US Bishops Urge Responsible Afghan Transition

Promote Community Ownership as Military Departs

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WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 8, 2011 ( As U.S. military forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, the bishops are urging a responsible transition that promotes community ownership and citizen participation.

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), made this appeal in a letter sent Wednesday to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon.

“We affirm the administration’s commitment to drawing down military operations in Afghanistan,” the prelate stated on behalf of the conference.

He pointed out that “a responsible transition should allow the withdrawal of U.S. military forces at the earliest opportunity consistent with the objectives of denying safe havens for terrorist organizations, minimizing further loss of human life, assisting refugees and internally displaced persons, and helping Afghans along a path to recovery from decades of war.”

“The success and sustainability of the military drawdown will hinge upon a successful transition to Afghan leadership, much of which must be exercised at the local level given the decentralized nature of Afghan society,” the bishop stated.

He continued, “As you embark upon what the administration calls an ‘Enduring Partnership’ with Afghanistan, we encourage you to emphasize citizen participation, civil society capacity, accountability and good stewardship.”

“We commend the administration’s renewed emphasis on country-ownership in Afghanistan and Pakistan and would expand it to include community-ownership,” Bishop Hubbard said.

“Building local capacity helps establish a foundation for future security, political stability and economic prosperity,” he noted.

The bishop emphasized building “open and independent government institutions,” while noting that the “brick and mortar consists of civil society, including religious institutions, local councils, universities, women’s groups and others.”

“International private voluntary organizations, such as [Catholic Relief Services], have longstanding relationships with local partners,” he added.

Continued development

The prelate acknowledged that “while the military drawdown will significantly reduce U.S. costs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a comprehensive commitment to continued development is critical to long-term success.”

Thus, he asserted that “a responsible transition requires that development and reconstruction funding currently allocated through the Department of Defense be transferred to the Department of State/Agency for International Development.”

“Such funding should be targeted based on need, with particular preference for poor and marginalized persons,” he urged.

Bishop Hubbard affirmed: “We remain deeply concerned about religious freedom in Pakistan and urge it be a major priority in U.S. policy.

“The failure to protect the religious freedom of all, especially minorities, and to build a pluralistic tolerant society emboldens fundamentalist terror groups.”

In this regard, he noted that “the assassination of the Pakistani Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet, is a grim reminder of this threat.”

The prelate expressed the hope that “the recent appointment of Paul Bhatti as special advisor for religious minorities will mean his brother’s legacy of defending minority rights will continue.”

“A responsible transition will require a strengthened civilian commitment by the United States and the international community to improve citizen participation, civil society capacity, accountability and good stewardship to promote development and good governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the bishop concluded. “With so much at stake during this transition, we assure you of our continued prayers.”

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