Failure in Afghanistan

It must be asked why the immense opportunity of a new beginning for Afghanistan has slipped away in less than two years?

Arab News

14 August 2003

Yesterday’s bomb blast on a minibus in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan which killed up to fifteen people, including perhaps the bomber himself, came just hours after NATO formally took control of Afghan peacekeeping.

That this was an attack on civilians rather than any of the foreign troops in the country is significant. It would seem to demonstrate that Afghanistan’s political system is returning to its bad old form. Worse, from the point of view of Washington and the White House war on terrorism, the Taleban are once again carving a role for themselves in the south of the country. Indeed, it may well have been a Taleban bomb designed to be detonated during next week’s Afghan Independence Day celebration which went off prematurely in the minibus.

The only place where the writ of the central government of Hamid Karzai runs with any degree of certainty is in the capital. Kabul and its environs are also the only place where the new NATO command can operate with any sort of confidence. Shadowy US forces are still engaged in the pursuit of Taleban and Al-Qaeda forces along the wild border area with Pakistan, but the initiative seems to have long passed to their opponents.

The newly formed and trained Afghan Army and police have had some success in the provinces against insurgents, but the hard truth is that the real power is already back in the hands of the local warlords. There is growing evidence that some of these leaders are once again promoting cultivation of the opium poppy, once suppressed by the Taleban government.

It must be asked why the immense opportunity of a new beginning for Afghanistan has slipped away in less than two years. Part of the answer is that it was always going to be an extremely tough job, however much in the way of wealth and resources was poured into the task. The truth is, however, that the main impediment to progress has been the failure of the international community to deliver the promised billions in reconstruction aid.

Perhaps the most telling failure has been in the creation of national institutions. No serious headway has been made in creating a well-trained, corruption-free civil service which would earn respect throughout the country. Part of the problem is that Karzai’s administration was formed more from the need to represent as many interests as possible than to gather in the very best people to run all the portfolios.

Nevertheless the international community has failed to provide sufficient support and expertise to create proper government institutions. Without a properly functioning civil service, little could be done to restore and modernize the national infrastructure. If many Afghans now feel betrayed and abandoned, it is hardly surprising.


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