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Archive for February 2006

Chance for a new start in Afghanistan

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By John Simpson
BBC News
BBC World Affairs Editor
Monday, 20 February 2006

Afghanistan is not Iraq. It should not be necessary to make the point, of course.

But after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein there is a growing resistance in the West to further adventures.

In the minds of many people in Europe, sending more troops to Afghanistan is both dangerous and imperialistic.

It does not necessarily have to be either.

The motives that have led Britain, Canada, France, Germany and other countries to send their soldiers to Afghanistan are very different from those which led the United States and Britain to invade Iraq three years ago.

Mutual interest

And the response by most Afghans to the presence of foreign troops in their country is nothing like the hatred and anger which so many Iraqis feel towards the Americans and British.

In Afghanistan, the self-interest of Western countries happens to coincide with that of the Afghan people. We need a peaceful, prosperous and well-governed Afghanistan.

When it is none of these things, it can do us immense damage. The attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States were planned and organised in Taleban-ruled Afghanistan.

The great majority of the heroin that reaches the streets of Western cities comes from the wilder parts of Afghanistan.

Help the Afghan government grow strong, support the living standards of the Afghan people, and we ourselves will be safer.

The trouble is, the West has never seen Afghanistan as a real country. It has always seen it, instead, as a square on the international chess-board.

In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and Margaret Thatcher was the British prime minister, we heard a great deal about the sufferings of the Afghans under the Soviet yoke.

But when the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, the Americans, the British and everyone else lost all interest in the country. Now it was just an extremely poor country with no natural resources.

Taleban loathed

In the 1990s, ignored by the outside world, Afghanistan descended into a spiral of insane violence which ended only with the arrival in power of the most perverse and retrograde government in modern times: the Taleban.

The overthrow of the Taleban in November 2001 was a triumph of minimalism. A small number of US special forces and a certain amount of bombing helped the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance to chase them out of Kabul.

The Taleban had been loathed by most Afghans, and their departure was greeted like a new dawn. Britain and America promised they would not lose interest in Afghanistan again.

Then came the invasion of Iraq. All the attention was redirected there. As the resistance movement blossomed and spread in Iraq, its influence spread back into Afghanistan.

The Taleban, which had seemed to be finished, began to grow in influence again. It imported the tactics of the Iraqi insurgents and became a training-ground for Islamic militants again.

New start

Anyone who knows Afghanistan knows how ordinary people there long for peace and prosperity.

The author and commentator Ahmed Rashid writes: “Western forces are still welcome – as long as they are really useful and are willing to both fight and help in reconstruction.”

Even the south-east, where the Taleban always had greater support, and where British troops are now going to be based, is less dangerous than Iraq.

They can do a great deal more good in Afghanistan – especially if they learn from their Iraqi mistakes.

The key is to act as partners in Afghanistan, not as occupiers.

One of the most thoughtful American commentators on Afghanistan, Vanni Cappelli, argues cogently that the Western forces need to work with the tribes along the wild borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban leaders are being sheltered.

Last month the CIA launched a missile attack across the border, killing 18 civilians.

This kind of action against the tribes will not, Cappelli argues, “sway this warrior people if it feels it can uphold its honour and dignity by supporting Islamic extremists. The trick is proving to them that there are better ways to secure these things.”

Cappelli is entirely right. If the trick can be performed, Afghanistan will be a safer, better, more prosperous country.

The trouble is, public opinion in the United States still favours the use of force rather than reason.

Although he is a well-regarded authority, Cappelli’s eminently sensible article was rejected by 24 American newspapers before finding a home in US Italia.

There is a brief opportunity for a new start in Afghanistan. The Americans could rethink their whole approach; the British could restore their reputation, so battered in Iraq, and other Nato countries could show they can be something more than merely critics on the sidelines.

Let us hope they get it right for a change.


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February 20, 2006 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Saving KabulÂ’s Pedestrians – The first in a series of foot-bridges is intended to save KabulisÂ’ nerves – and lives.

