Washington D.C. – Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, inserted the following statement today into the record on full Committee hearing “Afghanistan 2014: Year of Transition.”

The statement follows:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this important hearing on Afghanistan and the challenges it will face in the coming year.”

“Ambassador Dobbins, Assistant Administrator Sampler, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense Dumont, thank you for being here. The three of you have what I consider to be some of the most complex and thankless jobs in the U.S. government, and all of us appreciate your service.”

“Mr. Chairman, it’s no secret that Afghanistan faces a wide array of challenges. But as we discuss these problem areas, it’s also important to recognize the progress we have seen since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.”

“Overall, the nation is more secure than it was a dozen years ago. Levels of violence are down in much of the country, and Al Qaeda’s ability to operate in most areas has significantly declined.”

“On the humanitarian front, life expectancy is up and child mortality has declined. Women are playing key roles in the country and more than two million girls are enrolled in school.”

“We hope to see even more gains in these critical areas. But continued progress depends in large part on how Afghanistan handles major security, political and economic transitions that it will face in the coming months and years.”

“First in many of our minds is the security transition, which will, by the end of 2014, result in all U.S. combat forces coming home. This transition will not be easy, and insurgents will challenge government control in parts of the country. The capabilities of the Afghan national security forces are improving, but the ANSF will need additional training and mentoring, which can only occur if the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement is finalized.”

“I hope President Karzai understands that he is risking Afghanistan’s future by playing this very dangerous game on the BSA. If he is truly committed to a long-term U.S.-Afghan partnership, then he should cut the theatrics -- including his latest move to negotiate a “security pact” with Iran -- and sign the agreement. The patience of the Congress and the American people is wearing thin. Without a BSA, it is possible that Afghanistan will once again become a safe haven for al-Qaeda –a worst-case scenario for the US, and a legacy I suspect President Karzai would like to avoid.”

“The second major challenge is the political transition following Afghanistan’s April elections. My understanding is that preparations for the vote are more or less on track. However, for the stability of Afghanistan, it is absolutely critical that the electoral process be transparent and the outcome be credible to the Afghan people. We must remember that it was in part due to the lack of a legitimate government in Afghanistan that allowed the Taliban to come to power in the mid 1990s.”

“A third major challenge is Afghanistan’s economic transition. Much of Afghanistan’s economy is sustained by international spending in the country. As this spending declines in coming years, Afghanistan will have to find new ways to pay for government services. Where will this money come from?”

“I believe the U.S. will continue to play an important role in helping Afghanistan manage these challenging transitions, and I hope its neighbors will do the same. In particular, I hope the Administration will do more to make the New Silk road initiative a reality. Increased trade between Afghanistan and its neighbors in South and Central Asia can have a very positive impact on Afghanistan’s economy.”

“Similarly, I hope Pakistan will formalize its promise to reduce barriers on its trade with India so the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement can be fully implemented.”

“On a related note, I remain deeply concerned about our security assistance to Pakistan. Such assistance will not succeed in enhancing the long-term stability of Pakistan and Afghanistan unless Islamabad makes real progress in combating ALL terrorist groups in the country.”

“While much has been made in recent months about Pakistan’s strategic shift away from supporting terrorist groups attacking American troops in Afghanistan, I have yet to see any evidence of a significant change in direction. Having received billions of dollars in US security assistance, Islamabad continues to provide sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups.”

“Mr. Chairman, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture in its history, and its political leadership is faced with a fundamental choice: Will it continue to work in partnership with the US and the international community to promote stability? Or will it walk away from those partnerships, and risk all of the gains from the past 12 years?”

“Once again, I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to hearing your testimony.”