Afghanistan: on the brink of disaster [Archives:2004/760/Reportage]

archive
August 2 2004
An Afghan registering to vote for the upcoming elections in Kabul, the capital. <br>	(Yemen Times photo by Peter Willems)’/><figcaption>An Afghan registering to vote for the upcoming elections in Kabul, the capital. <br>	(Yemen Times photo by Peter Willems)</figcaption></figure></div></td></tr></table><b><i>By Peter Willems<br>Yemen Times Staff</i></b><br>Members of Parliament in Great Britain last week released a disturbing report on the conditions in Afghanistan and its uncertain future. <br>The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said that there will be a real danger if “resources are not provided soon, that Afghanistan – a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world – could implode, with terrible consequences.” <br>Violence in Afghanistan has risen dramatically in the last year-and-a-half. Over 800 people have been killed in the last 12 months. Many of humanitarian aid organizations, assisting to rebuild the war-torn country, have also been targeted. Since the beginning of 2003, over 30 aid workers have been killed. <br>The remnants of the Taliban regime, which have continued to fight US forces in the south, are held responsible for many of the attacks, including assaults in provinces in the north that had been calm since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001. But warlords leading armed militias and new drug-lords are also seen as backing attacks to keep the country unstable. <br>Doctors Without Borders, a prominent aid agency that has been operating in Afghanistan to provide health care for 24 years, decided last week to pack up and leave the country. On June 2nd, five of its aid workers were ambushed and killed in the Badghis province. <br>The British Foreign Affairs Committee criticized NATO countries for not offering enough forces to secure Afghanistan. Up until now, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been made up of only 6,500 troops, stationed mostly in Kabul, the capital. Twenty thousand US soldiers are preoccupied fighting the Taliban in the south and hunting down Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of Al-Qaeda, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. <br>At the NATO conference in Istanbul last June, leaders from member countries promised to increase troop deployments to help bring stability to Afghanistan. But NATO has not only delayed the sending of troops but has failed to find enough countries to commit to fulfill the promise of sending up to 3,500 additional soldiers. NATO officials, including the Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, are now scrambling to find countries that are willing to dispatch forces in September.<br>“We conclude that, welcome though the Istanbul declaration of limited further support for Afghanistan is, fine communiques and ringing declarations are no substitute for delivery of the forces and equipment which Afghanistan needs on the ground,” said the British committee. <br>Last October the United Nations-sponsored a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program (DDR) began which was aimed to disarm around 60,000 out of an estimated 100,000 militia fighters before the presidential elections are to be held next October. Until now, the program has been stalling: Roughly 10,000 militia fighters have been disarmed, mostly due to the lack of cooperation from Afghan warlords who now control vast territories across the country. <br>In July, President Hamid Karzai signed a decree to try and persuade warlords to cooperate and get the DDR moving forward. <br>“Those who are not cooperating, those who are actively working against DDR, they will be brought to justice,” said the President's Spokesman Jawed Ludin. <br>But analysts believe that it will be difficult for the interim government to enforce its new decree. The Afghan National Army is made up of only 8,300 soldiers. And according to Alexandre Schmidt, Crime Prevention Expert of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is just beginning to develop its judicial system. <br>“The central government outside the capital is very weak, and there is no judicial system yet,” said Schmidt. “The judicial system and law enforcement need to be strengthened, and they also need to be developed outside the capital.” <br>Karzai also tried a couple of weeks ago to strengthen the government's control of the country by removing three militia leaders from their jobs as army commanders and giving them security and local government positions. One was appointed as governor while two others became police chiefs, each one within their own provinces. <br>Analysts, however, have said that the shift will have little effect on the warlords: They have received new titles while still being close to their armed militia fighters.  <br>Some think that the first democratic elections since the Taliban regime fell could help bring stability to the country. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) – a joint effort between Afghanistan's interim government and the United Nations – has been successful in preparing Afghans to participate in the elections. The JEMB has registered around eight million out of 10 million eligible voters, 40% being women, and has been able to work in unstable areas so that registration has been taking place in all of the 34 provinces. <br>But warlords have been using their power to intimidate voters. In a recent United Nations report on the development of Afghanistan's political rights, Ismail Khan, one of the most powerful warlords ruling the Herat province in the west, was cited as having crushed political opposition and controlling the press and television in his area.  <br>Fighting between Taliban fighters and US troops in the south and attacks on civilians have restricted registration in some areas. In the Zabul province, only 12% of the people have been able to register to vote.<br>There are also fears that violence will increase as the country gets closer to elections, which could endanger the voting process for the presidential elections next fall and parliamentary elections in April 2005. <br>“The JEMB has time and again expressed its concern about the security during the voter registration process and also during the election period itself,” said Said Mohammad Azam, JEMB's Media Relations Officer. “We have always called for provisions of better security where voters, candidates, voter registration and electoral officials feel safe and secure.” <br>The Foreign Affairs Committee also warned that little, if any, assistance has been given to Afghanistan to reduce opium production. The drug industry has prospered since the Taliban regime was ousted. In 2003, over 80,000 hectares were used for poppy cultivation and the country produced 3,600 tons of opium – up from 185 tons in 2001 – taking up 75% of the world market. According to the committee's report, the production of opium is expected to rise again this year. <br>The Taliban is using drug trafficking to finance its insurgency, while over a dozen warlords exploit the drug trade to support building their power base. To fight against the drug trade, that the government initiated an eradication program that destroyed 25,000 hectares of poppy fields in over a half-dozen provinces. But according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the government has not provided poppy farmers with an alternative crop, and it is expected that farmers will grow poppies again later this year. <br>The Foreign Affairs Committee stressed that if more assistance is not sent soon, Afghanistan could deteriorate much further. <br>“In security terms, Afghanistan is absolutely on a knife edge,” said Sir John Stanley, a member of the Committee. “Countries like Britain, the United States, NATO and round the world either give President Karzai the support he desperately needs now r if we fail to do so I believe there is a very serious risk that the country and security concerns are going to go back very, very seriously and could end up in a situation where everything we have tried to achieve since the removal of the Taliban regime could be set back almost to square one.”<br />——<br />[archive-e:760-v:13-y:2004-d:2004-08-02-p:report]							</div>
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