Afghans Not Expecting Much Change Under Obama
KABUL - Barack Obama's pledges to step up pressure on militant safe havens in Pakistan and to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan have raised hopes in government for a new tack in the war against extremists.
But many ordinary Afghans do not expect to see real change from the incoming Democratic administration after seven years of US intervention in which a Taliban-led insurgency has only grown.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, told AFP he hoped for "a radical change in the way we are fighting the war on terrorism... the promises that were made on focusing on the safe havens, focusing on Pakistan."
Obama has vowed to take the fight to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, including in their sanctuaries in tribal areas across the border in Pakistan, where the extremists fled after a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.
He has also backed calls from international military commanders for more troops to fight the insurgents, with about 30,000 extra US soldiers expected to hit the ground over the year.
Some officials say the troops are needed to train up an Afghan army capable of taking over security duties as soon as possible, to secure the border against infiltration and to watch over presidential elections due this year.
But Afghan people are wary of the injection of more soldiers into their already war-ravaged country, where attacks have increased as the numbers of international troops have risen.
"You don't need more troops," said Hamidullah Tarzi, a finance minister in the 1989-1992 communist regime.
"You need construction, developing the economy and jobs," he said, listing key complaints among Afghans sceptical of the results of foreign intervention.
The main "mistake" of the past years of UN intervention in Afghanistan has been the focus on the military effort and not on the development and diplomacy needed to persuade people to buy into the new system, said analyst Waheed Mujda.
The heavy-handed tactics of the international troops towards ordinary Afghan villagers and civilian casualties in military operations against insurgents had fed public anger and disillusionment, he said.
"They alienated the Afghan villagers with unnecessary house searches, unnecessary operations, the killing of civilians," he said, adding this should be a lesson to the new US government.
"A new strategy on the military front and other ways of seeking peace and better life for people in Afghanistan is needed," he told AFP. "All of these are issues which seem to be a focus of the new president."
Amid talk of a review of the strategy, UN Special Representative Kai Eide said the overall plan to develop a post-Taliban Afghanistan was basically sound, focusing on priorities such as improving security and developing the economy.
"But I think we do not implement well enough what we are doing, what we have agreed on," he told AFP.
"When the new US administration comes in, it's a tremendous opportunity to inject new energy into that," Eide said.
But on the streets of Kabul, Afghans said they did not expect much to change from the days of the administration of George W. Bush.
"The politics of big countries are usually constant," said a university politics student, who gave his name only as Ziauddin.
"And in Afghanistan, I don't think there will be changes -- maybe in counterterrorism, Obama may be more strict than Bush."
Businessman Ata-u-llah expressed the distrust of the Western intervention that is widespread in Afghanistan.
"There will be no change because infidel countries always have the same politics against Muslim countries and their target is to give a bad name to Islam and extend Christianity and Judaism," he said.