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Institute for War and Peace Reporting
By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul (ARR No. 203, 18-Feb-06)

Draped in a burqa and toting a blue shoulder bag, Khori Gul murmurs a prayer of thanks before she starts across the new pedestrian bridge in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul.

“God bless him who made this bridge, and give him paradise,” she said.

In KabulÂ’s chaotic traffic, crossing the road can be a life-threatening exercise. Taxis and minivans race at breakneck speed along the thoroughfares, jockeying for position at roundabouts with trucks, buses, donkey carts and cyclists.

Pedestrians donÂ’t stand a chance in the melee, and often pay a high price for a badly-timed move. According to General Abdul Shakoor Khair Khwa, head of the national traffic police, there are close to 500 accidents a year involving pedestrians, of which one-third involve fatalities.

The new pedestrian walkway spans Deh Afghanan, a major artery in one of the most congested areas of this overcrowded city.

“I was always afraid of crossing the road,” said Khori Gul, 40. “Sometimes I used to have to wait half an hour, and I almost got hit many times, but now I am calm.”

The bridge, standing about six metres high and 25 metres long, opened at the end of January and has already made life easier for the cityÂ’s traffic police.

“Since the day the bridge opened, we’ve had fewer problems with traffic,” said one officer who did not want to give his name. “Before this, there were a lot of accidents here.”

The pedestrian overpass was financed by Sherkat-e-Cheshm-e-Sheshai, an Iranian firm that put up the 50,000 US dollars needed for the construction work. In exchange, it has the right to rent out advertising space on the bridge for the next five years, according to city officials.

“We will eventually have six bridges altogether under our contract with the Iranian company,” said Mohammad Asef Akbari, head of Kabul’s information and culture department. “They are very important for preventing traffic accidents.”

Even though the walkway offers safe passage to the other side of the street, the traffic police estimate that only about 50 per cent of pedestrians are using it.

Some are in too much of a hurry to climb the stairs up the bridge; others say they donÂ’t have confidence in the structure.

“I did use the bridge once, but it shook as I was crossing it. It will collapse one day. I’m not going to use it again,” said Abdul Saleh, 56.

Company officials insist the structure is sound. “These bridges are made by professional Iranian engineers, who have build more than 50 similar bridges in various parts of Iran,” said Sayed Ali Islami, an official at the firm.

Drivers say they are happy with the new bridge, too.

Nadir Shah, 43, who like many here drives a Toyota Corolla, praised the city authorities for putting the bridge up. “I was always anxious when I came to [this part of town],” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of accidents here. But now I feel much calmer. There are far fewer people on the road crossing to the other side.”

Abdul Hadi, 35, in a grey minivan, was just as pleased, saying, “Most people don’t pay enough attention when they’re crossing the road. Bridges like this are very good for drivers.”

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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February 18, 2006 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Development

UNDP Afghanistan Newsletter

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Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
15 Feb 2006

Capacity Building at the New Afghan Legislature Goes Ahead in Full Steam

Now that the newly elected Afghan National Assembly is in business, there is much legislation to be produced and a lot to catch up with, and not only for legislators but also for the machinery that will allow them to work, that is the Secretariat of the Parliament.

Taking the opportunity of the current recess in the Assembly proceedings, the SEAL project has organized two more training courses for the staff of the Secretariat to prepare them for the upcoming busy schedule of the Assembly sessions.

The first training course, on Feb. 1 and 2, involved 50 staff members of the secretariat and focused mainly on the work of the Standing Commissions of the Parliament, which have a vital importance in the process of vetting the legislation to be submitted to the plenary sessions of both houses of the Assembly, Wolesi Jirga (the lower house) and the Meshrano Jirga (the house of the elders). 32 standing commissions, 18 in the former, and 14 in the latter will be functioning, and they will also perform the duty of oversight of the executive branch of the state, that is the government, including budget and public accounts.

A panel of resource persons including SEAL Project Team Manager Thusitha Pilapatiya and team members Srinvasan Gopalan, Consultant, Monjurul Kabir, Advisor on Legislative Environment, Dennis Sammut, Advisor on Capacity Building, Tarek Sedik, National Programme Officer, Legislative Environment and Abdel-ellah Sediqi, Consultant, as well as Ville Varjola, Head of Sector, Delegation of the European Commission, Kabul and Enie Wes-seldijk, Senior Parliamentary Expert, French Embassy, Kabul made presentations and answered questions from an eager and attentive audience.

