Thursday, July 24, 2003
AFGHANISTAN ROUNDUP: A few months ago I expressed pessimism about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. However, in scanning my recent posts about the country -- here, here, and here, I've noticed an encouraging trend of positive developments. An upbeat report from Glenn Reynolds' Kabul correspondent suggests statebuilding efforts are working. The key graf:

Last summer renegade police at the ubiquitous Kabul traffic circles might stop and board my cab uninvited, gleefully tease an automatic weapon and just as suddenly disembark a without explanation a few miles down the road. It was doubtful that many were legitimate police with any official status, nevertheless the judicious travelers never asked for credentials or complained when their vehicles were searched and belongings confiscated. This summer is completely different. Petty harassment has ended. Civil order has been restored to a remarkable degree on the highways by a professional police force that efficiently—if not always quietly-- patrols the highways in slick new trucks donated by the German government and trained in the latest law enforcement techniques by the American military. Great credit for this transformation must also be shared with the new Interior Minister, Jalali, who’s been able to bring more of an ethnically balanced and representative police presence into the agency. Kabul law enforcement now moves heavily armed but astonishingly restrained crews along the teeming streets, in a manner as unobtrusive as the ISAF patrols of last year. Consequently, one sees far fewer of the once omnipresent international peacekeepers on the highways.

Is this part of a more encouraging trend in that war-torn country?

The answer is still mixed. The good news is that the central government is getting its act together. Hamid Karzai's efforts to increase revenue flows from the provinces to the central government is a partial success. The central government is conducting the first census in 24 years. That sounds mundane, but these kind of statistics are vital for ensuring stable economic and political development. The new Afghan National Army is also conducting its first military operations, deploying 1,000 troops in a joint exercise with U.S. forces against Taliban remnants in the southern mountains.

The improvements in state institutions are matched by an increase in democratic activism and national pride. Consider a few grafs from this report:

Afghans in the capital Kabul have again been exercising their right to protest. Chanting pro-democracy slogans, around a hundred people marched through the city on Tuesday morning. The demonstrators called for the implementation of the Bonn agreement - a road map for Afghanistan's peaceful development - and urged the Afghan government not to bow to extremists.

"We don’t want fundamentalism," one participant told IRIN. Others said they wanted a constitution based on democracy and the rule of law.

The crowd also called for equal rights for men and women. "For survival and restoration of women’s rights the international community and Afghan government defeated the Taliban regime, but unfortunately women are still deprived of their participation in government, and political development is limited," Freba Charkhi, a member of the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, told IRIN....

According to Charkhi, the demonstration was organised by the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, a new moderate political party, made up of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, students from Kabul University and Afghan journalists.

Democracy and the right to peaceful assembly appear to be taking root in parts of Afghanistan following decades of conflict and totalitarian rule.

Quite a different take than Amnesty International's more downbeat assessment.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar -- the Taliban's old stronghold -- a thousand people filled the largest mosque to protest Pakistani incursions into Afghan territory. A top Taliban leader was arrested there earlier in the month.

The reduction of instability -- combined with an adjustment in tactics -- has permitted the United Nations to restart its de-mining operationsin the southern provinces.

Beyond the state, things are looking up as well. This year the country will experience its biggest wheat crop in two decades -- not a difficult achievement, but still important. A consortium of telecommunications firms are setting up the country's second cellular phone network. Movies are being shown in the provinces.

So has a tipping point been reached where stability will be the norm rather than instability? Not yet. In the short-term, attacks on coalition forces increased over the past month. Some of the provinces are still beset with Taliban activity and a paucity of reconstruction aid. Other provinces are still experiencing factional fighting. And the Afghan defense minister still seems to believe that confiscating opposition newspapers is a viable policy option. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are badly strained. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this year also produced a bumper opium crop in addition to a good wheat harvest. More disturbing is the link between opium and the Taliban resistance:

Some of the regions hardest hit by regrouping Taliban forces are well known areas for opium cultivation, including Nangarhar in the east, and Uruzgan, Helmand, and Nimroz in the south. The latter two provinces serve as a smuggling route into Pakistan and Iran.

Drug money may be providing the funds needed to keep the Taliban insurgency alive. Sources in the Afghan government's antinarcotics department suggest that Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan collect money from the local drug smugglers for their attacks against US forces.

Such attacks have already scared off international aid workers and hampered US-aligned forces that could otherwise interfere with drug trafficking and create viable alternatives to farmers....

The Afghan government also claims that Al Qaeda operatives are helping the drug cartels to traffic heroin to the West.

"It is an unholy alliance," says Mr.Rasoolzai, head of Eastern Afghanistan's antinarcotics department. "Al Qaeda is using drugs as a weapon against America and other Western countries. The weapon of drugs does not make a noise. The victim does not bleed and leaves no trace of the killer."

Is there a pattern? Sort of. It's clear that conditions are improving in areas where the central government holds some sway. However, that remains a very small portion of the country. As state institutions improve, one hopes that it will expand.

Developing.... in an uncertain way.


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