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Analysts Discuss the Difficult Task of Supporting Peace in Afghanistan


Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf recently warned that if conditions do not soon improve in Afghanistan, terrorism may re-emerge. Others, baffled by the slow pace of reconstruction, have issued a similar warning. VOA's Ed Warner asked two top analysts of Afghanistan what needs to be done to rebuild the country and avoid the terrorists' return.

There is no comprehensive political strategy for Afghanistan, says Marin Strmecki, senior vice president of Smith-Richardson Foundation and a longtime analyst of the region.

He believes the United States is locked into an alliance with Afghan warlords around the country that works against establishing a strong central government in Kabul. Within this government, he notes Northern Alliance Tajiks have far more power than the larger Pashtun population. Because of this profound imbalance, the government lacks legitimacy.

"The clock is running in Afghanistan," says Mr. Strmecki. "It is not too late for the United States to adjust its policies, but by supporting what is still a very narrowly based government, both socially and politically, the United States runs the risk that at some point political opposition will arise in the country that may take military forms."

Even Pakistan's intelligence service could re-emerge in Afghanistan, says Mr. Strmecki, and activate radical groups it once sponsored. In his opinion, there would be no greater danger. To forestall this, Mr. Strmecki says the United States must come to grips with its most powerful antagonist in the Afghan government, defense minister and first vice president Qasim Fahim, who is strongly backed by Moscow.

"The United States has to stand with [President Hamid] Karzai in facing down defense minister Fahim," he stresses. "In previous crises, Fahim has sometimes threatened to move tanks into the streets or to leave the political process at the loya jirga and subsequently. The United States has generally backed down when Fahim has made those kinds of threats."

Minister Fahim's troops form the bulk of the slowly emerging Afghan army, says Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives and author of a comprehensive report on Afghanistan. To represent the country and provide security, the army must be multi-ethnic.

"In a lot of nations of the world, the building of the army was the key moment in the building of the nation," says Mr. Conetta. "There is an opportunity here to draw militias together and to draw militia leaders into a firmer cooperation with the center. And that opportunity is being missed."

Security remains uncertain outside Kabul, and even within. Mr. Conetta says the United States is ambivalent about creating a larger international force. As it pursues al-Qaida, it does not want to be hindered by having to deal with other nations' troops.

Other nations also have their doubts about committing more troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). "A lot of countries are thinking about what it would mean to go to war with Iraq while there is a major commitment in Afghanistan," says Mr. Conetta. "But for Turkey in particular, which has 1,300 troops in Afghanistan, the potential of a war with Iraq would overload its demands and pull it in several directions at once. So it is reluctant to expand its commitment."

Humanitarian aid has been too slow in arriving, notes Mr. Strmecki. Foreign donors have not fulfilled their pledges, while Afghans continue to suffer. First and foremost, Afghan roads, many barely passable, need to be repaired.

"Virtually the only institution in the U.S. Government that can act with any kind of dispatch is the military," he said. "We may want to consider in the immediate period ahead using civil affairs units of the military to try to get some of the road building started," Mr. Strmecki said.

More than transportation is involved in this rebuilding, says Carl Conetta. It provides badly needed jobs. Even some warlords might lay down their arms for work that pays. It would also send an important message to Afghans that the United States knows how to rebuild as well as bomb.

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