On 5th February, SEAL Project also organized a training workshop for the staff of the International Department of the Meshrano Jirga. The seminar was facilitated by Mr. Sammut, Advisor on Capacity Building, and covered topics such as Parliament’s international relations and support for the international activity of members of parliament. More than 200 members of parliament from both houses will, in the coming months, participate in seminars being prepared by the SEAL project both in Afghanistan and abroad as part of efforts to empower them to fulfil their duties of representation and oversight. Seminar topics will include, among other things, globalization.

Gun Law Steadily Advancing over the Law of the Gun

Four more Jihadi commanders committed themselves to the peaceful order in Afghanistan by surrendering their weapons between February 6 and 8, 2006, marking another step in the steady advance of the rule of law, in this particular case of the Gun Law, against the supremacy of the guns.

On February 6th, in Kapisa province, Commander Ab-durahim, Commander Janaqa and Commander Shah Aqa, turned in 5 trucks of ammunition and 75 weapons – including 9 Russian missiles, 13 AK-47 and 14 heavy weapons – to the DIAG* weapons collection team, saying time had come to give up weapons and support the government.

One day later, on Feb 8, in Pol-e Kumri district of the Baghlan province, General Mustafa Mosseni, the Chief of Police of Logar and former Commander of the 20th Division, handed over 51 weapons and ammunition, including 19 missiles, to be verified by the DIAG* weapons collection team. Both ceremonies were attended by high level officials with the latter being observed by a delegation from Kabul, led by General Manan, the head of the AntiTerrorist Department of the Ministry of Interior.

General Mustafa Mosseni insisted that “peace has now come back to Afghanistan and therefore weapons should be handed over to the Government for the use of the Afghan security forces”. He also called on other Commanders to follow his example and comply with the DIAG process.

The weapons are now stored in the provincial weapons collection point under the surveillance of the Afghan National Police (ANP). They will be either used by the security forces of Afghanistan or – if not serviceable – destroyed.

While weapons keep being transferred to government control, the hearts and minds campaign to win the former jihad fighters over to the side of the government is also steaming ahead with many seminars and meetings being organized throughout the country to explain the process of DIAG and how it will benefit the population in Afghanistan

*DIAG: Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups. The DIAG process was launched on 11 June, 2005 when officially announced by Vice President Khalili. As of 9th February, 17,568 weapons as well as 25,667 pieces of boxed and 70,993 pieces of unboxed ammunition have been handed over to and verified by ANBP collection teams in Afghanistan. 4,857 of the collected weapons have been handed over by 124 candidates to the parliamentary and provincial council election

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February 15, 2006 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Aid, Development

Taliban commander arrested, school torched in Afghanistan

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Wed Feb 15, 2:16 AM ET

KABUL (AFP) – Afghan security forces have captured a mid-level Taliban commander after his men torched a school in southern Afghanistan, a government official said.

Mullah Shah Nazar, a district governor in southern Kandahar province during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, was arrested late Tuesday after his men set ablaze a school in Ghazni province, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

“Mullah Shah Nazar, a mid-level Taliban commander who has been involved in several violent attacks on government targets, was captured last night,” ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanizai said.

He said villagers had been able to douse the flames at the high school but some classrooms were destroyed.

Suspected Taliban rebels have attacked several educational institutions as part of their anti-government insurgency. More than a dozen schools have been torched and several teachers have been killed in recent violence.

The Taliban, toppled in a US-led military campaign four years ago, carry out regular attacks, mainly against government and US-led foreign security targets who are based here to hunt them down.

A top Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, has admitted the movement has burned down some schools but said it only targeted those teaching Christianity.

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February 15, 2006 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Education, Security

Canadian general takes the helm of international forces in Afghanistan

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Canadian Press
Wed Feb 15, 5:45 AM ET

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) – The Canadian who will lead multinational forces in volatile southern Afghanistan is getting to know his new base of operations.

