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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Visit of Codel Kerry to Afghanistan

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P 111353Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6399
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

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SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR VISIT OF CODEL KERRY TO AFGHANISTAN

1. (SBU) Embassy Kabul warmly welcomes the visit of Senator
Kerry and his delegation. The overall state of Afghanistan
is more nuanced than the negative drumbeat coming from the
media. Steady advances in security do not grab the headlines
that a spectacular suicide attack does. Progress in
development continues below the international media's radar
screen. Continued poor performance on governance, however,
will put these real achievements at risk.

---------------------------------
Governance a fundamental challenge
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) President Karzai's administration is still seeking
the optimum balance between new institutions and traditional
or tribal governance. Karzai's cabinet represents a
cross-section of Afghanistan, but ministers and their
organizations vary in effectiveness. After years of war,
Afghanistan does not have an educated middle class, and its
technocrats are few. Strong leadership has produced
significant results in education, health, rural development,
and fiscal policy, but other key ministries suffer from poor
leadership, limited capacity, and corruption. A positive new
development in the past year is the creation of the
Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG.) IDLG
Director Popal has earned and maintains Karzai's backing to
improve provincial and municipal governance and the delivery
of basic services. Popal has launched the Afghan Social
Outreach Program (with US funding) to form local councils to
strengthen ties between local government institutions and the
tribes. Gen. McKiernan will brief you on another program to
use separate but similar local councils to improve security.

------------------------
Election season underway
------------------------

3. (SBU) Next year's presidential and provincial council
elections will be the defining event for 2009. Electoral
strategies already dominate nearly everything political here.
Karzai's popularity has declined dramatically in polls, but
the opposition has yet to organize itself. Public concern
over personal insecurity and disgust over corruption are key
election issues. President Karzai recently shuffled his
cabinet and put the talented Hanif Atmar in as Interior
Minister to address these problems and perceptions, but after
seven years Afghans will be hard to convince. You will meet
with Atmar.

-------------------------------
Security advances and set-backs
-------------------------------

4. (SBU) Our greatest success on the security side is the
advances in the numbers and capabilities of the Afghan army.
Working together, Coalition and Afghan security forces have
increased the government's area of control in the past year.
The Taliban's response has been to shift from insurgency to
terrorism, to challenge the partnership between the
international community and ordinary Afghans. Many Afghans
do feel less safe, with random violence such as kidnappings
on the rise, and travel around the country more insecure.
Interior Minister Atmar is looking to accelerate police
training and reform. The Focused District Development (FDD)
program to retrain and equip the police is going well and
will soon expand to include the Border Police. CSTC-A's
MGen. Cone, whom you will meet, supervises this and other
police and army training programs.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
Positive trends on poppy, but a big challenge in the south
--------------------------------------------- -------------

5. (SBU) Afghanistan reduced poppy cultivation by 19 per
cent from 2007, breaking the record growth trend of the past
two years. Just as notable was the increase in poppy-free
provinces from 13 to 18. At least for now, poppy cultivation
has died away in the northern and eastern parts of the
country, including in historically-important
poppy-cultivating provinces like Badakhshan, Balkh, and
Nangarhar. The narcotics challenge has continued to grow in
the south, where seven provinces now account for 98 per cent
of the country's production. In the south especially,
narcotics traffickers and the Taliban have developed a
relationship of mutual support. This year we see some
promise in Helmand province, the "breadbasket" of opium

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production. Helmand Governor Mangal has shown impressive
leadership and commitment to take on the opium industry. In
partnership with the UK, we are backing Mangal's initiative
to eliminate narcotics cultivation in an 100-square mile
area, through an intensive information campaign, agricultural
assistance, and police eradication protected by the Afghan
army.

------------------------------------------
Leveraging development for economic growth
------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The Afghan economy is expected to grow by 7 to 8
per cent this year, following several years of double-digit
growth. Inflation, mostly imported, accelerated sharply this
year, and progress in revenue generation stalled, further
postponing the goal of independence from massive donor
financing. Sustaining high growth rates will require greater
political support for economic reforms needed to improve the
business climate -- more political support than the current
government has demonstrated. US economic assistance
priorities are agriculture, energy, roads, and private sector
development. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest
countries in the world, and a bad wheat harvest, caused by
drought, forced the government to make two appeals for food
aid this year. The US has responded through a sharp increase
in our World Food Program (WFP) assistance, and other aid to
increase production of food crops.

---------------------------
Regional dynamics important
---------------------------

7. (SBU) Afghanistan's effort to build a secure and stable
state is complicated by its relationships with its neighbors.
Bilateral ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have
improved dramatically since the Zardari government came to
power, and the two governments convened a symbolic
"mini-jirga" meeting in October. Distrust of the Pakistani
Army and intelligence services and frustration with the
substantial freedom terrorists enjoy across the border,
however, remain high. Along the border in the west, many
Afghans look toward Iran for news, entertainment, jobs,
education, and medical care. Afghans worry that tensions
over Iran's nuclear ambitions could erupt into a war that
would embroil them.
DELL

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