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US Public Diplomacy Towards Afghanistan – OpEd

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With the completion of the security evolution in Afghanistan, the international community, led by the United States, will lose most of its military track in the country.

In 1934, the United States officially recognized Afghanistan’s independence and established an embassy in Kabul. The US engagement with Afghanistan since the 1950s can be seen as a try to spread Western ideas and culture in Afghanistan. A tiny part of total non-military spending has been in Afghanistan, a total that was estimated in 2008 as approximately US$ 7 million per day, while the US military spending is about US$ 100 million per day for that same year.

In the years 2010 and 2011, the US Embassy in Kabul alone awarded 560 public diplomacy grants and cooperative agreements, with a total cost of approximately US$ 148 million, with the aim of helping the Afghan government and to support the Afghan people. This makes the United States currently the largest financier in public diplomacy efforts in Afghanistan.

US public diplomacy in Afghanistan has a strong focus on training, communication and education. The United States trains Afghan diplomats, for example through the Young Diplomat Training Program that is jointly sponsored by the US Department of State and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the USAID-funded Afghanistan Foreign Affairs Institutional Reform (FAIR) project; and the USAID Capacity Development Program.

These efforts are connected to broader training and capability initiatives that are directed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, for example, in terms of policy, administration and language skills. In 2010, the US State Department reserve US$ 113 million for civilian communication, including new mobile phone network towers, community media outlets, and supporting educational radio in Afghanistan.

While this is done by US, in areas controlled by Taliban propaganda other information is hardly available. For education, the US Fulbright Exchange Program was restarted in 2003, allowing more than 300 Afghans to study in the United States during the past ten years. Administered by the US Embassy in Kabul, one of this scheme’s objectives is to foster mutual understanding between the two cultures.

Within the framework of education, there are many more US initiatives, both public and private, that offer collaborative platforms and cultural exchange, such as the Global Citizens in Action programme that promotes intercultural learning and communication.

In Afghanistan, USAID has played an important role in the United States’ public diplomacy activities. Since 2001, USAID has been at the wheel of supporting education, worked extensively on women-led civil society organizations and helped in their development. They also have trained more than 700 female journalists across Afghanistan, and supported both the access to and availability of independent media, including support for radio and television stations. Since January 2002, the United States has also been supporting Radio Free Afghanistan, the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe.

The United States furthermore runs a cultural heritage assignment, focusing on capacity building, training and efforts to preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage sites. That includes preservation of the ancient Afghan city of Mes Aynak in Logar province and the restoration of the National Museum in Kabul.

Since 2001, it is logical that public diplomacy has been applied extensively to support military activities in Afghanistan. Civilian power in general has been used as ‘comprehensive approach’ that civilian and military instruments should complement each other to achieve military goals. The most important approach is Civil Military Cooperation, or ‘CIMIC’, which responds to the reality in current conflicts that the military is often obliged to engage in non-military activities and to interact with the civilian environment.

*Momna Mudabber is a student of Defence and Diplomatic Studies.


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