Brig.-Gen. David Fraser is in Kandahar, where he will take charge of 2,200 Canadian troops. Later this year he will take command of international forces in the region. While stressing the dangers Canadian soldiers face, Fraser says recent suicide attacks and roadside bombings show international forces are succeeding in their mission. The attacks are desperate attempts to derail the stabilization of the area, Fraser says.

About two-thirds of the Canadian contingent is now at Kandahar Airfield, a base established by the United States shortly after the original invasion of Afghanistan.

Canada will take the lead in the fight to hunt down insurgents in the heartland of the former Taliban government with help from British, Dutch and other NATO forces.

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February 15, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Security

AFGHANISTAN: TB major health problem in the south – WHO

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Source: IRIN
15 Feb 2006

KANDAHAR, 15 February (IRIN) – Zakera, a 40-year-old widow and mother of three, sits in a long queue of mostly female patients awaiting medicine at a tuberculosis (TB) control centre located in the Shar-e-Now district of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

“I have been suffering from a cough and pain for seven months, the same disease I had 10 years ago,” the emaciated Zakera spluttered. “The deadly disease killed my first husband and then I was married to his brother who also died of TB 10 years ago,” Zakera noted.”

“Life has become so miserable for me, Sharina, my only daughter, has also been suffering from the same illness for six months.” Zakera, who had to travel for two days to get to the clinic, added.

Zakera is one of thousands of people suffering from TB in post-conflict Afghanistan. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, approximately 70,000 new TB cases occur annually in Afghanistan, and an estimated 20,000 people in the country die from the disease every year. Two-thirds of Afghanistan’s reported TB cases are women.

According to health officials, the disease is rampant in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Urozgan, Helmand and Daikundi.

“Due to lack of government attention and weak health infrasturces, TB still remains one of the biggest health problems in the southern region,” Dr Mamoon Tahiry, regional coordinator of the national TB control programme for the southern provinces, said in Kandahar.

Lack of education about the condition is another key issue, with late diagnosis and failure to complete subscribed medicines also playing their part in keeping TB prevalence rates high.

“TB is one of the major health problems in the south, if controlled measures are not strengthened right away it could cripple thousands of people with its ultimate impact on the economy,” said Dr Arshad Quddus, medical officer at WHO southern regional office in Kandahar.

TB is a disease which usually attacks the lungs, but it can affect almost any part of the body. A person with TB does not necessarily feel ill but the symptoms can include a cough that will not go away, tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, night sweats and coughing up blood.

Like the common cold, TB is spread through the air after infected people cough or sneeze on others.

Commenting on the problem of TB in southern Afghanistan, Dr Hayat Mohammad Ahmadzai, director of the national TB control programme at the health ministry, said that the government was trying its best to improve the TB control system in the region.

“We have trained personnel in the region and they are working hard to expand the TB control programme,” Ahmadzai noted, adding the ministry had already established 45 health facilities providing TB services in the area and was planning to raise the number to 92 during 2006 in all five southern provinces.

According to health experts, of every 100 patients infected with TB and left without treatment for two years, 50 would die, 25 would recover and 25 percent would survive as chronic cases with the potential to infect others.

According to the WHO, TB kills more young people and adults than any other infectious disease and is the world’s biggest killer of women. TB kills approximately 2 million people worldwide each year and the global epidemic is growing. The breakdown in health services, the spread of HIV/AIDS and the emergence of strains of multi-drug resistant TB are contributing to its spread worldwide.

Between 2002 and 2020 at least 36 million people globally will die of TB – if further control is not strengthened, the WHO has warned.

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February 15, 2006 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Health

Mounting concern over Afghanistan

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By Scott Baldauf / The Christian Science Monitor / February 14, 2006

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Grim phrases are on the lips of diplomats, government officials, and aid workers in Kabul when describing Afghanistan these days. Narco state, political disillusionment, military stalemate, donor fatigue, American military pullout.

