the current USIP country director Mr. Ehsan Zia cancelled his participation on the panel, just on the eve of the program. Nevertheless, AISS welcomes USIP’ s right of response and clarification on some of the issues that were raised by the speakers. A full transcript of the program and video will be made available to public in due course.