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Afghan democracy

By M. Ashraf Haidari

Washington Times
July 21, 2006

Afghanistan embodied the consequences of international negligence in the post-Cold War era. But international inertia ceased on September 11. After September 11, the world suddenly discovered Afghanistan, which became the main focus of the global fight against terrorism. That leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban had been a huge mistake by the international community was now accepted wisdom, as it became clear that if the international community had stayed on to help rebuild Afghanistan at the end of the occupation by the Soviet Union in 1989 the country would not have become al Qaeda's base for global terror attacks.

Five years on, peace still remainselusivein Afghanistan. Thesamedestructive transnational forces that ripped Afghanistan apart in the 1990s continue to undermine its new democracy and threaten international security. A number of interdependent factors account for the resurgence of securitythreatsto Afghanistan and the international community.

First, while it took the Taliban seven years to establish its rule over much of Afghanistan, Coalition forces ousted it in 45 days. Most Taliban members gave up on resistance and headed to their villages, or crossed the border into Pakistan in late 2001. Since then, Coalition forces have mainly focused on hunting down the leadership and remnants of al Qaeda, leaving thousands of former Taliban combatants to their own fates. This effectively has allowed the Taliban to regroup, find new sources of funding and receive insurgency training outside Afghanistan. They have now reorganized into a well-coordinated insurgency, rapidly capitalizing on Afghanistan's vulnerable human environment to carry out a protracted war of harassment and terrorism.

Second, despite being the world's main front in the war againstterrorism, Afghanistan has received less per capita in reconstruction and security assistance than other recent post-conflict countries, including Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Lack of resources has led to quick fixes to address basic needs at the cost of long-term development projects. A lack of internal security and economic development has left Afghanistan's war-torn society vulnerable to narcoterrorists, who draw in more than 2.3 million Afghan farmers in poppy cultivation. Peasants remain extremely poor, however, as most of the drug revenues go to drug lords and corrupt police officers.

Third, between 2001 and 2005 the basic institutions of centralized government were established in Afghanistan. But law enforcement institutions, which constitute the face of any government, have been neglected from the beginning. Judicial and police reforms — reforms that should have been the foundation on which other state institutions were built — were not implemented and were shelved indefinitely, due to a lack of resources. Consequently, a security vacuum has widened in areas where state institutions are either absent or too weak to protect people, particularly in the south and east — areas that have seen little or no assistance over the past five years.

It is apparent that unless state institutions are strengthened to address security needs, Afghans' trust in democracy may erode over time. Popular opposition to the Taliban and narcoterrorists can and should also be strengthened. It is a matter of deepening the trust of Afghans in their new democracy.

Five years of international blood and treasure have gone into creating a legitimate government in Afghanistan, headed by President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Karzai is providing the leadership demanded by the complexities of building a new state in a tough neighborhood. In addition, Afghans continue supporting international peace-building, as they don't want to see their country slide back into the chaos of the 1990s. Moreover, Afghanistan has a strategy to winthepeace:the Afghanistan Compact and the National Development Strategy. With these essential agreementsinplace, Afghanistan is far closer to success than to failure.
Afghanistan needs a minimum of $4 billion a year to implement the objectives of its integrated strategy for security, governance and development. The international community must deliver on the pledges they made during the London Conference earlier this year to make possible the implementation of that three-pronged strategy.

At the same time, they must ensure that aid is used effectively through close coordination with Afghan partners — based on sound policies that are centered on local ownership of the development process — so that Afghans themselves can take responsibility for the future of their country.

As we learned from September 11 and the suffering of the Afghan people throughout the1990s,afailed Afghanistan is not an option for the international community. Success is the only way forward.
M. Ashraf Haidari is political counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington.

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