Gains in Afghanistan Result in Climb in World Freedom Index

Washington -- Strengthening civil liberties and recent parliamentary elections have moved Afghanistan from "not free" to "partly free" on the Freedom House's worldwide index of liberty.
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Daniel Fried, the State Department's assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, attributes much of the country's recent progress to the growing involvement of NATO allies in Afghanistan's reconstruction following decades of civil turmoil.

"The alliance has made substantial progress in 2005," Fried told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant in an interview published January 10.

"There is an underlying commonality of views, of what we want to do together in the world," Fried said. "We achieve these goals -- the U.S. and a strong European partner -- working through NATO, working through the U.S.-EU relationship to advance freedom and security in the world."

"Afghanistan saw its status move from Not Free to Partly Free because of strengthening of civil society and a modest improvement in the rule of law following the holding of relatively successful parliamentary elections,"
Freedom House's director of research, Arch Puddington, said in a preliminary report released in late December 2005. The organization has been compiling data on measures of world freedom since 1972.

Afghanistan was one of 27 countries to improve its status on the Freedom House's 2006 Freedom in the World report.

NATO currently has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan. The military alliance makes all of its formal decisions by consensus among its 26 member nations. The NATO allies in December 2005 agreed to send an additional 6,000 troops early in 2006 to accelerate reconstruction in Afghanistan. (See related story.)

NATO MISSION BOTH MILITARY AND HUMANITARIAN

NATO forces with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan are involved in a host of security and peacekeeping missions throughout the country. In recent months, multinational troops have built schools, provided training for security forces, destroyed weapons stockpiles, and opened a newly rebuilt bridge in the western province of Herat.

"NATO is doing a good job," Fried said. "In so many European countries we are seeing an increased commitment to NATO, we are seeing NATO acting more effectively in the world," says Fried. "The Germans, Italians, Spanish, among others, are running PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] in Afghanistan. This is making a difference for people on the ground."

On January 6, the Spanish contingent of ISAF arranged for a woman from Herat to be transferred to Madrid, Spain, to receive medical treatment for burns sustained in an accident a year ago. Spanish medical teams learned about her condition four months ago, attempted to treat her injuries but realized her condition was not improving. The 19-year-old woman and her father are now in Spain where she is receiving specialized care for two months to three months.

"It is important that NATO keep its word to the Afghan people, to the democratically elected Afghan government," Fried said. "This is a multilateral effort by a great multilateral alliance. Together we are doing good things and we will do more."

In the fall 2005, building sites for 10 schools opened in Herat. The construction of the schools is supported by ISAF and the Italian government as part of their commitment to the future of Afghanistan.

"Culture and education of young people are the main themes in order to lay the foundations for a good future," said PRT Commander Colonel Amadeo Sperotto at the opening ceremony for the school construction. "And this is the reason we worked together with local authorities to give an answer to people's demands."

Fried agrees. "There are emotions involved every time troops are put abroad.
And that is understandable. But the conditions are there for a successful mission in Afghanistan. The alliance made a promise to the Afghan people and we have to carry it out."

A summary of the Freedom House report is available on the organization's Web site. Freedom House is a nonpartisan, nonprofit entity dedicated to promotion of freedom throughout the world.

See Rebuilding Afghanistan for more information on the country's economic development and reconstruction efforts.


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