Waging peace in Afghanistan

 

Christian Science Monitor, USA,
February 27, 2002

 

 

 

THE bipartisan support for the war in Afghanistan is fraying at the edges over how to keep the peace in that country. Criticism is mounting among some Democrats that President Bush has not done enough to prevent a return of chaos among rival warlords, thus possibly destabilizing Pakistan, giving Iran a foothold in Afghanistan, or allowing terrorist groups to once again use the country as a base. While such criticisms make juicy TV sound bites and campaign fodder, they ignore a few on-the-ground realities.

 

For one, the war still is going on in Afghanistan. American forces are combing mountains and villages for remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That could take many months. These forces are in combat mode against a specific enemy, and cannot be diverted to keep the peace between rival ethnic factions.

Second, US special forces already are deployed with local military commanders in a joint, continuing search for terrorists or their supporters. Their presence alone supports the fledgling government in Kabul as it builds a national army, with US help, that can eventually unify the country within a year or two.

 

In the meantime, a peacekeeping force of 4,000 soldiers, led by the British and known as the International Security Assistance Force, has secured the capital. It both protects the new central government and sends a signal to the warlords that the world doesn't intend to let Afghanistan fall back into chaos.

The immediate question is whether that force should be expanded to other major cities and act as a local police force. The likelihood, though, of foreign soldiers competing well for authority in those fiefdoms appears slim. The circumstances are far different from the United Nation's deployment of foreign troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Macedonia, places that have had central rule for a long time. Two decades of war has left Afghanistan in pieces that can only be stitched back together piece by piece.

What will help bind Afghans is their own renewed nationalism and the lure of billions in foreign aid to rebuild the country under civilian rule. Foreign troops can only do so much.

 

And using Americans as peacekeepers is dangerous, since they could be high-profile targets for glory-seeking snipers.

 

The possibility of the Taliban or its like rising again is remote. Afghans themselves should see to that. All the US can do is support them in building a secure, united nation.

 

A major U-turn in U.S. policy on peacekeeping Afghanistan

By Mike Jendrzejczyk

International Herald Tribune, September 7, 2002

 

Pentagon officials recently signaled a shift in U.S. policy on Afghanistan, admitting that an expansion of international peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul is necessary. The unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in Kandahar is intensifying calls for such a move. Some in the Bush administration called it a "mid-course correction," but the United States appears to be on the verge of a major U-turn.

 

For months, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have resisted calls for an expansion of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, composed of 4,500 troops from 19 states and headed by Turkey. But as insecurity, factional fighting among warlords, and lawlessness have continued, it has become clear that waiting years for the formation of a credible national Afghan army and police force is not the answer.

 

"We do not oppose ISAF expansion" beyond Kabul, Wolfowitz said Thursday, while calling on the international community to take a greater role. General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. command in Afghanistan, said there were "a number of places that would indicate the desirability of expanding the ISAF." Karzai himself, the United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, and members of the U.S. Congress in both parties have been urging expansion of the peacekeeping force.

 

As long as security outside of Kabul is in the hands of warlords, Afghans will not be secure. And as long as the Kabul government is dependent on regional warlords, its legitimacy will be open to question. Greater security throughout the country is a prerequisite for rebuilding devastated infrastructure, encouraging the re- emergence of Afghan civil society, and establishing legal and administrative institutions to protect the rights of all Afghans. A field presence of international peacekeepers will encourage compliance with disarmament and demilitarization agreements.

 

Factional rivalry in northern Afghanistan has led to a rise in attacks on humanitarian aid workers and Afghan civilians, threatening the delivery of urgently needed aid and resettlement assistance. Ethnic Pashtuns, a minority in the north, have been subject to targeted violence including rape, seizure of farmland, and demands for money by local commanders.

 

Wolfowitz visited Mazar-i-Sharif in July and expressed alarm over the violence as an obstacle to development, but gave backing to the local warlords whose forces are responsible for many of the abuses in the north. Ironically, by relying on warlords and opposing an expansion of the peacekeeping force, the United States has allowed the situation to become more, not less, unstable.

 

Other parts of the country are also plagued by violence, affecting Afghan women, ethnic minorities, and returning refugees. In several areas around Herat in the west, and Kandahar in the south, minorities have been harassed by local forces. On most roads between major cities, armed groups regularly extort money from farmers, traders and anyone not under the "protection" of a regional strongman.

