Endangered Peace in Afghanistan

New York Times
, September 3, 2003

Afghanistan is paying a heavy price for the Bush administration's reluctant and miserly approach to nation-building. The central government is bankrupt and powerless. The economy remains inert. And now the Taliban appears to be making a deadly and alarming comeback, just 21 months after American-backed forces drove it from power. For weeks the White House has been hinting that more coherent, better-financed policies are on the way. They are badly needed.

Aid . . . has been much lower than expected or promised. In comparison to other conflict or post-conflict situations, Afghanistan appears to have been neglected.

Iraq is receiving 10 times as much development assistance with roughly the same size of population. Development inflows amount to Dollars 67 (Euros 55, Pounds 37) per person, compared with Dollars 248 in Bosnia Herzegovina and Dollars 256 in East Timor.

Morer than half the population live in extreme poverty, and only Sierre Leone ranks below Afghanistan on the UNDP's human development index. Life expectancy is below 50.

In Badakshan, northern Afghanistan, a maternal mortality rate of 6,500 per 100,000 is the "highest ever recorded in any part of the world".

From UNDP report to International Afghanistan Conference in Berlin
Financial Times (London), March 29, 2004

By the time the Taliban left power, most Afghans reviled it. It could not have come back this far if postwar governance had been wiser. Despite the presence of thousands of American troops and vows of Pakistani military cooperation, the Taliban's leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and many of its fighters managed to escape into the mountains or across the porous Pakistani border. Taliban fighters have now re-entered largely Pashtun areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Tajik-dominated national government is weak and resented, and have rebuilt a guerrilla army that is wreaking havoc. Afghans who cooperate with the Kabul government are targeted for assassination. International aid workers have been told to stay away for their own safety. America fought in Afghanistan because the Taliban let Al Qaeda operate and train there. Allowing the Taliban to rebuild a territorial base would negate Washington's military victory.

Kabul's estrangement from the southeast is compounded by the extreme disrepair of the war-devastated Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, the main road in a nation with few railroads. Despite substantial commitments of aid from America, Japan and Saudi Arabia, only about a tenth of the 300-mile highway has so far been repaved. The rest is ruts and dust, crippling commerce and leaving truckers vulnerable to bandits and Taliban guerrillas. The repair work needs to be substantially accelerated.

Other regions are not faring much better. Most of the north and west is run by warlords loyal only to themselves. Many are better armed than President Hamid Karzai's government and pass on to Kabul only those tax revenues they choose to. Sending international security forces to provincial cities, as Germany now proposes, would help some. So would a clearer American policy of not making local military deals with warlords, arrangements that weaken the central government.

The White House soon plans to announce that American reconstruction aid will be doubled, to $1.8 billion a year, and a dozen senior American advisers will be sent to reinforce government ministries. That will be welcome, but probably not enough.

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