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US Trying to Match Military Drive in Afghanistan with Socio-Economic Development

As Afghans wait for results from last Thursday's disputed presidential and provincial election, the Obama administration is pressing for non-military efforts that would strengthen the new government. The civilian campaign is aimed at providing social stability and economic opportunities for the Afghan people who appear to be losing faith in a government that has been increasingly challenged by the Taliban. The Special U.S. Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has gathered a special team for the civilian drive.

Charges of fraud have delayed the final outcome of the presidential and provincial elections.

Taliban militants and their supporters continue sabre rattling, threatening to disrupt the country's security and stability.

Before the polling even began, one of Afghanistan's most powerful warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar issued this warning.

Hekmatyar: "We will never take part in a puppet government which is controlled by foreign forces. The Kabul government is made of thieves, corrupt people and criminals."

Despite the threats, elections were held on schedule with tens of thousands of U.S. NATO and Afghan troops providing security.

International forces have also been stepping up their fight against the Taliban-led insurgency in the south and east.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is revving up a civilian effort to begin community development projects. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has gathered a team to build up the civilian effort.

"The military part of this struggle with American troops is not an open ended event," he said. "But our civilian assistance is going to continue for a long time, and we will help strengthen the government, that has to be part of our mandate."

The political goals include contending with political corruption, establishing sustainable agriculture, setting up legal institutions, and focusing anti drug efforts away from poppy farmers, and onto higher-level distributors.

Holbrooke and his team of advisers told a recent gathering in Washington that since Afghanistan is an agricultural economy, its improvement is at the fore front of the strategy.

Otto Gonzalez is the Senior Agricultural Advisor in the team. He says the idea is to generate faith in the government by enhancing its capacity to serve farmers.

"We aim to increase agricultural productivity," he said. "We also aim to regenerate agri-business. Another objective is to rehabilitate water sheds and to improve irrigation infra-structure."

The multi-pronged approach also includes disrupting the Taliban's methods of raising funds and countering their anti-US propaganda.

Holbrooke's Senior Defense Adviser, Vikram Singh summed up other ways to counter Taliban propaganda.

"Extending the reach of communications and information to populations that really don't have anything other than what they get locally, which is often violent messages or intimidation from our adversaries [is key]," he noted.

Senior Treasury Adviser Rami Shy is looking for ways to block Taliban fund raising, which the group does internally and externally.

"Internally, these funds come from narcotics trade, extortion, kidnapping and other criminal acts, and externally, probably more significantly, these groups raise funds from donors in the Gulf and elsewhere," he explained.

Holbrooke did not single out Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran by name, but he noted Afghanistan shares a long border with Iran, which gives Iran significant influence in the western part of the country.

And he pointed to Herat, a city located at the end of a major road that leads into Iran.

"Iran has a legitimate role to play in the resolution of the Afghan issue," he said. "But whether they'll play it or not depends on a lot of other critical factors."

Holbrooke said to augment the civilian effort, his senior advisors from nine US agencies will work closely with their counterparts in the new Afghan government.