This commentary appeared in New York Times on September 12, 2002.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Despite the ouster of the Taliban from power last
November, the hard struggle to bring stability to Afghanistan continues, as
shown by the car bombing in Kabul last week that killed 30 people and the assassination
attempt against President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar the same day.
In recent weeks, the Bush administration has publicly warned that reconstruction
efforts in Afghanistan are lagging because not enough money is being delivered
for that effort. The administration has called on European nations to provide
more funds to help Afghanistan recover from war.
At the same time, aid organizations and European officials have indicated
that reconstruction is lagging because there's not enough security, and they
have urged the United States to do more to provide it. The attacks in Kabul
and Kandahar are evidence that Afghan reconstruction is faltering for lack of
both security and money.
Security in Afghanistan has been better than most people would have expected
when Mr. Karzai took office last December. Last spring, the Afghans were able
to hold hundreds of local assemblies throughout the country, and then to gather
more than 1,000 delegates to a general assembly, a loya jirga, in order to elect
a new government. Nearly all the political assemblies occurred peacefully and
to a large extent democratically. This was a minor miracle.
But security remains tenuous. Terrorist incidents like those that occurred
last week have been increasing. Power in Afghanistan is held by local military
commanders, who have differing degrees of loyalty to the central government
and whose ability to control subordinates is often limited.
American forces have provided personal security for Mr. Karzai and have also
used their influence to tamp down large-scale conflict among the regional warlords.
But small-scale violence remains prevalent enough to inhibit the resumption
of normal economic activity, and such activity is central to Afghanistan's future.
Humanitarian aid workers often risk their lives to help those in need, but the
rebuilding of a society cannot depend on rescue workers. Reconstruction depends
on the ability of engineers, bankers, shopkeepers, truck drivers and itinerant
merchants to circulate freely throughout the country, not just in Kabul.
In a country as poor as Afghanistan, reconstruction also requires international
investors, experts and technicians to travel into the countryside where the
work of building schools, roads, waterworks and power plants has to be done.
But these people are unlikely to want to travel to places where armed escorts
are necessary. Although America and its allies are helping build an Afghan national
army and police force that can one day provide the security needed for economic
growth, the growth won't take place for years.
Last December, an international military peacekeeping force was deployed to
Kabul, under British command, which has been largely successful. The Bush administration
has recently dropped its opposition to expanding this force to other major regional
centers. But the administration will need to become an active proponent of this
expansion if it is to occur. In particular, other nations that may contribute
troops will need assurances that they will receive American logistic and intelligence
Security measures must also be coupled with the delivery of more aid throughout
the country. So far, American and European pledges of aid to Afghanistan remain
modest by comparison with other recent efforts in post-conflict nation-building.
Kosovo, for example, has a population of about 2 million, while Afghanistan
has a population of 23 million. But Kosovo received several times more American
and European assistance per capita to recover from 13 weeks of conflict than
Afghanistan has received to rebuild from 20 years of civil war. In Afghanistan,
the United States has taken the lead in providing emergency food aid, but American
funding for reconstruction has been quite limited. Since the installation of
the Karzai government, for instance, the White House has asked Congress for
only $250 million in additional aid dedicated to economic reconstruction.
That $250 million works out to a little more than $10 per Afghan — much less
than what the previous administration sought and received in terms of per capita
aid for the immediate post-conflict needs in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Even
when European and Japanese aid pledges for this year are added, and assuming
this money is immediately made available, the assistance currently offered to
Afghanistan is not commensurate with the need or the scale of similar efforts.
The recent increase in violence should cause neither the Afghans nor the international
community to lose heart. Unlike Yugoslavia, which fell apart of its own internal
ethnic conflicts, Afghanistan was largely pulled apart by its neighbors. Even
today, Afghans accept the need to live together within a multiethnic, multilingual
Late last year, as the Taliban regime was driven from power, the United States
successfully persuaded Russia, Pakistan, Iran and India — nations that have
played meddlesome roles in Afghanistan's history — that a moderate and modernizing
Afghanistan could make them all winners. All of these governments contributed
to the installation of the Karzai regime. As long as they continue to support
it, there is every reason to hope for continued consolidation of the new Afghan
government's authority and legitimacy.
Afghanistan has already made tremendous progress over the past 10 months.
Without substantially enhanced economic support and an expanded international
security presence, however, these gains could easily be lost.
James Dobbins, director of RAND's Center for International Security and Defense
Policy, was special envoy for Afghanistan in the Bush administration and special
envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo in the Clinton administration.
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