 

The Bonn agreement provided for an international peacekeeping force in Kabul, but also indicated that such a force "could, as appropriate, be progressively expanded to other urban centers and other areas." The UN Security Council, which renewed the peacekeepers' mandate in May, will need to vote to redefine its mandate, while seeking contributions troops, funding, and logistical support from member states to gradually increase its scope.

 

The United States should immediately take the lead in drafting a Security Council resolution, seeking support from European governments and others on the Council. President George W. Bush, when he speaks at the United Nations on Sept. 12, should publicly endorse expansion of the peacekeeping force. Secretary of State Colin Powell should consult closely with Afghan leaders and UN officials to devise a workable strategy for increasing security.

 

Certainly, the U.S. Congress can also help. The administration should support legislation adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Aug.1, authorizing $1 billion over two years for more peacekeepers, then work with Congress to get the necessary funds appropriated. During his visit to Afghanistan, Wolfowitz said that Washington is committed to Afghanistan's reconstruction, declaring that the U.S. had learned a lesson from 10 years of benign neglect.

 

It's now up to the Bush administration to make good on that promise, not only by giving aid, but also by doing more to create the security conditions needed for a peaceful, stable Afghanistan to emerge.

The writer, Washington director for Asia at Human Right Watch, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

 

[c] Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

By Abid Aslam
Foreign Policy in Focus, September 24, 2001

 

Not a shot has been fired--yet--at Afghanistan's Taliban, but the country's beleaguered population already is paying a heavy price for the ruling militia's pariah status as host to alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

 

Neighbors have closed their borders, trapping refugees and, in the case of Pakistan, cutting off the main source of food purchases. Inside Afghanistan, many shops have closed, and the price of wheat, the country's staple, has soared.

 

"In Mazar-e-Sharif [northern Afghanistan], the price of wheat has increased by 35% over the last two days," World Food Program (WFP) spokesman Khaled Mansour told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (www.irin.org) on September 21. "Other areas have also seen sharp increases. These prices are beyond the means of the poorest, such as widows."

 

To some extent, the hyperinflation is the result of stockpiling by traders, Mansour said. But, he explained, "Trucks are now being used to ferry people instead of commodities, and the cost of what transport is available has increased sharply."

 

UN and other aid agencies have evacuated their international staff, handing over operations to local employees. The Taliban reportedly has told these staffers--including some 700 on the UN payroll--they face imprisonment or death if they communicate with the outside world.

Coupled with Taliban-imposed restrictions, closure of the Afghan-Pakistan border in particular has effectively isolated local aid workers and destroyed the UN's ability to deliver relief food to more than five million Afghans at risk of famine. In some parts of Afghanistan, locals reportedly have resorted to eating a mix of locusts and animal fodder; some are believed to have fallen ill and possibly died after eating poisoned grass.

 

Large numbers of Afghans continue to flee their homes for the countryside, or toward Pakistan and other neighboring countries amid fears of U.S. strikes. Aid agencies are urging Washington and its allies to adopt special measures to ensure the safety of the civilian population.

Human rights groups, however, are exhorting Afghanistan's neighbors to open their borders to refugees. Human Rights Watch (HRW, www.hrw.org) has rejected the idea of setting up "safe haven" camps within Afghanistan's borders.

 

"Past experience from Bosnia, Rwanda, and Northern Iraq tells us that safe havens have proved to be anything but safe," said Rachael Reilly, HRW's refugee policy director. "Instead, any refugee camps established should be outside the territory of Afghanistan."

 

The nongovernmental U.S. Committee for Refugees, in a September 18 statement, said the Afghan civilians trapped in what soon could become a war zone are "ordinary men, women, and children who cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who rule them."

 

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have fled toward Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Iran, HRW said, only to be penned in at the border. Afghanistan's three other neighbors, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China, also have closed their borders with Afghanistan.

 

Some 3.7 million Afghan refugees who fled the conflict in Afghanistan over the past two decades now live in neighboring countries--1.5 million in Iran and more than 2 million in Pakistan.

