SANGIN DISTRICT, Afghanistan – James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan; Nic Hailey, the British deputy ambassador to Afghanistan; Ambassador Salahuddin Rabbani, the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council; and Gov. Naeem, the governor of Helmand province, met with several village elders during the Sangin Peace Jirga Nov. 20.
The diplomats spent the morning and early afternoon enjoying chai tea and lunch while discussing the major security gains in the Sangin district, as well as the needs and wants of the community leaders.
“I’m here today to come with the Chairman of the High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani,” said Ambassador Cunningham. “He is attending a Peace Jirga here, an important event in Sangin, and I’ve wanted to come here for some time. This is my first visit to Sangin, and I am very impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”
Sangin, a small community located next to the Helmand River, has been a notorious insurgent stronghold throughout the past several years. However, U.S. and coalition forces, along with their Afghan National Security Forces counterparts, have worked diligently to rid the area of the enemy and enemy supporters.
During the Sangin Peace Jirga, the government officials had a chance to speak with village elders about peace agreements and how peace will be achieved not only in the district but throughout Helmand province and Afghanistan.
“It needs to be shaped around three principals,” said Ambassador Cunningham. “The renunciation of violence, breaking ties with international terrorism, and respect for the Afghan constitution, which includes the human rights of all Afghans.”
The peace jirga was another example of the gains that have been accomplished throughout Helmand province and Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“If you compare today’s Afghanistan with the last 11 years, you will definitely see a lot of changes,” said Ambassador Rabbani. “Of course we do still have problems, but we must not forget that we are a country that has been through war and invasions for the last three and a half decades. But let me tell you, in the last 11 years there have been achievements. We have now more than 8 million students going to schools and universities. We have free media. We have private sectors doing well. There has been some good progress in education and the economic field. But still, we do have challenges, and it will take some time. Overall, I would say that we have made quite good progress the last 11 years.”
In addition to economic and education gains made throughout the country, the security of Afghanistan has seen drastic improvements. Not only has security progressed, ANSF have taken the lead of security operations in many areas throughout the country.
“The security of Afghanistan is ultimately the Afghans’ responsibility,” Ambassador Rabbani said. “So it is up to us to train our security forces. We thank the international community for their support and assistance helping our security institutions to stand on their own two feet. However, I must say this is the responsibility of Afghan people to take their own security. The training for the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army has been well. We hope that in the next few years they will be able to, and we are very much confident they will be able to, take the main responsibility for the security.”
The successful Sangin Peace Jirga gave village elders the ability to speak to diplomats from their government as well as diplomats from the international community, and it gave the diplomats a firsthand view of the progress being made in the once insurgent hotbed of Sangin.