The Other War

The situation in Afganistan is in danger of unraveling.


Two years after the United States dispatched the Taliban and set Afghanistan on a path toward freedom and democracy, that country risks reverting to a “failed state.”

For starters, the drug trade is flourishing. A recent U.N. report found that Afghanistan now produces three-quarters of the world’s opium, and that the trade accounts for half of country’s total economic output. That’s a problem. “This money is going to terrorists, it’s going to criminals, it’s going to some corrupt officials, it’s going to warlords,” said Vincent McClean of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

Then there’s the provisional government, which may turn out to be more provisional than anyone intended. The Asia Times points out what everybody knows, that President Hamid Karzai’s writ barely runs outside of Kabul:

“While in the Pashtun-dominated south his government remains under pressure from a resurgent Taliban, the situation in the north, though less reported by the media, is far from secure. In the northern provinces it is not the Taliban who are stirring trouble, but militias, which in some cases are nominally loyal to the government.

As for the situation in Kabul — where the government’s authority supposedly holds sway — it is said to be worrying. According to the commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Assistance Security Force (ISAF), Lieutenant-General Gotz Gliemeroth, a “new species” of well-trained terrorists have infiltrated Kabul. Intelligence reports suggest that the terrorists are from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and come from the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Meanwhile, thousands of young men are said to be swelling the ranks of the Taliban. According to Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani specialist on Afghan affairs, around 2,500 Taliban fighters are waiting in Balochistan (Pakistan) to cross into Afghanistan before the onset of winter.”

To criticize the country’s current management is not, of course, to wish for a return of repressive Taliban rule, or to discount real improvements in life there. But the above is a bleak inventory for a country that was supposed to be well on the way to freedom and stability by now. ..

All of which complicates the aid and reconstruction efforts in the country. International aid workers are caught in the cross-fire and are increasingly being targeted. Recently there have been a spate of killings, kidnappings, and attacks such as on Nov. 11, when a bomb exploded outside the U.N. office in Kandahar. On Sunday, a French woman working for the U.N. refugee agency was shot and killed from close range while sitting in a clearly marked U.N. vehicle. In response, the U.N. has announced that it will halt some relief operations in Afghanistan as the International Herald Tribune reports:

“The UN refugee agency announced Tuesday that it was temporarily pulling 30 foreign staff members out of large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan and closing refugee reception centers in four provinces.Analysts said the closures were a victory for resurgent Taliban forces and could affect thousands of refugees trying to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan.

The suspension of operations comes after three attacks on UN offices and employees in the last week by suspected Taliban fighters.The shootings and bombings, which appear to be growing in sophistication and lethality, are believed to be part of a campaign to drive aid workers from southern Afghanistan, the Taliban heartland. The group appears to be trying to gain support from ethnic Pashtuns already frustrated by a lack of aid from the international community and a lack of power in the national government.”

While the U.S. is acknowledging this dire situation, it is unwilling to admit any failure. Its response to the alarming state of affairs is to continue the Afghanistan mission unchanged. In an article for the French daily “le Monde” published on Tuesday Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote that the U.S. will stay course in Iraq and Afghanistan. ”Afghanistan and Iraq are two theatres in the global war on terrorism,” he wrote. ”We must have the patience, we must have the determination to stay the course and pay the price in the certain knowledge that we are doing the right thing.” Powell also cited Afghanistan as ”an excellent model for how the international community can work together.”

Not everyone is taking such an optimistic view of things, as MSNBC reports:

“Critics, like former U.S. Afghanistan coordinator and Ambassador James Dobbins blame U.S. neglect. ‘The administration is asking for 20 times more assistance for Iraq than Afghanistan.’ Afghanistan is a third larger than Iraq and has 4 million more people. But the United States has committed only 11,000 troops to Afghanistan. There are also 5,000 NATO forces, which until now have been confined to the capital of Kabul.’This is not only a struggle between the United States and al-Qaida, but it’s a struggle for the future of Afghanistan as well,’ U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Wednesday. ‘And the Afghan people have a lot at stake here — their future prosperity, their future stability depends on the enterprise that we are about,’ he added.”