Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scenarios for Making the World Safe: An Afghan Present

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Scenarios for Making the World Safe: An Afghan Present

Article excerpt

As a gung-ho administration moves toward major commitment to war and peace in Iraq, it should study the cautionary tales of previous experience. None is more pointed than Afghanistan. Today, nearly a year and a half and billions of dollars after military victory, Afghanistan is on the razor's edge. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN's extraordinary chief political construction engineer, says that improvements made so far are "not irreversible."

At first, progress came easily. The war was won quickly and at small cost. A respected figure, Hamid Karzai was an authentic rallying point for transforming a torn, weary people, a mosaic of tribal entities, into a democratic state.

The world community was of one mind, applauding the process and rushing to help, guilt-ridden at having abandoned Afghanistan when the Soviet invader withdrew. A loya jirga, grand council, resurrected from Afghanistan's past, gave legitimacy to a blueprint of democratic government.

But lawlessness and insecurity are on the rise again. Local warlords and their militias fight it out. One of the biggest, Ismail Khan of Herat, simply doesn't recognize the national government. An old extremist mujahideen, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has declared war on Kabul. The vanished Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, calls for holy war against "America, the crusaders, and their allies." Afghanistan's border with the strongly Islamist tribal areas of western Pakistan is porous to Al Qaeda.

In February, the UN suspended its aid operation in the north because of factional skirmishes. Roads are unsafe in much of the country. The voluntary program to disarm militias has not even begun. Only a small step has been taken to create a national army. Police, such as they are, can't handle the upsurge in crime. A penal and judiciary system doesn't exist. Kabul is the one area under central control, thanks to an international military force of 5,000. Covering the rest of the country is out of the question because contributing governments will not risk soldiers. …

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