“I want to make one point very clear,” Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States Said T. Jawad told a crowd in Harvard’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Wednesday (March 11). “To build a pluralistic, a prosperous, peaceful society in Afghanistan is not a luxury for the Afghanistan people or for the Afghan government; it’s a necessity. It’s a necessity for peace in Afghanistan, stability in the region, and for security in the world.”

His country, Jawad said, was in need of strong American and foreign military and financial support — including, he stressed, more “boots on the ground” — in order to defeat terrorism, corruption, and a deadly drug trade.

Since 2001, the United States has engaged in an ongoing struggle with the Taliban, the Sunni Islamist group that ruled the country until the U.S. invasion in the months after 9/11 removed it from power. Despite years of military intervention from both the United States and NATO forces, a Taliban-led insurgency continues and al-Qaeda’s presence in the country remains strong.

“Seven years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan, as you know, is facing serious security challenges,” said Jawad who noted that over the years poorly coordinated international efforts, inadequate funding, and limited resources have hindered Afghan reconstruction and contributed to the fundamentalist Islamic militia’s resurgence.

“A lot of crimes [and] a lot of the human rights violations remained unpunished in Afghanistan because we had to focus on stability. … [We paid] a heavy price [for] not delivering justice. And, as you know, for the short term it works; but in the long term, if you don’t deliver justice, you have neither stability nor justice, and that’s exactly what happened in Afghanistan. This also created a culture of impunity for the spoilers — for the criminals — in Afghanistan.”

President Obama, who is engaged in a full review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, last month ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to the region, adding to the 38,000 currently stationed there. In a recent interview, he suggested that the United States would consider talks with moderate Taliban members, a tactic similar to the one conducted by the United States in Iraq, where military officials successfully reached out to Sunni extremist groups.

Many strategists agree that a strict military solution to the trouble in Afghanistan is likely now beyond reach, and that engaging with the Taliban is a viable option.

Introduced by Meghan O’Sullivan, lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Jawad welcomed Obama’s plan but issued words of caution about dealing directly with the insurgents. Only certain factions of the Taliban, he said, would be worth trying to engage, citing as potentially most accessible the mid-level militias recruited by drug traffickers. Likely to be less responsive, he said, are the young, unemployed, uneducated men who have been “brainwashed,” although he suggested some might succumb to the lure of money and jobs. But dealing with the hardcore ideological Taliban members, he averred, would be impossible.

“There’s no middle ground that can be reached with them.”

Flanked by an American and Afghan flag, Jawad outlined several major issues he hoped the new Obama strategy — scheduled to be discussed at a NATO summit in Europe in early April — would address. They included a troop surge to help build security and eliminate corruption; a concentrated attack on the drug trade; the creation of jobs; and engagement with Pakistan.

The ambassador also noted progress in Afghanistan.

Some recent advances, Jawad said, include a viable parliament, a vibrant, independent media, and the construction of numerous schools and clinics. In addition, he noted, women, whose activities had been severely curtailed under Taliban rule, were now working, teaching, attending school, and taking active roles in government.

“All of this has been possible,” he said, “with your support.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center; the Harvard Kennedy School Arab Caucus; the Harvard Kennedy School International Security Policy PIC; Harvard’s Circle of Women; and the Harvard Islamic Society.