 

Some 1.1 million people are internally displaced within Afghanistan. Fear of U.S. retaliation has prompted the flight of as many as 100,000 more from Qandahar alone, the Taliban's seat, according to Amnesty International (AI, www.amnesty.org). The total Afghan population is estimated at around 24 million people.

Frustrated by the large scale and protracted nature of the refugee crisis and the lack of international attention to their plight, both Iran and Pakistan have officially closed their borders to refugees for the past year. In the past week, however, Pakistani security forces have sealed the border with barbed wire in a number of places, despite appeals from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) not to turn back refugees. Only those with valid visas are allowed to enter, but Pakistani authorities have ceased issuing permits altogether, AI said. Pakistan's decision to shut down the border was in direct response to a U.S. request to strengthen security.

 

Despite border restrictions, some 15,000 Afghan refugees managed to enter Pakistan last week, most of them arriving in Baluchistan province on the southwest border. A further 5,000 refugees, who were massed for several days at the Chaman border crossing near the Baluchistan city of Quetta, finally entered the country and are now encamped on the Pakistan side, HRW said.

 

The Iranian government, while reiterating that it is unable to admit any new refugees, has offered to assist Afghans through cross-border assistance operations.

 

An estimated 10,000 Afghan refugees have been camped on several islands in the Pyanj River at the Tajikistan border since the Tajik government closed its borders a year ago and stationed 10,000 Russian troops to prevent refugees from entering, according to HRW.

 

"Afghanistan's neighbors face real security concerns at this time," said Reilly. "But these countries have international obligations to meet their security concerns by screening out armed elements so that borders remain open for refugees."

 

Her organization noted further that ''Western governments, including the U.S., Australia, and European Union member states, are also tightening immigration controls in a way that could further deny protection to Afghan refugees.''

 

As a result, ''Afghans with a valid fear of persecution seeking asylum overseas, particularly in Western countries, may face prolonged immigration detention or deportation,'' HRW said.

 

Instead, the group called on Western and other wealthy states to ''explore emergency resettlement possibilities for Afghan refugees'' and to ensure that tougher immigration controls do not infringe upon the rights of all asylum seekers to access ''fair and efficient asylum determination procedures.''

AI also called on rich nations to chip in money, saying Afghanistan's neighbors ''should not bear a disproportionate cost'' of caring for refugees.

 

"The people of Afghanistan have suffered conflict and famine for decades. The international community must offer protection and relief immediately and provide adequate resources to the UNHCR for it to carry out its mandate in an effective manner," AI said.

 

HRW noted that ''the right of refugees not to be returned to a country where their lives or freedom are threatened is a fundamental principle of international customary law and is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and China are all parties.''

 

(Abid Aslam <aaslam@igc.org> is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy In Focus and the North America and Caribbean editor of Inter Press Service, an international news agency.)

 

[d] Afghanistan's Recovery Strong, but Still at Risk, Envoy Says

31 October 2002

Asst. Secy. Dewey Assesses Progress in Afghanistan

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The U.S. Secretary of State's special envoy assessing recovery and reconstruction in Afghanistan has returned from a month long journey to the country using words like "remarkable," "encouraging" and "gratifying" to describe what he has seen in a country attempting to lift itself from the wreckage left by 22 years of occupation, war and oppression.

"There's just been a lot of progress in a very short time ... coming from a failed state - one of the most failed of states - to a state that has a chance," Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Arthur "Gene" Dewey said in a Washington File interview.

Dewey first traveled to Afghanistan in August, then returned to conduct a more extensive assessment in mid-September. He said the Central Asian state is advancing down the road to recovery at such a rapid pace that he saw that circumstances had improved between his first and second visits.

Having visited bustling, urban markets, the homes of returning refugees, newly reopened classrooms, and fledgling government ministries, Dewey said he got a sense of a people and a country ready to confront the challenges of reconstruction.

"It really is a new birth of freedom," he said.

The progress the country has made since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 is evident in many sectors, but to Dewey the most remarkable change is the return of Afghanistan's "human capital." He said the return of some 2.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons has been the largest repatriation to occur any where in the world over the last 30 years. The tide of returning Afghans has far exceeded the 800,000 returnees anticipated in the first year by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Dewey praises UNHCR for its capability and professionalism in meeting the demands of a return far beyond its expectations.

