Developments in Afghanistan: A View

Reliant on alien crutches
By S. Mudassir Ali Shah: Dawn, November 1, 2007

SIX years after the ouster of the Taliban regime as a result of a ruthless American bombing campaign towards the fag end of 2001, Afghanistan remains heavily reliant on foreign crutches in terms of military muscle and cash flows.

An agonisingly slow reconstruction effort, coupled with mounting civilian casualties in insurgency-linked violence and a near-total absence of basic civic amenities, is fuelling a sense of disenchantment among the masses.

Popular aspirations for a better future in the post-Taliban period have been dashed by the incumbent government’s ham-handed approach to a whole slew of challenges, which ought to be tackled on a war footing but that have received scant attention.

Law enforcement failure, unabashed administrative corruption, the continued sway of warlords over large swathes of the country, poor governance, unimpeded official disregard for the rule of law and dawdling over institutional reform have grossed out a thumping majority of citizens.

Incapable of adequately addressing these pressing problems or tapping into oodles of foreign aid, the Afghan leadership and voters are apparently not on the same wavelength on what should be their priorities in firmly putting the benighted country on the road to economic and urban renewal. As the people are crying themselves hoarse for the bare necessities of life, the overriding concern of their rulers is how to perpetuate themselves in power with help from abroad.

One manifestation of this unreasonably profound dependency on outside support came on Thursday when President Hamid Karzai pleaded with Nato and Coalition forces to stay put in Afghanistan to preserve what he called ‘positive gains’ made over the past six years. He knows full well his compatriots loathe the foreign forces’ eerie involvement in house searches in the dead of the night and the resultant civilian casualties.

Resurgent rebels, regrouping on both sides of the Durand Line, and the blundering boot of trigger-happy Afghan troops are equally to blame for the growing deaths of ordinary residents.

During a recent official trip to Britain, Karzai assured Nato soldiers — many of them struck by war fatigue — that Afghan forces would take a greater role in security operations. But burden-sharing was imperative if the global fraternity was to succeed in the war against terror, the president told a news briefing he jointly addressed with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown following their meeting at Number 10.

Granted Afghanistan is in want of assistance in overcoming its myriad woes that essentially grow out of a variety of sources like a war-crippled social sector, tattered infrastructure, intensifying suicide attacks, a burgeoning drug trade and a remorselessly high trajectory of gang crime.

Nonetheless, he did not elucidate how a ragtag security apparatus, thriving on complicity with the underworld, doing the biddings of dreaded commanders in certain provinces and unable to shoot it out with hardened guerrillas, would measure up to the exacting task of restoring normality.

Still a far cry, impregnable defence in itself does not offer long-term solutions to the troubles the landlocked country is mired in.

The presidential statement that Afghanistan being the front line in the fight against extremism should not be allowed to come again under the control of Taliban is nothing more than a commonsensical truism. Not missing a beat, Karzai referred to his offer of peace talks to Taliban and other resistance groups barring those with links to the Al Qaeda network. So far so good, but he did not cite even a single practical step taken towards setting the dialogue process in motion.

The sooner the reconciliation initiative begins, the better it will be for a terror-haunted world in general and a tumultuous Afghanistan in particular. But an unwarranted delay in getting the project off the ground has given rise to nagging doubts about the government’s sincerity, with cynics talking down the gesture as a mendacious move towards inducing divisions in Taliban ranks.

Any exercise in building bridges, they reason, ought to go hand in hand with economic regeneration and public welfare schemes.

With the Afghans frantically struggling for survival, most of the financial assistance pouring into their impoverished country is meant to keep the war juggernaut rolling. For instance, President Bush requested Congress last week for an additional $46bn to bankroll pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A huge chunk of the emergency war chest — driving up the 2008 price tag for the combats to $196.4bn — would be expended on military operations, bullets and mine-resistant vehicles.

Unmoved by pervasive suffering and privation in both countries, Bush appears to cling to the unpopular campaigns that enrich military contractors and their lobbyists until his last day in office. So much for his incessant talk of liberating Afghans, winning their minds and hearts and bringing democracy to their country!

Another indication of disappointment with the current state of affairs is that most of the educated youth are voting with their feet by leaving their country in droves.

Their quest for making it big in foreign climes is bound to trigger a brain drain their homeland can ill afford, but policymakers in Kabul are least bothered about the looming crisis that could take an unbearable toll on the rebuilding drive.

Much in the same way, the number of Afghans believing that their country is headed in the right direction has fallen this year to 42 per cent from 44 per cent in 2006 and 64 per cent in 2004. Around 24 per cent — up from 21 per cent in 2006 and 11 per cent in 2004 — think their country is going down the wrong path.

A US-funded survey — covering the largest population sample ever polled at one time in all the 34 provinces — reveals a third of the respondents view security issues including terrorism and violence as the single biggest problem. In 2006, only 22 per cent accorded priority to security concerns.

In order to get to grips with domestic problems, the president would be better advised to explore internal solutions by taking all stakeholders on board instead of imploring aliens to tide his administration over security-related worries and enforce its writ across the country.

With a little elbow grease as well as political acumen, he can forge a consensus on the question. Being an elected head of state, he should have issued the siren call after dispassionately considering the views of mainstream political parties on an extended foreign military presence.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist based in Kabul.

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