Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tough times in Afghanistan

The Bush administration only wants to hear the "good news" from Afghanistan.  But the general situation in Afghanistan has hardly been good news for the last 4 1/2 years.

In a recent study, Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition From Turmoil to Normalcy (March 2006), Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, points out the following dilemmas:

Afghan officials say the world thus far has put Afghanistan on life support, rather than investing in a cure. The following conditions make it clear that Afghanistan has the potential to be a disastrous situation if intelligent, measured steps are not taken:

• An ever-more deadly insurgency with sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, where leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have found refuge;

• A corrupt and ineffective administration without resources and a potentially dysfunctional parliament;

• Levels of poverty, hunger, ill health, illiteracy, and gender inequality that put Afghanistan near the bottom of every global ranking;

• Levels of aid that have only recently expanded above a fraction of that accorded to other post-conflict countries;

• An economy and administration heavily influenced by drug traffickers;

• Massive arms stocks despite the demobilization of many militias;

• A potential denial of the Islamic legitimacy of the Afghan government by a clergy that feels marginalized;

• Ethnic tensions exacerbated by competition for resources and power;

• Interference by neighboring states, all of which oppose a long-term U.S. presence in the region;

• Well-trained and well-equipped security forces that the government may not be able to pay when aid declines in a few years;

• Constitutional requirements to hold more national elections (at least six per decade) than the government may be able to afford or conduct;

• An exchange rate inflated by aid and drug money that subsidizes cheap imports and hinders economic growth; and

• Future generations of unemployed, frustrated graduates and dropouts from the rapidly expanding school system.

One of the problems for the current NATO force in Afghanistan is that the US human rights record makes cooperation with American forces more difficult, Rubin writes:

Some European NATO members are resisting unification of command with the Coalition that might lead to their troops’ participation in counterinsurgency operations and lead them to turn over detainees to the U.S. government, in whose custody they risk treatment in violation of international humanitarian law.  They have now decided to turn prisoners over to the Afghan government on the condition that prisoners will neither be executed nor turned over to U.S. custody. Several troop contributors also have adopted national caveats for other reasons, even against proactive patrolling and measures to press for demobilization of militias. Success in Afghanistan, however, requires NATO contributors to find a way to carry out the mission while respecting international law, despite obstacles posed by the U.S. administration.  (my emphasis)

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