Donor Delay Spells Doom for Afghanistan

Inter Press Service,
September 20, 2003


By Jim Lobe,

WASHINGTON - By completing just 1 percent of the reconstruction required in Afghanistan to date, the United States and other donors are risking renewed conflict, if not disintegration, in the devastated country, says an unusually frank report released this week by the US relief organization CARE.

The eight-page policy brief, co-authored by the Center on International Cooperation (CIC), finds that Afghanistan's stability and reconstruction are increasingly threatened by violence, especially that directed 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 because of the insecurity that is growing outside the capital Kabul, 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," says Atlanta-based CARE, which stressed that projects worth just US$192 million were completed in the 18 months after US-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) on Tuesday, which confirmed that human-rights abuses, including summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and the use of unofficial prisons by warlords, are also on 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.

She said that people countrywide were being held unofficially in prisons by local warlords or authorities because of 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 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 US 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 the southern and eastern parts of the country has deteriorated sharply in recent months.

In addition, the central government headed by interim Chairman 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 "serious threats" to the country's security, but together, according to CARE, 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," said CARE, while one-half of Afghanistan's 32 provinces are deemed "high-risk" areas for aid work. In the worst incident to date, four 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 deterioration in security is illustrated by the rising number of armed attacks against civilians outside of Kabul. During the summer of 2002, the report says, the ratio of armed attacks outside Kabul to inside the city was approximately 2:1; this past summer the ratio rose to 7:1, CARE said.

That was due primarily to the failure of ISAF to extend its presence beyond Kabul, the agency added. While the recent request by Germany and Washington to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members to contribute to such an expansion constituted a "positive step", it said, "it is time to move from good intentions to action".

"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 themselves, at the expense of the Karzai government. Afghanistan's share of global opium production skyrocketed from 12 percent at the time of the Taliban's ouster to 76 percent in 2002, according to the United Nations.

Above all, 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. CARE insisted that a far more realistic estimate - particularly given the extra costs caused by continued insecurity - would be $20 billion over the next four years.

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

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

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