Tie it all together, and it’s a picture that suggests Afghanistan could be reverting back to a failed state. None of these issues is new, with the exception of the US decision to start drawing down its forces in Afghanistan and the expected arrival of NATO forces this summer. Yet four years after the government of President Hamid Karzai came to power, these various factors seem to be converging, with explosive results.

“This is what I keep explaining to the international community, these things feed each other, they are related,” says Habibullah Qaderi, Afghanistan’s minister for counternarcotics affairs. “There are two elements in terrorism. One is internal corruption, and the other is external interference. That is why we have problems. We have a corrupt administration, a corrupt government, and that is why people can’t cooperate with us.”

The cartoon protests of the past week – which have been the deadliest in the Islamic world – are largely a barometer of domestic frustrations. In the streets of Kabul, Laghman, Maimana, and Bagram, protesters turned their anger on the US, the West, and “the dog-washers” – a derisive term for the expatriate Afghan technocrats who have returned to top posts in the government.

Protests are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but it takes a certain threshold of anger for protests to turn violent, which these did, leaving 11 Afghans dead. If conditions were good or improving – if the fundamental factors of food, shelter, and income were being met – then the protest over a few cartoons would have faded quickly here, say analysts.

poll finds goodwill not gone

At first glance, the latest opinion polls from December 2005, showed reasons for the Karzai government to be optimistic. The vast majority still prefer the present order over the Taliban, and 77 percent thought the country was moving in the right direction.

Yet that same poll also indicated that substantial problems existed for a majority of Afghans. Sixty percent of the respondents had no electricity in their homes. Seven out of 10 Afghan adults have had no more than an elementary education, and half have household incomes of just $500 a year. It doesn’t take much of a spark to change public opinion when the fundamental aspects of life – food, shelter, jobs – are in such a precarious state.

“What do people want? A clean and accountable government, food on the table, jobs,” says Paul Fishstein, director of Afghan Rehabilitation and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a Kabul think tank. When they don’t get even those basic amenities, he says, their faith in government declines.

For this reason, Afghan officials are concerned with some of the economic and security measures here:

• Afghanistan’s illegal drug economy (mainly opium and heroin) accounted for an estimated $2.7 billion in 2005, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. That’s more than 50 percent of the size of the legal gross domestic product.

• Afghan officials estimate that 400,000 farming families benefit from opium poppy cultivation. Many of these participated in alternative livelihood programs last year, but expressed anger at the $2 a day short-term projects like clearing irrigation ditches that offer little stability.

• Afghan officials estimate that there are 50,000 heroin addicts in Afghanistan.

• Between 250,000 and 400,000 civil servants are working within the Afghan government, according to a study by the AREU. (The 150,000 margin of error speaks volumes about government disarray). Afghan officials estimate that perhaps 100,000 of these are directly benefiting (through transportation fees, profits, or bribes) from the drug trade.

• Afghanistan’s colleges and universities graduate 38,000 college students each year, and the revitalized primary and secondary school systems in the countryside will see those numbers rise. But nearly 70 percent of the population of Kabul is jobless, and there is almost no job creation to absorb these college graduates.

• Aid groups are working in almost every district, but Afghan officials say that there are 21 provinces (out of 34) where it is unsafe to travel at night, either because of insurgency or crime.

Perhaps most telling is the US State Department’s “warden message” in January warning US citizens not to travel to Afghanistan. “The ability of Afghan authorities to maintain order and ensure the security of citizens and visitors is limited…. Travel in all areas of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, is unsafe due to military operations, landmines, banditry, armed rivalry among political and tribal groups, and the possibility of terrorist attacks, including attacks using vehicular or other Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and kidnapping.”

These problems aren’t isolated from each other, say some Afghan officials and foreign observers, who note that the the drug trade is encouraging corruption, corruption is creating public distrust, and public distrust is leading to at least tacit support for insurgency and criminality. “The villagers know when someone has come from Pakistan, they know whose house they’re sitting in,” says Mr. Qaderi, the counternarcotics minister. “But they don’t trust the police. They don’t trust the government. They will hand them over, and then a few days later, someone will pay money and the police will release them.”

