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Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2008

Weak government tops Afghanistan's ills

Taliban resurgent, drug trade thriving, corruption rampant amid leadership void

By Kim Barker

KABUL: The homes in the fancy Shirpur neighborhood are a child's fantasy of mirrored columns, rainbow-colored tiles, green glass, imposing arches and high gates. They also are evidence of what has gone wrong with Afghanistan, almost seven years after the Taliban was chased from power into the mountains.

Homes of poor people were destroyed in Sherpur to built mansions
BBC, Sep. 12, 2003: Miloon Kothari, appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to investigate abuses in Afghanistan, announced that various government ministers including Fahim and Education Minister Yunis Qanuni were illegally occupying land and should be removed from their posts.
Sherpur Scandal | Buildings of Afghan Ministers and Warlords

Shirpur Today
Instead of calling the fancy neighborhood in Kabul "Shirpur," which means "child of a lion," Afghans now call it "Shirchoor," which means "looted by lions." English speakers describe the architecture style as "narco-tecture."
Sherpur narco-mansion: Gap between rich and poor in Kabul

The residents of the newly built mansions are reputed warlords, drug lords -- and some top government officials.

Just outside the gates, the problems of Afghanistan are everywhere. Electricity is intermittent. The rutted dirt roads are barely passable without four-wheel drive. Most people live in mud-brick rooms or Soviet-era concrete apartments. Suicide bombs occasionally explode. Men with guns can be seen on street corners, even though they are not police or army, and even though many are loyal to one of the country's most infamous warlords.

Billions of dollars into the U.S.-led effort to keep the country from again becoming a haven for terrorists, Afghanistan is in a stalemate -- and the biggest challenge is not necessarily Taliban-led insurgents, problems with the NATO alliance nor the slow pace of reconstruction.

Instead, it is the U.S.-backed Afghan government, which analysts and some government officials say is not only weak but rife with corruption, from local police in the remote provinces to high-level ministers in Kabul. The central government appears unable or unwilling to stem corruption and the drug trade or to establish rule of law, causing some people in the south to turn to the strict Taliban for justice instead of the slow-moving and often corrupt judiciary.

"What kind of proof in this country do we need to say there are problems?" asked Daoud Sultanzoy, a parliament member who until recently was an ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "It is not the strength of the Taliban that has won over people and hundreds of villages in this country. It is the weakness of the government."

'The mayor of Kabul'

While the Democrats in the U.S. presidential campaign often touch on whether the Bush administration diverted too much attention from Afghanistan after the invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials have largely supported Karzai and talked about progress in the country, torn apart by almost 30 years of war.

At the same time, an increasingly unpopular Karzai -- often described by many Afghans as a U.S. puppet -- has tried to curry favor at home by pushing back against Western powers, even spurning the favorite Western candidate to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan in January and rejecting a bid to expand the envoy's power.

Recently, several U.S. officials and think tanks have warned that the young democracy is in danger. U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said last month in Washington that the resurgent Taliban now controls about 10 percent of the country and Karzai's government controls only about 30 percent. The rest is under tribal control, which often means warlords.

"The luxurious houses and buildings either belong to government staff or members of parliament...there is deceit, misuse and playing with this land" Karzai told a meeting of village elders in Kabul.
Reuters, Nov.13, 2007

Although the Afghan government disputes those figures, several analysts say the government has failed to extend its reach much outside of the capital. Karzai often is derided by many Afghans as "the mayor of Kabul."

In January, a report by former NATO commander and retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones concluded that "urgent changes" were required to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state. The independent study, co-written by former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering, also said Afghanistan risked becoming the forgotten war.

The report said "international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country."

The Afghan government points to achievements such as the soon-to-be-completed "ring road," which will connect the country's major cities, and the Afghan army, praised by international forces for the gains it has made in recent years. Although officials acknowledge problems with corruption, they say the Afghan democracy is young and rebuilding a war-torn country is difficult.

"I think the overall majority of Afghans find this government the only alternative, so they are supporting us," said Humayun Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman. "They just have some unmet expectations."

The challenges are daunting: Afghanistan now produces more heroin and opium than the world consumes, the Taliban is able to carry out spectacular suicide attacks regularly, and more Afghans have become disillusioned with both the government and foreign troops.

Last year was the deadliest since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, with more than 6,500 people killed in militant-related violence, mostly Taliban fighters, according to an Associated Press tally. Insurgents aren't capable of beating NATO-led forces in combat, but suicide attacks and road mines have managed to give the world and many Afghans the impression that militants are winning, analysts and Afghans say.

Drug-terror nexus

Poppies also are feeding the insurgency -- up to 40 percent of the money fueling terrorism in the country is from the heroin and opium trade, said U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, in a March 9 interview.

The Golden Crescent drug trade, launched by the CIA in the early 1980s, continues to be protected by US intelligence, in liason with NATO occupation forces and the British military. In recent developments, British occupation forces have promoted opium cultivation through paid radio advertisements.
Global Research, April 29, 2007

There are not enough foreign troops here, and self-imposed restrictions by different countries in the NATO alliance on where and how they operate are hampering the coalition, analysts and some NATO officials say.

Reconstruction also has been slower than expected. Of every $1 in aid, only 10 cents goes to the Afghan people, studies show. The capital, Kabul, still does not have 24-hour electricity, and many of the unpaved roads here leave passengers aching as if they've been hit with baseball bats. The countryside, in many places, has a 12th-Century feel.

The pillars of government are so shaky that Karzai basically ignores the cantankerous parliament, which passes laws and resolutions that never seem to go anywhere. Last year, members gave a vote of no confidence to the country's foreign minister, but he remains in office.

Corruption seems ubiquitous. Police shake down drivers for small tips or shirini -- the Dari word for sweets -- at traffic circles in Kabul and collect bribes from drug traffickers in the provinces. Parliament members and analysts allege that many high-level officials or relatives of high-level officials are involved in the illicit drug trade.

Instead of calling the fancy neighborhood in Kabul "Shirpur," which means "child of a lion," Afghans now call it "Shirchoor," which means "looted by lions." English speakers describe the architecture style as "narco-tecture."

Hilaluddin Hilal, the former deputy interior minister and now the head of the security commission in parliament, said drug lords and organized criminals also served in government positions.

"Every year, it is getting worse and worse," Hilal said. "We are facing more challenges. Unfortunately, this weak government of Karzai puts the international community in a very bad position. They are now seen as being with a bad government and opposed to the people of Afghanistan. There is no clear definition of who is the real enemy in Afghanistan anymore."

Category: Drugs, Poverty, Corruption - Views: 41016


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