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Top Afghan Expert Says US, Allies Failing to Help Kabul - 2002-04-09


Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid, a longtime writer on Afghanistan, has a bleak view of conditions there. In a recent interview, he says the United States and the international community are failing to provide the funds, help and security to support a successful central government.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has a reputation for accurate predictions about Afghanistan. So his latest comments are taken seriously by those with an interest in that devastated country.

In a recent interview with the Internet magazine Salon, Mr. Rashid paints a somber picture of conditions there. "What is lacking at the moment is any kind of political and economic strategy," he said. "You cannot have that if you have purely a war strategy, which is based on threat from al-Qaeda and Taleban. The international community has not fulfilled its obligations, which were essentially to provide security for the political process and the reconstruction process."

Mr. Rashid says the war is basically over in Afghanistan. What is left is a mopping up operation that, in his opinion, should not foreclose political and economic development.

But these are going slowly, says Mr. Rashid, because U.S. policy is being made by the Pentagon, not by the State Department. He believes that deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, in particular, appears to be running policy.

"It is extremely dangerous. In June, the Loya Jirga is going to meet. They need an atmosphere where they have security, where they are free to choose their representatives," he said. "In many parts of the country, the warlords are dominating. There is little security, and the Loya Jirga is going to be the make or break."

Mr. Rashid says the lack of peacekeepers throughout Afghanistan is creating a vacuum to be filled by outside countries; namely, Russia and Iran. This kind of intervention led to the civil wars that followed the Soviet departure.

Iran cooperated with the United States in defeating the Taleban, says Mr. Rashid. But once President Bush condemned Iran in his "axis of evil" speech, Iranian moderates closed ranks with hard-liners. Now there is no Iranian cooperation on Afghanistan.

Mr. Rashid is basically right, says Carl Conetta, director of the Project on Defense Alternatives and author of a highly regarded report on Afghanistan.

"The situation in Afghanistan is on the verge of chaos," he said. "The government control does not seem to extend effectively much beyond the capital city, and there is a real chance of a lot of the potential for a new Afghanistan coming undone in the next few months."

Mr. Conetta says the United States has focused on defeating the Taleban and al-Qaeda and shied away from nation building. But he believes nation building is vital for the stability of Afghanistan and even the region.

Mr. Conetta says U.S. policy is based largely on the projection of military strength. When terrorists emerge, they will be attacked:

"Should problems arise, we have the power to intervene militarily, that we are no longer in the business of nation building," he said. "Our job, as the present administration sees it, is to knock down the bad fellows when they stand up. What follows is other peoples' business."

Mr. Conetta says what the United States can and should do now is get help to starving and dying Afghans out of reach of current supplies. That at least would be a start on reconstruction.