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Cablegate: Flotus Visit Highlights Afghan Progress

VZCZCXRO4978
OO RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #1410/01 1620610
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 100610Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4319
INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUHEHMS/COMUSMARCENT MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 001410

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, SCA/PPD, S/CRS, S/CT, EUR/RPM, INL/CIVPOL,
INR/R/MR, STATE FOR NSC WOOD, OSD FOR SHIVERS, CENTCOM FOR CSTC-A,
CG CJTF-82, POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: FLOTUS VISIT HIGHLIGHTS AFGHAN PROGRESS

1. (U) The June 8 visit of First Lady Laura Bush to Afghanistan
highlighted themes of critical interest to both Afghans and
Americans. Mrs. Bush's visit to Kabul and to the province of Bamyan
illustrates our assessment that important progress is being made in
many parts of the country. In those areas where good governance is
being implemented, opportunities for Afghan women to advance
socially and professionally have also improved. The allied
commitment to Afghanistan is strong, with a large and diverse set of
international partners sharing the security and development burden;
Mrs. Bush was received at the New Zealand-run PRT in Bamyan, with a
rousing traditional Maori Haka dance welcome. Those who work on the
ground here are convinced that success is being achieved. For our
Afghan partners, this visit reinforced America's commitment to the
Afghan people through several poignant human vignettes which tell
stories sometimes lost against a media diet weighted toward coverage
of remaining security and military challenges. The partnership
message was reinforced by both sides during a meeting with President
Karzai at the Palace.

2. (U) In Bamyan, Mrs. Bush, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Wood,
and the First Lady's party met with Habiba Surabi, Afghanistan's
first (and only) female governor. Surabi's appointment as governor
serves as a visible role model for Afghan women that extends far
beyond Bamyan's provincial borders. In a meeting with three female
police officers, one was asked "Why do you want to be a police
woman?" to which she responded, "If Goernor Surabi (i.e. as a
woman) can take on such heavy responsibilities, so can I." Asked
about how her children feel about their mother being a policewoman,
the response was "They support me. My daughter (in the 4th grade)
says that when she grows up she also wants to be a policewoman...or
the governor!" The larger lesson for Afghanistan is that change is
possible, and where good governance is being implemented, as in
Bamyan, change takes place more rapidly. Afghanistan's newly
established Independent Directorate for Local Government's (IDLG) is
tasked with ensuring that the best possible candidates are selected
for provincial and local office, and with following up so that local
governance issues are addressed quickly and effectively. Governor
Surabi is a beneficiary of this improved process, and during the
visit she thanked the USG government repeatedly for its assistance
in helping her to better help the people of Bamyan.

3. (U) This was Mrs. Bush's third visit to Afghanistan, and her
Bamyan stop was the furthest she has ventured from Kabul. This
spotlights another key theme that much of this country is "Afghan
normal," still desperately poor, but where average citizens go about
their lives in relative peace, although struggling with poverty,
weak institutions, and sometimes weak leaders.

4. (U) PRT Bamyan is led by New Zealand, highlighting the broad
scope of active international participation here. This is something
that matters deeply to Afghanstan's people and current leaders.
This is a country with a long history of foreign interventions and
home-grown abuses and Afghans are understandably cautious about the
nature and depth of the international commitment. Put bluntly, many
Afghans don't really believe that we will stay for the long-haul and
so hedge their bets against a day when foreign troops and assistance
will no longer serve as a buffer against renewed domestic conflict.
Confronting the Afghan challenge requires many things, not the least
of which is time for progress to take place and for entrenched
attitudes to change. On the positive side, and something that is
historically unprecedented here, sixty-five percent of Afghans
believe that the international military presence is a good thing and
support our efforts. Development is taking place and increasing
numbers of Afghans are enjoying the benefits of new roads, available
health care, ad education. Mrs. Bush's visit comes at an opportune
time, just ahead of the important Paris Donor's Conference, to
further reinforce to all sides our long-term commitment.

5. (U) Mrs. Bush's well-known passion for education made her an
ideal interlocutor to showcase the quiet revolution in Afghan
schooling and the changing role of women in Afghanistan. Almost six
million Afghan youth are in school, more than at any time in the
country's history, and a third of them are girls. The threat that
this poses to the Taliban is clearly illustrated by the insurgency's
continued assault on schools and teachers in areas where they hold
sway, but this battle for the next generation is being engaged and
is being won by local communities and the government of Afghanistan,
in partnership with the international community. Mrs. Bush
reinforced our financial support for improving education in
Afghanistan, announcing a newUSAID "Learning and Community

KABUL 00001410 002 OF 002


Empowerment 2" program which will reach 312,000 people, mostly
women, with improved education and livelihood skills, and pledged
continued support for the American University of Afghanistan. She
also cut a ribbon at a ground-breaking ceremony for a new section of
paved road in Bamyan, extending the town's only paved road (1.75
kilometers long, completed last year with USG support) by almost 2
kilometers. All politics are local, and here, as elsewhere, roads
matter.

6. (U) Mrs. Bush and her party, which also included Under Secretary
for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, also visited an orphanage being
constructed with funding from the Bayat Foundation, with support
from the NGO Ayenda and the U.S.-Afghan Womens' Council. The
emergence of civil society and NGO organizations is another sign
that Afghanistan is progressing out of the darkness of the past
three generations.

7. (U) In their meeting with President Karzai, the party had an
opportunity to share ideas with young students from Kabul
University, the American International School, and the American
University of Afghanistan. Both Mrs. Bush and President Karzai
offered statements to the press, emphasizing the significance of the
visit and its timing, just prior to the Paris Support Conference.

8. (U) Finally, it is important for our coalition partners also to
see this additional evidence of America's positive involvement here.
Combined with the supportive rhetoric on both sides of our
political aisle, visits like this one illustrate that America's
commitment is broad and deep and is helping the Afghan people to
achieve important results. Although this was a short visit, it was
hugely productive and made a timely contribution to our national and
international effort. The visit ended with stop at Bagram AFB,
where Mrs. Bush addressed enthusiastic troops from the 101st
airborne division which, as always, provided superb logistical
support.

DELL

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