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Senior leaders from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction speak at the conference.
July 29, 2015

Conference Examines “The Way Forward” for Afghanistan

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  • Boston
On Monday, UMass Boston hosted ambassadors, advocates, architects, engineers, planners, and other experts for the 2015 Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters (CRSCAD) conference: “Rebuilding Sustainable Communities in Afghanistan: The Way Forward.”

The conference is one of many the center has held annually on rebuilding sustainable communities after manmade or natural disasters.

Previous conferences have focused on counter terrorism and anti-corruption, China, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, and Japan, according to Adenrele Awotona, founding director of CRSCAD.

The conference, which attracted nearly 70 participants, focused on reconstruction activities in Afghanistan over the last 14 years, and on recommendations for future development that will help a nation wrought by more than three decades of war to heal.

“Rebuilding after disasters is not something that only happens in one part of the world, or after wars,” said McCormack Graduate School Dean David Cash. “It happens all over the world, and every community that’s hit by a hurricane or a tsunami or civil strife or riots, as we’ve been experiencing in this country recently, asks the same kinds of questions and needs to figure out a path forward in the same way that we’re discussing the path forward here.”

Many of the presentations focused on successes and failures on the parts of the United States and the international community to help Afghanistan establish independence. Dwindling financial support from the international community, as well as troop withdrawal, present concerns for the future investment in and stability of Afghanistan, experts said.

Senior leaders from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Timothy M. Nelson, Gabriele A. Tonsil, and Michael Bindell, highlighted many of the major reconstruction challenges facing Afghanistan, including the capacity of Afghan security forces, corruption, sustainability issues, on-budget support, contract management, as well as strategy and planning. They also cited gains in Afghanistan, from the increase in the number of young women attending school to telecommunications and health care advances.

Nelson mentioned the fact that the U.S. government has invested roughly $110 billion in Afghanistan over the last 13 to 14 years, the largest investment the United States has ever made in any one country, not counting its warfighting investments, including the loss of lives.

“I think there’s a narrative in the media that thinks that once the U.S. troops go away, that’s the end of U.S. investment in Afghanistan and that’s just not true,” Nelson said. “There’s still a lot of good that can be done.”

James Bullion, who served as director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2014, suggested private investment in Afghanistan is a critical need in order to rebuild the country and promote self-sufficiency.

“You won’t have a stable government until you have a thriving private sector,” said Bullion, when asked by a member of the audience whether the country should prioritize forming a stable government first. “Without a private sector, no one cares if government is good or bad.”

Many pointed to the reality that Afghan wealth is concentrated in very few hands to be a major cause of disparity and injustice.

“Despite having the constitution that promotes and protects human rights, we still have some segregation based on urban and rural areas...and also between the elite versus the poor,” said Nicole M. Dhanraj, part of a panel of individuals who spoke on the role of women in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“Facilitating true change and peace is only possible through educating the women who are the guardians of her generations,” added Sonik Sadozai, president of Afghan Women’s Center for Excellence.

Other panelists evaluated the need for basic services such as cleaner water, better sanitation, accurate reporting of schools and students, and the protection of children to be paramount to Afghanistan’s stability and peace going forward.

Many echoed the need for political will in Afghanistan to affect permanent, positive change in the country.

“What we’ve also learned is that this takes a very, very long time,” said Peter Wilson, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations. “I think we in the West tend to have fairly short attention spans. We have been in Afghanistan for 13 years.

“It is going to take at least that long to build a firm, better future for Afghanistan, but I think the point is, by being realistic by what that involves, and attempting to involve as many parties as possible in that better future, it stands a much better chance of success, and that if we seek to exclude certain groups of people, then that contains within it the seeds for destruction.”

The College of Advancing and Professional Studies, architect and founder Najim Azadzoi of Azad Architects Designer/Planners, and Perini Management Services, Inc. cosponsored the conference.

Next year’s conference will focus on “Disaster Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Sustainable Reconstruction: Capacity Building for Equitable Planning and Development.”

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