Newsday.com, September 9, 2007
Afghanistan has slipped backward into a political "danger zone"
Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies warned in March: Afghans are facing worsened physical security, greater threats from warlords, criminal gangs and corrupt officials, and more difficulty in supporting their families.
BY JAMES RUPERT
PARUN, Afghanistan: The warnings have been coming for months to the craggy mountains of northeastern Afghanistan: Taliban militants are eager to step up the war here in the province of Nuristan, with its guerrilla-friendly terrain of thick pine forests.
Nearly six years after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of Sept. 11, Nuristan, like the rest of the country, has no effective government. For this province half the size of New Jersey and home to about 750,000 people, Gov. Tamim Nuristani is authorized 300 police officers -- barely more than the number assigned to a typical Long Island precinct. When he begged to hire 180 men as auxiliary cops last year to help stop guerrillas infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan, the government agreed, but then said it had no money for salaries and fired them.
Afghans say corruption is worse now than at any time in the past nearly 30 years, including under Taliban and Soviet rule. About 60 per cent of 1,250 Afghans questioned for the survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan thought his administration was more corrupt than any since 1970s. Around 93 per cent believed more than half the public services required a bribe.
Zee News, Mar.19, 2007
As one of Afghanistan's most isolated provinces, Nuristan lacks government and police even more than others. But it reflects broad failures that scholars say explain growing signs that the United States is losing ground in this war.
Afghanistan has slipped backward into a political "danger zone," the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies warned in March. In the broadest published evaluation of Afghans' attitudes, the center said Afghans are facing worsened physical security, greater threats from warlords, criminal gangs and corrupt officials, and more difficulty in supporting their families. Such alarms are ringing from every side: UN agencies, non-government aid organizations, scholars, some U.S. officials and ordinary Afghans.
In the battle against the Taliban for Afghans' hearts and minds, "support for America and for [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai is becoming less every day," said Eissa Wahdat, an Afghan government engineer who coordinates small development projects in Nuristan.
Visits this year to both sides of the northern Pakistani-Afghan border illustrate two key reasons cited by analysts for the erosion of the U.S.-led effort to stabilize Afghanistan:
America is investing nowhere near the troops and money needed to confront the Taliban and other insurgents. Nearly six years on, the total of troops and police backing the Afghan government remains less than 10 percent of what leading counter-insurgency analysts say is needed. Iraq has sucked away troops, money and policymakers' attention, analysts say. And, U.S. officials concede, Washington will be unable to add significant forces here as long as Iraq ties down its current 150,000 U.S. troops.
Washington's declared ally, Pakistan, is playing a double role that has made it a sanctuary where jihadist guerrillas can recruit and train fighters, raise money and infiltrate Afghanistan. Since 2001, Pakistan has arrested many al-Qaida leaders and has fitfully confronted home-grown jihadists. Still, it tolerates a broad support network for Taliban and other guerrillas that includes active-duty members of Pakistan's security forces.
Basic services lacking
So far, Karzai's government and the United States have been lucky in northeastern Afghanistan. Local tribes, notably in Nuristan province, are historic rivals of the ethnic Pashtuns who dominate the Taliban movement, and they tend to resist the Taliban's calls for jihad.
Defence officials in the United States and Britain estimate that up to half of all aid in Afghanistan is failing to reach the right people.
A Pentagon official said thousands of cars and trucks intended for use by the Afghan police had been sold instead.
Sunday Telegraph, January 29, 2007
But, said Wahdat and others, that natural advantage is being squandered because the government and its foreign backers have failed to establish schools, clinics, police forces and other services to meet even basic needs of people scattered in Nuristan's roughly 300 mountain villages. The resulting vacuum, and the depth of people's need, lets Islamic extremists keep deepening their roots here.
While the government operates almost no schools in Nuristan, the Saudi-based World Muslim League and other Arab religious foundations pay salaries for hundreds of mullahs, missionaries and madrassa teachers, said Abdulhai Warshan, a Nuristani journalist for the Afghan service of Voice of America radio. This Islamist network has been rooting itself into every district of Nuristan since the 1980s, when Arabs (and the U.S. government) helped fund the Afghan guerrilla war against the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
With Nuristanis increasingly anxious to educate their children and no government schools in sight, "the Arab madrassas [religious schools] have offered free religious teaching" according to the Saudis' fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, Warshan said. For a quarter century, "it has been the only way ordinary people could educate their sons, and now Wahhabism and extremism have penetrated our area."
Of the many failures of government, the most critical is the absence of police, many analysts say. In each of nine provinces visited by Newsday in the past year, police posts were undermanned, policemen had as few as 20 bullets per gun and they reported going unpaid for months at a time.
"In Afghanistan, 28 million people are free. They have their own president, they have their own parliament. Improved a lot on the streets," Donald Rumsfeld says in the October issue of GQ magazine.
