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Duke Diplomat in Residence Provides Perspective on Afghanistan Year
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William E. Lucas, Diplomat in Residence at Duke University, was guest speaker at World Affairs recently. In his introduction of Mr. Lucas, Ray Dawson said that the spectrum of Lucas’s career assignments exemplifies the complexity of the foreign affairs section of the government. Just some of the titles he has held are: Political Counselor at the U.S.Embassy in Manilla, Charge d’affaires (acting) at Embassy Prague, and director for Africa at the National Security Council.

The title of Lucas’s lecture was “Perspective from a year in Afghanistan” and focused on his
assignment there in 2010-2011, where he was part of the civilian-diplomat surge running parallel with the military surge. His assignment was to establish and lead a 25-person civilian-military team dedicated to strengthening rule of law and the justice system in Afghanistan.

He began with a brief background on recent Afghan history when in 1979 the Russians’ invaded Afghanistan to rescue their failing sister state. The Soviet period ended in 1989, with the Soviet’s retreat precipitated by U.S. support of the Taliban insurgency. Over the next few years, the Taliban took over the government and joined forces with Osama bin Laden. Then came 9/11, and the U.S. moved into Afghanistan following the Taliban’s refusal to turn bin Laden over to us. After initial U.S. military successes in 2001-2002, the U.S. emphasis on Afghanistan waned and Taliban strength and effectiveness grew. To counter this insurgency, U.S. involvement expanded to its peak with the military surge in 2010 and Lucas’s participation with the civilian surge started at that time.

Lucas said the most powerful ethnic group in Afghanistan is Pashtun, located in a widespread area including both Kandahar and Kabul provinces. President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun. According to Lucas, “All Talibans are Pashtun, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban.”

The audience was shown slides of photographs of contemporary Afghanistan taken by Lucas during his assignment. They ranged from a primitive jail filled to many times its capacity, to some of the newly built U.S. funded civic buildings.

Lucas credited three factors as contributing to the Taliban’s comeback following its setback by early U.S. successes: the extreme ethnic rivalry in the country; outside support for the Taliban, principally from Pakistan; and the U.S. switching its emphasis from Afghanistan to Iraq. His hope is that his successors “will be able to leave Afghanistan with an effective, robust and fully functioning legal system at the provincial level.”

An interesting aside, Lucas said that when he graduated from the University of North Carolina 40 years ago, he had no career plans. So he and a friend spent a year backpacking through 20 countries in sub-Sahara Africa. This experience whet his appetite for a Foreign Service career and he pursued it from that time on.

William Lucas discusses his year in Afghanistan. Photo: Joe Mengel
William Lucas discusses his year in Afghanistan. Photo: Joe Mengel

By John Modisett

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