April 30, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC – The Atlantic Council tonight will announce the launch of a new initiative —Afghanistan Rising: Sustaining Success in Afghanistan — during its annual Distinguished Leadership Awards dinner, which will honor, among others, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

It will at the same time announce the creation of the Zalmay Khalilzad Chair on Afghanistan, made possible through the generous support of Atlantic Council Board Director Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations. 

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham will lead the initiative and serve as an Atlantic Council senior fellow and the inaugural Zalmay Khalilzad Chair.

“The election of President Ghani and the inauguration of Afghanistan’s unity government presents an historic opportunity for Afghanistan, its region, and the West," said Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.  "With the right sort of continued American and international support, Afghanistan can dramatically break with decades of war and create a future of prosperity.”

Said Ambassador Khalilzad, "With so much uncertainty across the Islamic world, it is crucial that the United States and its allies don't lose their focus on the transition in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most US troops.  The Atlantic Council initiative and the Khalilzad chair will be designed to further US-Afghanistan engagement and enhance the prospects for Afghanistan's continued political and economic development, and for providing security to the Afghan people."

Zalmay Khalilzad was the US Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, and helped navigate the country through many of its first democratic steps following the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001. Ambassador Khalilzad oversaw and assisted processes leading to the drafting of Afghanistan’s constitution, the country’s first elections, and the organization of the new parliament.

James Cunningham was US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2012 to 2014, and deputy ambassador from 2011 to 2012, during which he played a leading role in managing the security transition to Afghan responsibility, in negotiating the Strategic Partnership and Bilateral Security Agreements, and in supporting Afghan elections and the agreement on the Government of National Unity.  Prior to Afghanistan, Cunningham was US ambassador to Israel, Consul General in Hong Kong, and US deputy representative to the United Nations.  He has extensive experience in Europe as well, including his tenure as chief of staff to NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner.

“The combination of his strong relationships and knowledge of Afghanistan today, and long experience working with many of Afghanistan’s international partners makes him ideally suited to lead the Afghanistan Rising Initiative at the Atlantic Council,” Kempe said.

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