AP, Sep.10, 2007:
RAWA: He is probably right, Afghan women are free to commit self-immolation and beg in the streets, warlords are free to commit any crime, kidnap and rape women, loot people and do drug business. We have a parliament full of drug-lords and human rights violators, we have a president who is called by media as "mayor of Kabul". (According to UNIFEM, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only option to get rid of their miseries and desolation - Isn't it a real FREEDOM?!)
Can't defend villages
Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province abut Pakistan, from where Islamic militants easily send fighters and weapons over the border. Unable to hire police, Nuristan's governor has been reduced to touring villages and begging councils of elders to organize their own defenses.
In Kunar, police "have not been paid in six months," said Abdulwali Khan, chairman of the province's embryonic legislature. "But the Taliban will pay them" to fight against the government. "We tell the police that they must not quit, ... that the Holy Quran counsels patience," he said.
"The effort to create the Afghan police is ... grossly under-resourced," retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey said after touring the region in February. After years of poorly coordinated police-training efforts by the German and U.S. governments, "We have no real grasp of what actual presence exists" in Afghanistan's 355 local districts, he wrote in a memo at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he teaches.
The failures of security and government began because the United States "never really got serious about our effort," said a U.S. diplomat in the region who works on Afghanistan.
In 2001, the small U.S. engagement seemed successful when just a handful of Special Operations troops and CIA officers wooed or paid warlords to join in toppling the Taliban regime with help from U.S. air power.
But, preparing to invade Iraq and disdainful of "nation-building" efforts, the Bush administration "put aside what we had learned" from recent interventions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, said James Dobbins, the administration's first ambassador to post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Those 1990 interventions relied on large peacekeeping forces to keep shattered societies from unraveling. But Washington vetoed requests by its ally, Karzai, and by the United Nations for a broad peace force to secure the country. That left Karzai to cut deals with warlords, many of them corrupt and brutal, to seek a degree of power for his government in the provinces.
While Bosnia was stabilized by the deployment of 60,000 foreign troops (about one for every 50 local citizens), Afghanistan for two years had only 5,000 peacekeepers in Kabul (one per 5,600 Afghan citizens), all based in Kabul.
The security vacuum let the Taliban re-ignite an insurgency, beginning in 2003. In response, Washington has hiked the U.S. force here to 27,000 and pulled in other troops, most from NATO allies. But with a guerrilla war now widespread, even the current 35,000-strong International Security Assistance Force here is not nearly big enough, said Chris Mason, a retired U.S. diplomat and Afghan specialist.
"Afghanistan has received 12 billion $ in aid but there aren't any signs of serious reconstruction. Our people have not benefited from the billions of reconstruction dollars due to theft by the warlords or misuse by NGOs. Even a fraction of this aid has not been used for the benefit and welfare of our people. Government corruption and fraud directs billions of dollars into the pockets of high-ranking officials. It is such a big shame that the government still cannot provide electricity, food and water for its people."
Zoya's Speech ( ), Oct.7, 2006
Once an insurgency begins, the need for force multiplies. Specialists prescribe roughly one "force provider" -- a foreign or local soldier, policeman or paramilitary guardsman -- per 10 citizens, Mason noted. At best, counting all conceivable security assets in Afghanistan's battle zone, "the ratio is somewhere around one to 120," he said.
"The war in Afghanistan will be won or lost at the district level, and the U.S. is not engaging at that level on a permanent, systematic basis," Mason said. "But the enemy is."
Money for reconstruction lacks as well. The RAND Corporation research group noted in 2003 that, in the critical first two years after their wars ended, Bosnia received $1,390 per citizen in international aid, while Afghanistan got only $42 per capita. As Afghanistan slid back into war, the Bush administration boosted U.S. aid commitments, but Afghanistan still "gets less aid per capita than any other state with a recent post-conflict rebuilding effort," Afghan specialist Barney Rubin noted early this year in the journal Foreign Affairs.
Washington vowed in February to boost its aid again, to more than $10 billion for 2007 and 2008, but the cost of the now-escalated wars on the Taliban and revived heroin trafficking will leave little or no increase for reconstruction, a Congressional Research Service study said.
Bush administration talks of 'impressive progress'
The Bush administration voices determined optimism on the Afghan war. In "five years ... we have made impressive progress -- kids in school, thousands of kilometers of roads, extending ... institutions of government -- but we recognize we have many challenges still to overcome," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told Congress earlier this year. Like other U.S. spokespeople, he painted progress by declaring absolute gains: "We're putting more Afghan police, Afghan soldiers on the ground, more military, ... more capable district officials, more reconstruction, more roads, more effective Afghan government than ever before," he said.
But the "more" cited by Washington is coming too slowly and improving life too little to sustain Afghans' support for America and Karzai's government, independent analysts say. The government's "ability to meet needs ... has not improved since 2005, despite more money spent, more projects implemented and more time passed," said the Center for Strategic and International Studies' report.
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