Monday, August 04, 2003

Just when I'm reading this Washington Post article about the detoriating situation in Afghanistan, I come across another article--this time by the New York Times--about the dire and saddening developments in Afghanistan. While the world is looking at how to fix Iraq, Afghanistan looks abondoned by the world community. The Japan-donors are worried about the security. The U.S. won't expand peacekeeping troops and instead sends the Afghan National Army (ANA) to hunt down Taliban remnants. There are only about 9,000 troops--two divisions--while about 10 are needed. It almost makes me cry when I read about Muslims praying inside a mosque being blown up. Or how a mullah is shot while he sat praying. And these inhumane beasts call themselves Muslims? How dare they!

Doesn't Mr. Bush have a moral obligation? He attacked the country, he liberated the country, but now girls still aren't going to school. He's doing it on the cheap and instead goes to Iraq. With all respect, but Afghanistan has suffered just as much--if not more. Even if Mr. Bush doesn't care about every-day Afghans, he should make sure it doesn't turn in another rogue nation and haven for Islamist terrorists. Should I go on to explain? I let Isabel Hilton do her job:

There is money in Afghanistan, but it is in the wrong hands. Local warlords control local roads and exact crippling tolls that impede trade. Karzai is not able to exact the remittance of this money to Kabul.The government therefore, depends on funds from outside, part of which it uses, in turn, to buy off the warlords. At no stage of this dismal process do funds trickle down to the people of Afghanistan. The only dependable source of revenue for many returned farmers is the opium poppy.

Two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, encouraged by the UNHCR and their weary host countries. For many this has been a tale of woe. There are few jobs; poverty and hunger continue.

Development and reconstruction experts agree that postwar reconstruction should begin with security and include the early encouragement of labour-intensive infrastructure projects which help the country and put wages into the pockets of those who need them. But this has not been applied in Afghanistan. Security never came because, when the Taliban fell, the US would not agree to the deployment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside Kabul. Why? Because the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was already planning the invasion of Iraq and did not want men tied down in peacekeeping.

The Pentagon prefers to pay the warlords to run the country outside Kabul, dressing up the exercise with a loya jirga in which 80% of those "elected" were warlords. Washington sources report that when Karzai appealed to Rumsfeld for support to confront one of the most notorious warlords, Rumsfeld declined to give it. The result has been that reconstruction is crippled, political progress is non-existent and human rights abuses are piling up.

Even straightforward reconstruction projects fail to bring maximum benefit to the Afghan people. To give only one example: road repair could be an opportunity to spend money usefully and to provide employment. But on the key road from Kandahar to Iran, which had not been repaired for 30 years, the central government failed to gain the cooperation of local powers. The stalemate was resolved when the repair contract was awarded to a US firm that brought in heavy machinery instead of using local labour.

What progress there has been is now threatened. The proportion of girls in school - never more than half - has begun to decline again: girls' schools have been attacked, and girls threatened and harassed on their way to classes.

A Human Rights Watch report published on Tuesday documents crimes of kidnapping, rape, intimidation, robbery, extortion and murder, committed not in spite of the government but by its forces - by the warlords and their police and soldiers, who are paid, directly and indirectly, by US and British taxpayers.

The British have been shipping cash to Hazrat Ali, the head of Afghanistan's eastern military command and the warlord of Nangahar, who worked with the US at Tora Bora. His men specialise in arresting people on the pretext that they are Taliban supporters and torturing them until their families pay up.

If paying warlords had been an emergency measure, there would be room to hope that it would no longer be necessary once elections were held and a legitimate government in place. But this is a policy the consequence of which is that there is unlikely to be long-term peace or a democratic government.

The promised election date is less than a year away. The choice is to allow these local tyrannies to be painted over by a voting exercise conducted for propaganda purposes, or to challenge the warlords. Is Nato, which takes over ISAF in August, really prepared to do so? Somehow I doubt it.
Instead of embarking on a war in Iraq at this stage, the USA should have concentrated their efforts to rebuild Afghanistan first. And rebuild it properly, from the bottom up - roads, infrastructure, education and health system - and then there might have been some grounds for optimism.

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