2004 February 06 Friday
Afghanistan Is Still Being Mismanaged

One of the many reasons I have decided that George W. Bush is not sufficiently competent to be reelected President of the United States is his sustained mishandling of Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid has written an excellent article in The New York Review of Books detailing many of the things going badly wrong in Afghanistan. Rashid points to the work the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been doing releasing reports detailing humans rights violations in Afghanistan. Many of the human rights violations are committed by warlords that the US supports in place of a proper government.

In July 2003, in a report on southeastern Afghanistan, where much of the Taliban resurgence is now taking place on the Pakistan border, HRW gave a vivid account of abuses by local forces, who claimed to be loyal to the government. The result has been that the region is all the more vulnerable to the Taliban incursions. "Afghanistan's window of opportunity is closing fast," said the HRW report. The "continuing insecurity, at its heart, is due to policies ...of local government actors": soldiers, police, military, intelligence officials, and government ministers. These abuses are not unavoidable because many of these actors were brought to power by the US and the international community or are dependent on them now for support. In the southeast a local expression describes abuses by gunmen as happening "'right under the mustaches' of the Americans."

Hazrat Ali, the warlord in the northeastern provinces of Nangarhar and Laghman, whose forces fought alongside US troops in the Tora Bora battle against al-Qaeda, is still a favorite of the US military. He is named by HRW as one of the most prominent violators of human rights in eastern Afghanistan. His commanders and troops rob, steal, kidnap, and violate women and indulge in sexual violence against young boys. "Many of the soldiers in the military unit with Hazrat Ali are just teenagers, and the commanders use them for sex purposes," says a university student in Jalalabad.

In Paghman, just an hour's drive from Kabul, the former fundamentalist Mujahideen leader Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf enforces a local regime which comes closest to the Taliban system in today's Afghanistan. In Paghman women are forced to stay at home and cannot work or shop in the bazaar. Sayyaf's troops regularly appear in the western suburbs of Kabul at night to rob homes and rape women. Kabul's police are too scared to touch them, and ISAF forces do not intervene.

What is especially sad about the situation in Afghanistan is that even in the one city, Kabul, where the US and its allies have put a large concentration of troops on the ground to make a major effort to maintain order the warlords in the government still behave in a lawless manner.

The Bush Administration decided last summer to try harder in Afghanistan in order to have a clear success story to point to to weigh against the problems in Iraq. But the Bush Administration is not tackling any of the very difficult root problems in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are flush with money from drug smuggling and from support provided by the Islamic party Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam (JUI) that now forms part of the Pakistan's Baluchistan provincial government. Al Qaeda forces are even buying night vision googles from sources in the Gulf states.

A January 26, 2004 HRW report by Sam Zia-Zarifi lays out many of the problems facing Afghanistan.

This inattention has had a tremendously negative impact. Taliban forces are resurgent and emboldened in their attacks on U.S. troops as well as on the government of President Hamid Karzai and the foreign community supporting him. Warlords, militias, and brigands dominate the entire country, including the city of Kabul. Many women and girls, freed from the Taliban’s rule, have again been forced out of schools and jobs due to insecurity. Poppy cultivation has soared to new highs, providing billions of dollars to the Taliban, warlords, and petty criminals who resist the central government. Foreign states with long, mostly destructive histories of interference in Afghanistan’s affairs—­Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Uzbekistan, and Russia—are again picking local proxies to push their agendas.

What explains the lack of commitment to Afghanistan? A major reason is that the United States, like previous foreign powers in Afghanistan, sees the country as endemically violent and thus excessively relies on a military response to the country’s problems. Viewing the country through a prism of violence has contributed to a number of erroneous policies in Afghanistan, to wit: focusing on the short-term defeat of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces with little regard for long-term security concerns; the resultant reliance on warlords on the national and local levels without regard for their legitimacy with the local population; and the shortchanging of nonmilitary measures. This skewed understanding of Afghanistan’s problems and their solutions has persisted despite recent indications that Washington policy-makers now recognize the continuing threats posed in Afghanistan and understand some of the mistakes of their past policies.

What would failure mean in Afghanistan? For the community of nations dedicated to the machinery of global order created after the Second World War, abandoning Afghanistan again would constitute a defeat with repercussions well beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The country might once again become a training ground for terror.

President Bush declared in April 2002 that he envisioned nothing short of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. The whole world is gauging how the United States and other international actors perform in Afghanistan. For NATO, which has just taken over the responsibility of providing security in parts of Afghanistan, failure would mean losing a raison d’être in a world without a Soviet threat. Failure in Afghanistan would be a sign of the global community’s impotence and insincerity in transforming failed states. For most Afghans, failure would mean a return to warfare, chaos, and misery.

The goal of creating a stable, civilian government in Afghanistan faces four different but interlinked challenges: increasingly powerful regional warlords, resurgent Taliban forces, growth of the poppy trade and other criminal activity, and a continuing threat of meddling regional powers, in particular Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. All of these challenges have grown more pressing due to international inattention, and all are likely to become even more threatening as Afghanistan enters a politically charged election year, with a constitutional process recently completed and a presidential election set for June of 2004. Failure to meet any of these challenges will greatly increase the chances of failure in Afghanistan and a return to a conflict that savages the Afghans and destabilizes Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, and, by providing a haven for criminals and terrorists, the world.

Such an outcome is not inevitable in Afghanistan. Nearly all observers, Afghan and international, agree that progress can be made in Afghanistan. It requires an increased, consistent commitment by the international community. It requires integration of military and economic reconstruction efforts. Most basically, and most crucially, it requires listening to ordinary Afghans who seek international assistance so they can work toward peace and prosperity. A serious commitment to Afghanistan has to be made, and made clearly. There are signs that in some quarters of the U.N. and, most importantly, of the U.S. leadership, this need is now understood. However, this commitment is still not being felt in Afghanistan. Without it, failure is likely.

An argument can be made that Afghanistan, even more than Iraq, has too many ethnic groups speaking too many languages and regarding each other with too much distrust to make the place a proper country. If the United States government is not going to make a serious effort to make Afghanistan a much more civilized place then the US should move to split Afghanistan up into separate territories that each more naturally make up a country. But regardless of whether the Pashtuns are kept in Afghanistan or the southern part of Afghanistan is broken off into Pashtunistan the Pashtun area needs to be made a far more civilized place in order to prevent the Taliban from regaining power some day.

The United States is competing with Islamic forces for influence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US can not afford to lose that competition because the Islamists are seeking to control the only Muslim country which is a nuclear power. The Bush Administration needs to admit that rule of Afghanistan through warlord proxies is a bad long-term strategy with unacceptably high risks.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 February 06 02:23 AM  Chaotic Regions


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