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Afghanistan: Current Trends Spell Disaster, Warns CARE
Published on Wednesday, September 17, 2003 by
Afghanistan: Current Trends Spell Disaster, Warns CARE
by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON -- The United States and other donors must do far more in Afghanistan if the country is to avoid renewed conflict, if not disintegration, according to an unusually frank new policy brief released Wednesday by the U.S. relief organization, CARE and the Center on International Cooperation (CIC).

The eight-page brief finds that Afghanistan's stability and reconstruction are increasingly threatened by violence, especially against aid workers; the rise of a "neo-Taliban" movement, particularly in Pashtun parts of the country; and narco-trafficking by regional warlords and others.

And it argues that donors have failed to follow through on earlier promises of desperately needed reconstruction assistance. Moreover, what aid is being provided is becoming increasingly expensive due to growing insecurity outside Kabul, the capital--the only part of the country that is patrolled by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

"Putting Afghanistan on the road to peace needs more than good intentions; it needs urgent action," according to Atlanta-based CARE, which stressed that only $192 million worth of projects were completed in the 18 months after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime. That constitutes "roughly 1 percent of Afghanistan's reconstruction needs," according to the report.

CARE's brief coincided with the publication of a second report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Tuesday which confirmed that human rights abuses, including summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and the use of unofficial prisons by warlords, are also the rise throughout the country.

"There is no rule of law, (and) the police that are responsible for the rule are themselves violators and are acting against the law," said Nadir Nadiri, an AIHRC spokesperson, told reporters. She said many people across the country were being held unofficially in prisons by local warlords or authorities due to conflicting land claims and forced evictions. Those detained, she said, often "don't have money to pay or don't have any influence with the authorities."

The new reports come amid new concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, even as Iraq has claimed the media spotlight for most of the past six months.

Washington has been particularly concerned about the resurgence of the Taliban along the border with Pakistan and in the Pashtun areas. While U.S. and allied forces have largely succeeded in turning back ever-bigger offensives by the Taliban and other Islamist groups along the border, security in much of the largely Pashtun areas in southern and eastern part of the country Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply in recent months.

In addition, the central government headed by Interim President Hamid Kharzai has not yet succeeded in extending its authority over key regional leaders and warlords who control most of the countryside, while renewed cultivation of opium poppies is contributing to their ability to resist demands from Kabul.

Each of these developments poses a "serious threat" to the country's security, but together, according to the CARE report, they make for a far more dangerous situation and one that threatens the delivery of desperately needed aid, as well as hope for reconstruction.

"Many areas of the country are now off limits to the aid community," according to CARE, while half of Afghanistan's 32 provinces are deemed "high risk" areas for aid work. In the worst incident to date, four aid workers for a Danish relief agency were executed and a fifth badly wounded by suspected Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan last week.

As a result, reconstruction work cannot proceed over large areas of the country, with potentially disastrous political consequences.

"The longer Afghans are made to wait for concrete signs of greater progress, the easier it will be for extremists to exploit their resentment and for criminals to profit from the institutional vacuum that results," said Kevin Henry, CARE USA's advocacy director.

The deteriorating security situation is also illustrated by the rising number of armed attacks against civilians outside of Kabul. During the summer of 2002, according to the report, the ratio of armed attacks outside Kabul to inside the city was approximately 2:1. This past summer, however, the ratio rose to 7:1, CARE said.

This is due primarily to the failure of ISAF to extend its presence beyond Kabul, the report said. While the recent request by Germany and the U.S. to NATO members to contribute to such an expansion constitutes a "positive step," CARE says "it is time to move from good intentions to action."

Instead of expanding ISAF, the U.S. has appointed Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)--groups of between 40 and 100 military and civilian personnel deployed to areas in the countryside for small-scale reconstruction projects--their mandate is far too narrow to provide meaningful security required for regional development.

"Unless they are significantly scaled up in size and mandate, they should not be portrayed as an adequate or even 'second-best' alternative to a serious investment in peacekeeping," the report said, noting that there remains only one peacekeeper in Afghanistan for every 5,380 people. In recent post-war situations, such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, and East Timor, there was one peacekeeper for every 65 people.

"NATO must urgently expand peacekeepers outside the capital before the security situation gets any worse," said Paul Barker, CARE's country director for Afghanistan.

More peacekeepers would also help deal with rising opium production, which is fueling the power of warlords and pro-Taliban forces, as well as drug-traffickers, at the expense of the Karzai government. Afghanistan's share of global opium production skyrocketed from 12 percent under the Taliban to 76 percent in 2002, according to the United Nations.

Above all, says the pooicy brief, donors must not only follow through on their promises last year to provide $4.5 billion in reconstruction funding over five years; they should add substantially to that total. A far more realistic estimate--particularly given the extra costs caused by continued insecurity--would be $20 billion over the next four years, CARE suggests.

The brief noted that the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan are roughly equal, while needs are greater and natural resources fewer in Afghanistan. Yet the Bush administration recently committed an additional $20 billion dollars for Iraq for this year, while Afghanistan is to receive only $800.

"The longer the international community waits to take action, the higher the price will be," the relief group warns.

Copyright 2003


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