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Kabul Violence Underscores Simmering Resentments

A sudden eruption of violence in Kabul Monday was sparked by a traffic accident involving a U.S. military vehicle. U.S. officials blame a failure of the truck's brakes for the accident. But, the incident added to brewing resentment among Afghans of foreigners in the capital.

Despite unrest in the countryside, Kabul has been a relatively calm city since the defeat of the Taleban nearly five years ago. Western aid workers, as well as foreign peacekeepers, have flooded the capital. Businessmen seeking opportunities in Afghanistan's newfound peace also have come.

But Afghan analysts say the riots that erupted Monday after a U.S. military vehicle killed several people in Kabul really should not have come as a surprise. Nazif Shahrani, a professor of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies at Indiana University, says there has been long-simmering resentment among Afghans of the foreigners' lifestyle, which is seen as lavish compared to that of ordinary Afghans.

"The level of luxury that foreigners who are in Afghanistan are enjoying, both in terms of the kinds of cars they're driving and the houses that they're living in and the prices of rentals that they've driven sky-high and overall sort of lack of care and concern for the ordinary Afghans - all of those things I think have contributed to the anger, the dismay with the government of Hamid Karzai for not being able to deliver what he has been consistently promising," he said.

Barnett Rubin of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University says many Afghans believe they are not seeing tangible improvements in their lives from the influx of foreigners and their aid.

"Over four years after the United States came into Afghanistan, there is still no improvement in the electricity in Kabul city," he said. "There's no improvement in the conditions of roads and traffic in Kabul city. In fact, it's worse, plus the fact that they're suffering from the way that the Coalition is driving there. One of the first issues raised by the Afghan parliament was all the blockades in the roads in Kabul, which again indicate that the foreigners there put their security and convenience ahead of the security and convenience of Afghans."

Ironically, say some analysts, the very aid organizations trying to help Afghanistan have undercut the fledgling Karzai government by recruiting away the most capable Afghans from government service with better pay in the aid sector.

Analysts say the resentment has also been fuelled by incidents involving civilian deaths in U.S.-led operations against the Taleban. Nazif Shahrani says the United States and its allies have apologized for such mistakes, but that has not helped the situation.

"U.S. forces, NATO forces, have to take responsibility, and I think they are taking responsibility," he said. "But, still, because of the general environment of frustration and expectations that have not been realized, all of these contribute to the popularity, perhaps, certainly in the south and eastern parts of the country of Taleban, or support for them, at any rate."

There has been a sharp increase in activity by a resurgent Taleban. Analysts say the Taleban has tapped into the simmering resentment against foreigners and dissatisfaction with the government to garner more recruits, especially among the poor youth in rural areas.