Peace hangs by a thread in Afghanistan
By Atiq Sarwari & Robert Crews
With the United States preoccupied with Iraq, the fate of its previous
object of liberation - Afghanistan - hangs precariously in the balance.
Eighteen months after the fall of the Taliban regime, the threat of renewed mass violence haunts Afghanistan. Veterans like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have declared war against the US-backed government. Taliban leaders have also resurfaced. These fighters and their foreign sponsors bear responsibility for jeopardizing the gains of the post-Taliban era. But they are not alone.
A flawed reconstruction plan is perpetuating this insecurity, destabilizing
the region and undermining the anti-terrorism campaign. Instability stems
from the manner in which the government was formed.
Ignored outside Kabul, the president rarely appears in the capital. The United States blames Karzai’s isolation on regional warlords and is pressing him to move against them, hinting that US forces may assist him.
However, these charges conceal a more complex story behind Karzai’s weakness. Although the United States secured a loyal executive in Karzai, it failed to forge a coalition broad enough to integrate Afghanistan’s varied regions. With 200,000 men under arms (some provided by the United States for operations against Al Qaeda), local commanders now have little incentive to cooperate. Enriched by control of the drug trade and customs duties, they oppose demobilization.
Afghanistan’s past also makes these commanders wary of surrendering their autonomy. Pakhtoon governments have long used a heavy hand to impose their will. Hazara, Uzbek and other tribal or ethnic communities remain anxious about a national army, which previous regimes used to bully various groups. These communities nervously await a new constitution to see whether it provides for federalism and equality between Sunnis and Shias.
The scarcity of reconstruction aid contributes to this warlordism. Although
the national army, which pays its members just $30 a month, must struggle
to keep even half its recruits, militias thrive. Herat Governor Ismail
Khan supports 40,000 soldiers and a solid infrastructure. Until real aid
arrives, Afghans will keep their AK-47 rifles. And without funding for
crop substitution, farmers will preserve the country’s status as
the world’s leading opium producer.
Although a new reconstruction plan promises $200 for every family, many
will not see this money for three years. The Pentagon’s Provincial
Reconstruction Teams are operating in only three of 32 provinces.
Disillusioned Afghans now cast doubt on US plans for the establishment of a democratic government representative of this diverse society. The fortunes of the anti-terrorism campaign are tied to Karzai’s narrow base.