Qaderi says that Afghan villagers have all the information that would be needed to shut down a terrorist ring, or a cell of insurgents, or even the organizers of the cartoon protests. After all, few Afghans are literate enough to read inflammatory news stories about the clash between East and West.

Dollar a day vs. drug profits

Instead, the clash is something that many Afghans feel in their gut. The average salary of a government worker is $40, but more than 70 percent of the population is unemployed. Overall, the median monthly income for Afghan wage-earners is around $35, according to the US military. That’s just over a dollar a day, and most wage-earners here tend to have 10 or more family members to support.

“You had a window of opportunity in 2002, when the Taliban were gone and the people were ready to support you and make sacrifices,” says one foreign consultant with long experience in Afghan aid projects. “But now, that moment is lost. The people have given up on this government. I don’t see how you solve it now.”

While wage levels remain stagnant for ordinary Afghans, there has been an ostentatious construction boom in Afghan cities that shows the growing economic appetite of the new Afghan elite, including government bureaucrats who could not afford such luxuries on their $50 to $100 monthly salaries. Foreign aid workers, living in large compounds and driving around expensive four-wheel drive SUVs, are increasingly seen as part of a privileged elite.

“These are time bombs,” says the foreign consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s just a matter of time before the anger starts to take some form.”

Solutions: commitment and jobs

The way to turn Afghanistan around, diplomats and government officials agree, is to honor the promises made in the past, and to get the legal economy moving.

On Feb. 8, 22 former State Department officials and Afghan experts signed a letter to congressional leaders in the US, calling on the US to stay committed to Afghanistan.

“Much has been accomplished … but Afghanistan is still a nation at risk, and success in turning it into a functioning democracy and an economically viable state is not assured,” the letter read.

Referring to the new “Afghan Compact” signed this month by the US and 60 other countries, which generated $10 billion in donor pledges, the letter writers called for the US to consider its $1.1 billion pledge for next year to be the “floor, not the ceiling” of US commitments.

“The government would not last two months without external support,” says Houmayun Assefy, a former presidential candidate who largely supports the Karzai government. “I told this to a minister friend of mine and he said, ‘No, it will not last one week. You’ll have fighting in the streets.”

Privately, US officials are now beginning to admit that military action cannot succeed without a coherent political plan. After a year of serious US military victories against insurgents last year, it is clear that the Taliban are unable to defeat the US in a frontal assault. But this has not brought greater security. The Taliban have simply changed tactics. Now they attack poorly defended Afghan police checkpoints; leave roadside bombs for poorly equipped Afghan National Army patrols; or assassinate pro-government mullahs, teachers, and Afghan aid workers.

However, most attacks against NGOs appear to be pure criminality. “Right now, it is quite clear that these attacks are not being targeted for political reasons,” says Christian Willach, manager of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Organization, which advises aid agencies on security issues.

According to ANSO, 12 aid workers were killed in 2003, 24 were killed in 2004, and 31 were killed in 2005. This last number does not include the seven parliamentary candidates and four election workers who were killed during last year’s parliamentary election.

And if, as many US Defense Department officials say, the Taliban are taking a cut from the drug trade, then they can sustain a guerrilla insurgency for quite some time.

“I don’t think there is a pure military solution here,” says Mr. Fishstein with the AREU. “In your military activities, you have to be more nuanced and sophisticated about how life goes in a rural environment, and try to build legitimacy for the government without creating more enemies.”

While the US military is handing over command of the restive south to NATO forces, US troops will continue to remain in Afghanistan for some time.

But the nature of the US presence in Afghanistan still has a short-term feel to it. The US journalist David Halberstam once wrote that America’s habit of sending diplomats to Vietnam on one-year rotations meant that the US didn’t have 10 years of experience in Vietnam; it had one year of experience, 10 times. Many longtime foreign observers here say the same habit is being repeated in Afghanistan.

“In short tours, basically people go out to the countryside and by the time they figure out not to eat with their left hands, it’s time to leave,” says Fishstein, who has been coming to Afghanistan on aid projects since the 1970s.

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February 14, 2006 at 6:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized