Crocker On Afghanistan's 'Extraordinary Achievement'

Renee Montagne speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker as he prepares to step down from his posting.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Our next guest spent some of his long diplomatic career in Syria, as well as Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan. Ryan Crocker served in Lebanon during its civil war and in Iraq during the surge of U.S. troops. He arrived in Kabul again last year as ambassador to Afghanistan at a sensitive and dangerous time. NATO troops were drawing down after 10 years of war - which is why he sees as one of his greatest achievements a 10-year partnership agreement which cements the U.S. as an ally long after American troops are gone.

AMBASSADOR RYAN CROCKER: After the Soviet defeat and withdrawal in 1989, we basically said our work here is done and withdrew from any meaningful engagement with Afghanistan. That led to the civil war and the rise of the Taliban. So, for Afghans, they see this as the guarantee that we won't let that happen again, that we will be with them.

MONTAGNE: Crocker also helped secure international pledges of aid worth $16 billion at this month's donors' conference in Tokyo - impressive, given the tough economic times.

Ryan Crocker joined us for a last interview as ambassador.

Good morning.

CROCKER: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Do you think this money, this $16 billion will, in fact, be forthcoming over the coming years? Can Afghanistan count on it?

CROCKER: The Tokyo conference and its outcome I think is highly significant, because it produced, you know, a document in which the international community accepts certain obligations to provide funding, and the Afghan government accepts certain obligations to fight corruption, to build institutions. And I think as the international community sees the Afghan government deliver on its side, both the incentive and the pressure on international community to provide the promised assistance simply increases. And I note that President Karzai came out with a 14-point decree for all ministries to begin to implement to deliver on their side of the undertaking, and I find that highly encouraging.

MONTAGNE: It's highly encouraging, even though President Karzai has made promises before - and feels like many promises before - to crack down on corruption, to manage the economy better, and hasn't delivered.

CROCKER: I think the circumstances are significantly different now. President Karzai believes that he has the solid backing of the international community.

MONTAGNE: But he didn't think that before? I would think there was plenty of evidence that the international community was behind Afghanistan and this president.

CROCKER: In terms of a long-term commitment, the way he frames it now is that the international community has done everything that Afghanistan could conceivably ask. It is now up to the Afghans to put their own house in order.

MONTAGNE: There's a steady drumbeat of stories and predictions about a possible civil war. Now, you've repeatedly said you do not see a civil war in the future for Afghanistan. But speaking to an American audience, can you give one particular example of, in a sense, why not? I think Americans think of this country as a place with a corrupt government, a history of violence. Why wouldn't it fall into, if not a civil war, some type of violent chaos?

CROCKER: I can give you several reasons, Renee, that I have certainly found compelling. Perhaps most important is the Afghans have been there and done that. When I got there at the beginning of 2002, it looked like Berlin in 1945, and that was because of the Afghan civil war. No one wants to go back to that. The second point is minority groups clearly see their interests having a voice in national decisions - no major minority politician is thinking in terms of separatism. It's all how can they be more - rather than less - involved in Kabul.

A third point would be, of course, the enemy himself. The Taliban and their allies are equal opportunity killers: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks. So, you know, in a sense, an enemy who indiscriminately kills all Afghans regardless of community or ethnicity or political affiliation has actually been a unifying factor.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask a larger question. You've just stepped down as the ambassador to Afghanistan. You came to Afghanistan in January of 2002. You were the man who reopened the embassy doors after the fall of the Taliban. Looking back, what will you miss the most?

CROCKER: You know, what I'll miss the most is the chance to see Afghanistan move to the next stage of its development at every level - economic, governance and security - because I think they're on the right trajectory. I felt we had a pretty good last year in setting that up. I would have liked to have been part of the process of seeing it through. I'm confident they will get there. It would have been nice to be on deck to watch them do it.

MONTAGNE: What did it look like to you as you took your last look at Kabul?

CROCKER: A vibrant, bustling city with shops open, streets crowded, horrendous traffic - which some would consider a problem, but frankly I see as a sign of confidence in the security and stability of the capital. There's a long ways to go, but from the devastated ghost town of 2002 to the Kabul of today, it's an extraordinary achievement. And I leave with the sense of a city that is very, very much alive and moving into the future.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Crocker, thank you very much for joining us.

CROCKER: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Ryan Crocker just stepped down from his position as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. It's NPR News.

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