MacDILL AFB (June 28, 2010) — The United States Central Command’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence hosted its first conference June 7-8 in Tampa to address the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The two-day-conference, themed “The Art of the Possible in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” was intended to foster open dialogue and debate, as well as encourage discussion of opportunities and options for the future of the region.
Although not in attendance, Gen. David Petraeus, USCENTCOM commander, did stress the importance of this event in a written statement to attendees.
“We all share a commitment to the security and stability of this unique and diverse region,” said Petraeus. “It is our hope that discussions during this conference on security, free flow of strategic resources, sound governance, humanitarian assistance, and development will contribute to the continued refinement of ‘big ideas’ on ways to promote sustained regional prosperity.”
Established in 2009, the COE focuses on both formal and informal outreach and engagements. The COE also serves as an enduring hub of in-depth research and analysis on the region and works closely with various government and nongovernment entities. This year’s conference was designed to bring all those minds together under one roof.
Throughout the conference, panelists presented their research and discussed their personal experiences in their respective regions. Attendees also had the opportunity to inquire and comment on each topic.
“I am hopeful we will expand and deepen our relationships with the world class expert community we have before us,” said Derek Harvey, COE director. “I firmly believe that the range of perspectives represented will contribute to the forthcoming discussions.”
Throughout the first day, four panel discussions included topics on: achieving stability in Afghanistan, addressing structural impediments to change in Pakistan, altering the regional dynamics of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, as well as creating a new Silk Road strategy, whose hub would be in Afghanistan.
“The conference is vital to develop a common understanding on the challenges we face, provide different perspectives and get views,” said Brig. Gen. Zahid Mirza, USCENTCOM senior national representative from Pakistan.
As the first day drew to an end, attendees prepared themselves for the evening events. Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, USCENTCOM deputy commander, delivered the keynote address at the conference dinner. During his speech, Allen acknowledged the importance of such an assembly.
“We have literally hundreds of years of experience participating in this weeks’ conference,” Allen said. “The knowledge and expertise each of you bring in this effort and conference is exceptional.”
Day two featured a more ground level approach to achieving stability and reconciliation in Kandahar, including the politics and the incubators of the insurgency in the region.
“Getting it right in Afghanistan is complicated but necessary,” said Michael Semple, regional specialist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “So rather than repeating mistakes, we should learn from the experiences of what’s been done before.”
As the conference concluded, participants seemed grateful for the opportunity to attend and looked forward to next year’s conference.
“The concept is very appealing,” said Capt. Mohsin Hayat Malik, Pakistan navy. “I am going to bring some lessons learned back home and all the information will now be seen in a bigger context.”