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Badger Herald, January 25, 2008

Afghanistan on brink of failure

If Afghanistan goes down the route whereby local leaders, warlords, clerics or other influential persons are able to secure death sentences against their opponents.

by Andrew Wagner

Every now and then, I run across a news story that reminds me of the importance of individual liberties in modern society. One of these stories came out of Afghanistan this Wednesday.

Perwiz Kambakhsh is a volunteer reporter and journalism student in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. In 2002, the Northern Alliance inflicted a crushing defeat on the Taliban around this city. However, according to news reports, today the town is in the middle of an area of Afghanistan that is increasingly falling under the sway of local warlords and extremist Islamic clerics. The current incident began when fellow university students accused Mr. Kambakhsh of distributing an article that criticized Islam’s treatment of women. Accordingly, a lower level Afghan court — in the absence of legal representation for the accused — sentenced him to death for blaspheming against Islam.

Family members of Mr. Kambakhsh have suggested that he may have been targeted as a way to silence his brother, an investigative reporter who has criticized local warlords. True or not, this entire incident raises troubling questions about the direction in which Afghanistan is moving.

The New York Times cites this incident as the third time since the fall of the Taliban that clerics have called for the death of a blasphemer. At first glance that may not seem like a deterrent to independent reporting or societal freedoms, but it doesn’t take that much intimidation to significantly derail a country from moving toward a free society.

As an example of this fact, simply look at Russia. Six years of contract killings and intimidation have resulted in the near total control of Russian media by the state. Criticizing Vladimir Putin or any other powerful figure is a good way to end up in a box six feet underground.

The importance of media freedom cannot be understated.

If Afghanistan goes down the route whereby local leaders, warlords, clerics or other influential persons are able to secure death sentences against their opponents, the world can kiss the development of a stable Afghan society goodbye. After all, if there is no media freedom, then the outlook for other individual freedoms certainly can’t be positive.

More than anything else, I believe that these freedoms are essential to maintaining a high quality of life in any country. They allow people to live without fear of their government and neighbors.

Journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi says his brother Parwez has been jailed and threatened with death because of his own reporting on human rights violations in the north.
A leading journalist in northern Afghanistan says his brother has been imprisoned on false charges as a way of pressuring him not to write articles critical of local officials and strongmen.
IWPR, Dec.9, 2007

If the central government refuses to step in to annul this verdict and actually stand up for these liberties, they will be that much harder to secure. If Afghan society as a whole is also willing to put up with court verdicts like these, there isn’t much hope for freedom of expression, media freedom or other liberties in the near future.

At this point in time, it’s hard to see Afghanistan moving forward to establish an environment in which these concepts can effectively function. Even worse, a resurgent Taliban and the rise in profile of local warlords bode ill for the ability of the central government to create — and more importantly — preserve a modern nation-state.

Despite the efforts of the United States and NATO over the past six years, it’s hard to escape the feeling that there are simply too many holes to plug to stop Afghanistan from falling through them and back into civil war or Taliban rule. The United States has recently sent more troops to Afghanistan to try to help the situation, as have NATO allies. However, they are still only tens of thousands in a country of 30 million.

Unfortunately, I can’t see a good answer to this problem. Non-governmental organizations, NATO and the United Nations have all been working to improve Afghanistan’s development. However, this progress has been spotty at best, and for the average Afghan, life hasn’t changed that much. So what are the options at a time when the situation in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly untenable?

The United States could withdraw and accept failure in Afghanistan, try to increase troop levels there to improve security and the authority of the central government or leave things the same. None of these options are particularly palatable, but one thing seems clear: Afghanistan doesn’t have much time before it falls back into the category of a failed state.

Andrew Wagner (awagner@badgerherald.com) is a junior majoring in computer science and political science.

Category: Warlords, HR Violations - Views: 13297


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