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Dispute Over Reform Agenda for Afghanistan

The Washington D.C.-based International Crisis Group works to resolve violent struggle around the world and help regions recover afterward. It dispatches highly trained conflict analysts to the scene and designs practical conflict resolution strategies based on their findings. But as VOA's George Dwyer reports, not everyone is supportive of the reforms the group has proposed.

After the chaos of war comes the arduous task of rebuilding a nation in ruins. In the case of Afghanistan, a Washington-based group called the I.C.G. -- International Crisis Group -- has been assisting with technical expertise on post-conflict reconstruction.

Mark Schneider is senior vice president at the I.C.G. and an expert on post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. He says the ultimate goal is to seek, build and sustain peace. "We hope what we contribute to is a peace-building process in which -- in a post-conflict situation -- the institutions are built that sustain peace.

Everybody agrees that it is essential to help Afghanistan recover, establish a functioning state, establish a government that responds to the needs of the people, begin to deal with the underlying problems of poverty."

But not everyone agrees about how that should be done. Some believe the success of the Afghan insurgency is due to the support it receives from native Afghans. Many Afghans believe outsiders should not be imposing fundamental reforms on their society. Some poppy farmers -- and the heroin dealers they supply -- reject the I.C.G.'s suggestion that they stop growing and trading that crop.

Author and cleric Mohammad Ayaz has studied the problem. "Those people (the multinational forces) who are in Afghanistan who want to have a good relationship with Afghanistan, and want to help Afghanistan, and want to help with the reconstruction of Afghanistan, they must understand that the Afghan nation wants something else."

Ayaz says Afghans want to maintain age-old customs. And many Afghans are particularly concerned about how western style reforms might undermine their religious traditions. "The Afghan nation is a Muslim nation. Islam is actually mixed in the blood of Afghans. The associations, and N.G.O.s (non-governmental organizations) and international forces in Afghanistan, if these people are here to convert the Afghans to other religions, if they are here to support these things then they don't have any place in Afghanistan. They must go."

I.C.G. says it has no religious agenda and no political axe to grind.

It claims its reform proposals are based on past successes. I.C.G. is proposing a sustained financial and political commitment to Afghanistan from both the international community and the Afghan government.

I.C.G.'s Schneider points to specific reforms in four major areas. "If you look at any post-conflict situation you really talk about security. You look at an effort to establish a functioning and effective government. You talk about restarting an economy that can be sustaining. And you talk about rule of law."

Schneider says several things stand in the way of those needed reforms. Corruption -- both within and outside the government; the continued presence of armed militias; and the legions of insurgents intent on reversing the country's newfound freedoms.

"We have urged that the degree of local government and local community structures be strengthened," says Schneider. "And we have urged strongly that as part of the effort to establish new police forces and new judicial systems that it is essential to get rid of corrupt officials. Those kinds of policy recommendations, we are convinced, if adopted, would go a long way to reducing the threat of conflict, and reducing the insurgency's capability to maintain itself."

But successfully negotiating long-standing religious and cultural conflicts is a tremendous challenge for reconstruction policy planners. If that can be achieved, clearing away the rubble is often relatively easy.