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After two decades of war, can Afghanistan achieve peace? The United States is seeking to withdraw its troops on an unclear timeline after signing an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. Intra-Afghan peace talks have just begun in Doha, after months of delays due to political turmoil and violence. What are the challenges that stand in the way of a successful outcome to these negotiations and the end of the United States’ longest war? Join the World Affairs Council and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Olson, for a discussion on the future of Afghanistan.
About the Speaker
Ambassador Richard Olson retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in November 2016 with the rank of Career Minister. He is currently Senior Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and an independent consultant.
His final assignment was as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). From 2012 to 2015 he was the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.
Olson served as the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012. He was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011.
Olson joined the U.S. Department of State in 1982. He served in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates (both Abu Dhabi and Dubai), and Najaf, Iraq. He was also Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). His Washington assignments included: State Department Operations Center (twice), NATO Desk, the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (twice, including as Director), and the Office of Iraqi Affairs, including as Director.
Olson is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Award for Public Outreach, the State Department’s Superior Honor Award (three times), and the Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Civilian Service Award (for his service in Iraq). He was awarded the medal of Wazir Akbar Khan by President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani.
He graduated from Brown University in 1981, receiving an A.B. in Law and Society (Honors) and History.
He is the father of two daughters and enjoys cycling and hiking.
About the Moderator
Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. She is also the co-director of the Africa Security Initiative and the Brookings series on opioids: “The Opioid Crisis in America: Domestic and International Dimensions. Previously, she was the co-director of the Brookings project, “Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives Beyond UNGASS 2016,” as well as of another Brookings project, “Reconstituting Local Orders.” Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. She is a senior advisor to the congressionally-mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group.
Felbab-Brown is the author of “The Extinction Market: Wildlife Trafficking and How to Counter It” (Hurst, 2018); “Narco Noir: Mexico’s Cartels, Cops, and Corruption” (The Brookings Institution Press, 2021, forthcoming); “Militants, Criminals, and Warlords: The Challenge of Local Governance in an Age of Disorder” (The Brookings Institution Press, 2018; co-authored with Shadi Hamid and Harold Trinkunas); “Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan” (Brookings Institution Press, 2013); and “Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs” (Brookings Institution Press, 2010). She is also the author of numerous policy reports, academic articles, and opinion pieces. A frequent commentator in U.S. and international media, Felbab-Brown regularly provides congressional testimony on these issues. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of her scholarly and policy contributions.
Among her recent publications are: “The fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” co-authored with Brookings President John R. Allen, The Brookings Institution, September 16, 2020; “Grand theft water and the calculus of compliance,” Nature Sustainability, August 24, 2020; “Bargaining with the devil to avoid hell? Negotiations with criminal groups in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Institute for Integrated Transitions, July 2020; “Fending off fentanyl and hunting down heroin: Controlling opioid supply from Mexico,” The Brookings Institution, July 22, 2020; “Fentanyl and geopolitics: Controlling opioid supply from China,” The Brookings Institution, July 22, 2020; “Reopening the world: Walling off Mexico will not work,” The Brookings Institution, June 16, 2020; “Reopening the world: To prevent zoogenic pandemics, regulate wildlife trade and food production,” The Brookings Institution, June 16, 2020; “A BRI(dge) too far: The unfulfilled promise and limitations of China’s involvement in Afghanistan,” The Brookings Institution, June 2020; “Reopening America: Immediate domestic law enforcement priorities,” The Brookings Institution, May 28, 2020; “The problem with militias in Somalia: Almost everyone wants them despite their dangers,” United Nations University, April 14, 2020; and “Militias (and militancy) in Nigeria’s north-east: Not going away,” United Nations University, April 14, 2020.
Felbab-Brown received her doctorate in political science from MIT and her bachelor’s in government from Harvard University.
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