Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Afghanistan: Where We Are At

Le Monde's special correspondent in Afghanistan, Françoise Chipaux, analyses the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.

The most salient ills are due to the fact that the US military does not grant ordinary Afghanis the protections of the the Bill of Rights, the document for which it marches into battle. There are regular unreasonable searchs and seizures, no due process and no rights for the accused. Coupled with institutional corruption, cronyism, uncurbed warlords and drug traffickers, the situation is alarming. A half-way decent future for Afghanis requires billions of dollars and decades of commitment.

Can you guess who the people are who are considered the least corrupt and the most able and educated? The returning communists.

A 4-Year Assessment of Afghanistan (2001-2005)
LEMONDE.FR | 19.09.05 | 18h54

Despite elections, can it really be said that democracy has come to Afghanistan?
I don’t think we can really talk about democracy in a country which has no democratic past, a 75% illiteracy rate and no government institution that works. There is no justice system, no law enforcement and no army. In these conditions, we can only say that that allowing Afghanis to express their opinion at the ballot box is a first step. The word “democracy” really can’t be applied.

Afganistan was once a narco-state. How can drug trafficking be stopped?
First, Afghanistan continues to be a narco-state since drugs account for 60% of its GNP. Second, to stop drug cultivation, the first step is to punish the big traffickers, who encourage farmers to grow drugs which earn them $2.8 billion dollars a year. But don’t kid yourself—eliminating drugs in Afghanistan will take between 15 and 20 years.

How has life changed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban?
On the one hand there are more jobs because there is a lot of construction going on in the cities. But on the other hand, prices have spiraled upwards since the fall of the Taliban, making rent and food more expensive. To give you an example, a kilogram of meat (2.2 lbs), which cost 50 afganis before the war now costs 150. A tiny fringe of the population is growing considerably rich but most of the people are getting poorer.

What is the status of women?
The status of women has improved in the sense that they are no longer forbidden to leave the house and their daughters can go to school. They can even work if they wish. But cultural obstacles haven’t disappeared. On the positive side of the equation is the fact that women turned out to vote and many of the polling stations were run by women. But on the negative side, nothing has changed for most women because in Afgani culture, the woman stays at home, takes a husband selected by her father and may work only if her spouse agrees. Obstructive legislation has disappeared but cultural barriers remain.

What is the top priority for the populace? Security? Purchasing power? Education?
The top priority is security, peace, jobs, schools, highways, hospitals, electricity. Their priorities are pretty basic—to live a normal life in safety in a country where everyone is equal before the law.

Were you in Afghanistan for the 2004 presidential election? If so, what comparisons can you make? Are Afghanis less interested in local elections?
Yes, I was in Afghanistan during the presidential elections. The problem isn’t that Afghanis are disinterested in local politics but that there has been tremendous violence following the presidential elections. And in fact, nothing has changed. On the one hand, there’s disenchantment. On the other, the local elections were extremely complicated by the huge number of candidates, whom the public didn’t know. To give you an example, in Kabul there were 390 candidates for the National Assembly. The ballot was 7 pages long, printed as a tabloid, to select one candidate. That was the big problem.

What is the influence of religion. Is it a stumbling block to public education and women’s emancipation?
Religion in Afghanistan is everywhere because Afghanis are a religious people. That doesn’t mean that they are fundamentalists. But they are extremely religious. Most Afghanis pray five times a day and the vast majority observe Ramadan. But Islam is not an obstacle to the education of women or a change in values.

How can the influence of the Taliban on the population be reduced?
For that, the government would have to appoint honest, competent people who can make their influence felt in the border areas where the presence of the state is absent and in areas where the Taliban is active. People have not realized a peace dividend. Today the Taliban alone are not the only opponents to the regime. There is a second front, like in Iraq, composed of people opposed to the presence of the US military. The presence of Coalition forces, who are mostly American, causes insecurity in the sense that they engaging in combat with Taliban. US troops search homes, arrest people and drop bombs. This makes recruitment of the locals by the Taliban easy.

How do you explain the relatively low voter turnout last Sunday?
I think there are two factors: disenchantment, because the people turned out in huge numbers to vote in the Presidential election but saw no improvement, and a complicated ballot with many candidates with most voters having no idea of the purpose and role of a Parliament.

Is the international force, ISAF, having a real impact on security for most people?
Yes they are. In the north of Afghanistan, for example, the ISAF has negotiated with warlords, trained the police and are present to intervene in case of violence. The fact that ISAF runs frequent patrols reassures people.

What role are NGOs performing in the country? Is it true that they are running out of money?
I think that as of today, they haven’t trimmed their budgets but over the years this will happen. NGOs are performing essential tasks. The Afghani government does not have the necessary human resources.

Are the EU and the United States doing their part in assisting Afghanistan?
The needs of Afghanistan are so enormous that it’s difficult to gauge if the UE and the USA are adequately doingf their job. The USA has already contributed $5 billion in addition to what it spends on its troop presence. But Afghanistan will need between $20 and $25 billion over the next 15 years.

With there be an international trial of warlords for war crimes or human rights violations?
For the moment nothing is in the works. President Karzai hasn’t marginalized the warlords. Many fear that these leaders, most of whom ran for Parliament, will legislate an amnesty law without delay if they are elected.

Have tensions between Pashtoons, Tadjiks, Uzbeks and others been reduced?
Right now there’s no obvious tension but, once again, voting in Parliament will occur along ethnic lines as we saw in the presidential elections. In a country where there are no police to protect you, it is obvious that people seek security within their tribes or ethnic community.

Can a secular party emerge in Afghanistan?
Secular parties already exist. Today the dozen or so registered secular parties spring from of the Afghani Left, especially returning communists. It is difficult to gauge their influence for the time being. The results of the legislative elections will show us their influence. But these parties have powerful networks inside government and the security forces. Communists began returnig two years ago. Some even have the support of their tribes. By and large, communists are honest, untainted by corruption and well-educated.

What are short-term and long-term prospects for the country?
Everything depends on the outcome of the conference scheduled for January which will evaluate what has been done over the last four years. It is absolutely essential that the government clean house and implement true reforms favoring merit over cronyism. It is essential that the international community continue to train the police, the army, and the Justice Ministry and that they assist in the establishment of credible institutions.


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