The greatest message to be extracted from the repatriation, however, is in what it says about the tremendous coping power of the Afghan people, facing difficult and uncertain conditions as they return to their homes and villages, Dewey said.

"They're betting on improved freedoms and the presence of freedom after the Taliban and al Qaeda were displaced," Dewey said. "It's like a new world in Afghanistan if you can imagine the oppression that existed while the Taliban ruled the country, as compared to now."

Despite his optimism and excitement about what has transpired so far, Dewey remains cautious. U.S. policymakers and humanitarian aid officials are still concerned about meeting the needs of the returnees. Without a continued focus on immediate humanitarian issues, the continuing drought, food shortages or persistent insecurity could force those returnees to flee again, a possibility that Dewey calls "the nightmare scenario."

That prospect looms larger as the days grow colder and Afghan winter sets in. Though agriculture production has increased dramatically in some areas that have received rain, the country is still unable to feed itself and will be dependent upon international food aid to survive the winter. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that more than six million Afghans still need food assistance.

The World Food Program (WFP), the principal coordinating agency for international food assistance, reports that its supplies of commodities are running short. Interruptions in the flow of grain into Afghanistan are anticipated in the final months of 2002.

Assistant Secretary Dewey said international donors must not lose sight of that problem. "So this is why we keep pressing the other donors, and reminding the other donors that the United States can not continue to do 80 percent of the food through the WFP. We have to have more help from the Europeans, Japan and the other donors to share that burden, to give some margin of safety that we really will make it through the winter."

Dewey said that if donors fulfill their promises, WFP will have adequate food supplies to last through the winter, but he's concerned about Afghanistan's need for further aid from March until July 2003 when the first harvest comes in.

The United States is the world leader in the provision of aid for Afghanistan. Since October 1, 2001, the United States has provided more than $350 million in assistance, and pledged almost $300 million in reconstruction aid at a conference of donors last January.

Some Afghan officials have been placing greater emphasis on the need for reconstruction aid than humanitarian assistance in recent statements. Dewey characterizes that position as a "miscalculation."

He emphasized that the investment in humanitarian aid - providing food, shelter and medical care for returnees - is an investment in the long-term reconstruction of the country. "It's building on that human capital base. These are people with all the energy and all the confidence that they can make it back in Afghanistan," Dewey said. "They are the base of reconstruction. You have to make that investment before you can really start to realize the benefits and see the progress of reconstruction."

Dewey said the gains realized from the humanitarian investment so far are easily quantifiable: 2.5 million returnees, three million children in reopened schools, eight million children vaccinated against measles.

"You can count the numbers, you can see what you've bought, what the international community has bought with this investment," Dewey said.

On his travels through Afghanistan, Dewey visited cramped, makeshift schools, where children attended in shifts to make use of the limited space and supplies available to them. Despite those hardships, the students were excited to be there, Dewey said, especially the girls. "It's almost as if they found a new lease on life by being able to get back to school and prepare for their future, however uncertain it might be. They're excited about getting ready for it."

The enthusiasm of the children also helps to motivate the teachers who are paid neither well nor consistently, Dewey said. "What is surprising to me and gratifying is that so many of the teachers have kept teaching. They're betting that the pay is going to come through eventually, and then they see the kids so eager to learn, and those two things keep them going."

Dewey said not only the children, but also the government is in a learning mode. He said he noted significant progress in some ministries that are working to organize themselves and develop the capacity to govern. The international agencies and non-governmental organizations have been providing significant services in response to the nation's emergency, but now the agencies are beginning to transfer those responsibilities to government ministries which are becoming increasingly engaged in planning and priority-setting in the U.N. programs.

"The ownership of the program is really fixed by their being able to make the policy, do the planning, own the plan, and set the priorities in the plan," Dewey said. "This is a remarkable way to transition from ...(the) U.N. structure to a longer term sustainable local government structure to deal with both emergency humanitarian needs and reconstruction needs."

For all the progress he has seen in a short time, Dewey still counsels patience. The recovery of a failed state "doesn't happen overnight," he said. He said the United States is committed to maintaining the progress in Afghanistan. "The momentum is still there, and we have to keep it there," Dewey said. "The investment must be protected. The consequences of not protecting it are unthinkable."

 



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