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Monday, July 10, 2006

Update from Bush Quagmire I

Christina Lamb writes for the Sunday Times (UK) about the never-ending disaster that is Afghanistan:
Far from Afghanistan being a model for Iraq, Iraq has become a model for Afghanistan. There have been 41 Afghan suicide bombings in the past nine months, compared with five in the preceding five years. IEDs — improvised explosive devices — have become a fact of life. Three were left in roadside handcarts in Kabul last week to detonate as buses went past.

According to United Nations officials, not a day passes without a school being burnt down or a teacher being murdered, often in front of schoolchildren.
The southern third of the country, which British troops are supposed to “secure for development”, has long been ungovernable and a no-go area for aid agencies. It is all too easy here for the Taliban to tell local people that the West — and the pro-western government in Kabul — promised aid but has done nothing for them. Where the Taliban are not openly controlling districts, they have set up shadow administrations that assume power as soon as dusk falls.

More alarmingly, the Taliban are no longer just in the south but have even moved into the province of Logar, 25 miles from Kabul. Among their Afghan victims they particularly target police and their relatives as well as guards, road builders and interpreters for western contractors. About 1,500 Afghans were killed by the Taliban last year; 400 have died this year.
Yet while ISAF commanders regard the warlords as part of the problem, the Americans have seen them as the best source of local intelligence and paid them millions of dollars.

Just as damaging have been the continuing air raids across Afghanistan, sometimes on wedding parties or innocent villagers, which have led to the loss of thousands of civilian lives. In May this year there were an astonishing 750 bombing raids, according to American Central Command.

Karzai has repeatedly complained to the Americans about the bombers and the lack of cultural sensitivity of raids on the ground — doors kicked down in the middle of the night, male soldiers entering women’s quarters or taking in dogs which are considered unclean.

Another bitter complaint is of American convoys driving too fast and not stopping when they run someone down. It was such an incident in Kabul that provoked a six-hour riot last month — yet two weeks later a US truck ran over a child in exactly the same place.
Just as the international community has not been committed or consistent enough in its military support, so there has been chaos in aid for economic development. The amount of aid has not been enough. At about £5 billion, it is far less than that spent in East Timor, Haiti or Kosovo; yet Afghanistan has a much bigger problem.

There has also been a lack of co-ordination and a focus on First World priorities such as gender rights rather than basic health or infrastructure. There has been an endless stream of American feminists intent not only on sweeping away the tyranny of the burqa but also on introducing western concepts of sexual equality. Yet in a country where children regularly die of malnutrition, all the Afghan mothers I know are far more interested in food, clinics and security. Liberation can wait.
Not a single new dam, power station or water system has been built in the five years since the Taliban fell. Only one important highway has been completed. Kabul still has no sewerage system. Its streets remain piled high with rubbish and running with green effluent. Only 6% of the population has electricity and Afghanistan remains at the bottom of all social indicators.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Afghanistan earned $2.8 billion from opium production last year — more than it received in aid.
Bigger problem than Haiti, green effluent running in the streets--now that's liberation.