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Assessing Progress in Afganistan


Five years ago, Afghan factions came together under U.N. auspices to sign the Bonn Accords on Afghanistan's post-Taleban political future. Reaching agreement took marathon negotiations by international mediators ferrying between the different factions.

Did the Bonn Accords succeed? Well, say analysts, it did succeed as kind of a quick initial fix to the problem of governing post-Taleban Afghanistan. But, they add, it ignored larger social and economic issues that are now looming large.

The Bonn Accords set up an interim government with Hamid Karzai as president and laid down specific political benchmarks for Afghanistan, such as legislative and presidential elections and adoption of a constitution.

Mixed Results

Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, says that while the Bonn process had some shortcomings, the agreement did what it was designed to do. "Of course the process had some shortfalls and we are still seeing the adverse effects of that. But overall, Bonn has achieved its objectives," says Jawad.

Francesc Vendrell, the European Union Special Representative to Afghanistan, says that overall the accords have worked well, although there may have been some over-optimism on the part of the international participants.

"I would say that with the exception of the level of fighting at the moment or in the last year, I think it has been fairly predictable. There has been a good deal of progress in developing the political structure of the country. And you do have, for the first time since 1973, a legitimate government with a president freely elected, and a parliament that is also representative. Where we have lagged behind is where a lot of peace processes lag behind, like governance, justice, rule of law," says Vendrell.

The Bonn agreement did not address other issues related to nation-building, such as reforming the judiciary, rebuilding the country's shattered infrastructure and stamping out the narcotics trade. New U.S. government studies report that opium production is at an all-time high, and that there are significant problems with the American-led training of the Afghan police.

The Afghanistan Compact

Barnett Rubin, who was an advisor to U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at the Bonn Conference, says both Afghanistan and international community now face new and dangerous challenges.

"The combination of internal corruption and drug trafficking and external interference and disorder, especially coming from Pakistan, has created very, very serious threats and obstacles to implementation of the Bonn Agreement and the Afghanistan Compact," says Rubin.

The Afghanistan Compact he refers to was adopted by the Afghan government and the international community in London earlier this year. Rubin, now at New York University, says it fills in the gaps on social and developmental issues left out at Bonn.

"In a way, the Afghanistan Compact was a confession of failure because it was an enunciation of what was needed to make Bonn real. And now the deterioration in security and the increase in poppy cultivation in the last year has in certain ways put us further away from that goal," says Rubin.

A November report by the joint commission monitoring the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact says an unfavorable security environment in the south and southeast, coupled with an ineffective fight against the narcotics trade, is hampering economic and social development.

Taleban Resurgence

Most of the country is peaceful. But the Taleban has made a comeback in the southern part of the country. Francesc Vendrell says the renewed insurgency is fuelled in part by popular disappointment with the performance of the Karzai government in providing services and battling corruption.

"The fact remains that the Taleban have been able to count on four things: one, the fact that they have been able to use Pakistani territory to prepare for attacks against Afghanistan; secondly, a larger amount of money that has flowed from Islamic charities; three, some financial support from the drug traffickers and dealers; and, fourth, an element of popular, I wouldn't say popular support, but at least popular revulsion against misgovernance in many parts of Afghanistan," says Vendrell.

Ambassador Jawad agrees that part of the Taleban resurgence is due to lackluster governance, but says it is because the Afghan government has not received enough assistance from the international community to manage on its own.

"The important factors are foreign support - - financial, ideological, indoctrination -- that is still taking place outside Afghanistan. But there are also some domestic factors. An important factor is the lack of resources available to the Afghan government to be able to deliver services and to provide protection to Afghan citizens," says Jawad.

International Peacekeeping

The Bonn Accords established an international peacekeeping force. But it did not operate outside Kabul, and U.S. forces bore the brunt of fighting the Taleban insurgency in the south. James Dobbins, who was the U.S. special envoy to the Bonn Conference, says President Karzai wanted a larger force deployed to other urban areas, but the United States rejected the idea, and other nations followed that lead.

"The Administration at the time thought it unnecessary. They were focusing their attention toward Iraq. They were reluctant to get tied down further in Afghanistan. They were skeptical about the utility of peacekeeping, resistant to the 1990s Clinton Administration models of nation-building and eager to do things differently. And they also, as did many people, thought the Afghans were very xenophobic and would resent a larger international presence," says Dobbins.

NATO forces have now moved in and some are now actively battling the insurgency. But some countries like Germany place restrictions on where their forces will deploy. But James Dobbins, now director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, says an early opportunity to beat the Taleban fighters when their backs were against the wall was thus lost between 2001 and 2003.

"I think that the inadequate security situation, the rise of the Taleban, and the much heavier fighting that is going on in the south of the country is partially a reflection of the failure of the United States, and of the Afghan government as well, to project resources and security into the provinces in those early years when the Taleban was on the run and there wasn't this challenge," says Dobbins.

At the recent NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said alliance leaders remain optimistic about eventual success in Afghanistan.

"There is not the slightest reason to voice doom and gloom over Afghanistan if you look at what has happened since 2001. In other words, the conclusion of the dinner yesterday was that it is winnable, it is being won, but not yet won," said de Hoop Scheffer.

NATO forces beat back a Taleban offensive in Kandahar province earlier this year. But Rubin says the situation remains precarious. He and other analysts agree that they fully expect a renewed Taleban offensive against NATO forces in the spring of 2007.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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