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US losing the peace in Afghanistan
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Just as the United States is struggling to deal with major postwar headaches in Iraq, its efforts to pacify Afghanistan appear to be unraveling, according to a new report by a key group of experts sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society.

Titled "Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace?", the 24-page document, authored by, among others, three retired senior US government policymakers who specialize in South Asian affairs, answers that question very much in the affirmative and argues that Washington must do far more, and urgently, to save the situation.

"Without greater support for the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai, security in Afghanistan will deteriorate further, prospects for economic reconstruction will dim, and Afghanistan will revert to warlord-dominated anarchy," the task force concluded.

"This failure could gravely erode America's credibility around the globe and mark a major defeat in the US-led war on terrorism," added the report, which was written by the co-chairs of the independent CFR-Asia Society task force that has been following Afghanistan since before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon.

In particular, the report urges Washington, which has about 7,000 troops stationed outside Kabul hunting for members of al-Qaeda and the former Taliban regime, either to alter their mandate to include peacekeeping outside the capital or support a major enlargement of the 4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) so that it can extend the central government's authority into the countryside.

Since its creation in early 2002, ISAF, which is currently led by the Netherlands and Germany, has been confined to Kabul.

The report also called for Washington to increase sharply the pace of training the new Afghan national army (ANA), which already has been depleted by poor pay and defections to tribal militias. Current plans call for 9,000 men to be in the field by June 2004, when a permanent government is scheduled to take power. The task-force chairs, who include Washington's former ambassadors to India and Pakistan, Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt, respectively, called that "ludicrously inadequate".

The report comes at an especially awkward moment for the administration of President George W Bush, which has had a far more difficult time in restoring order and basic services on the ground in Iraq than it had expected or planned for.

In addition to devoting increasing energy to get Iraq under firm control, the administration is also increasingly preoccupied internationally with implementing the "roadmap" for Israeli-Palestinian peace and coping with the diplomatic fallout from both the Iraq war and its failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in that country. The alleged production and deployment of WMD by former president Saddam Hussein was cited by Bush and his allies as the main justification for going to war.

Continuing challenges to the US military occupation in Iraq, as well as the general insecurity there, has forced the Pentagon to deploy at least 140,000 troops there - twice as many as it had planned before the invasion - and to go begging to its coalition partners, such as Italy, Poland and even El Salvador, for contributions to a peacekeeping force that could replace some US soldiers.

If, as the task forces urges, Washington wanted to enlarge ISAF, which will come under North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command in August, it will have to ask many of the same governments it is appealing to now for help in Iraq to provide more for Afghanistan.

In addition, tensions with Iran have been rising steadily over the past six weeks as the administration appears increasingly inclined to adopt a policy of "regime change", which could include covert paramilitary action and even military strikes in a country whose population is roughly twice that of Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

"This is what is called 'imperial over-stretch'," noted one congressional aide whose boss has long warned that Bush's post-September 11 strategic ambitions would stretch US forces impossibly thin within a very short time.

The task force's pessimism regarding trends in Afghanistan is not much different from a number of analyses since May 1, when Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld declared on a visit to Kabul that hostilities had finally ended and that reconstruction could begin in earnest.

Despite that pronouncement, Karzai has been unable to gain substantially greater authority over provincial governors and warlords; disorder has persisted; the Taliban and their allies have escalated their attacks against targets ranging from US Special Forces to foreign travelers and aid workers; and an ambitious, United Nations-backed demobilization and disarmament program launched in May has not progressed far.

"If the administration fails to take the lead in providing more security and extending the authority of the central government," said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University and a member of the CFR-Asia Society Task Force, "our policy in Afghanistan is definitely on track to fail."

The new report said Washington needs to act in three principal areas to begin turning the situation around.

In addition to extending peacekeeping efforts beyond Kabul, it should speed up training of the ANA so that 27,000 men, including integrated militias, will be under the central government's command by next June. Washington can further enhance security by ordering its forces to help implement Karzai's demobilization program. "Without US involvement, the scheme - vital to strengthening the central government - will fail," the group concluded.

On the diplomatic front, Washington should launch a new initiative designed to secure international agreement among all of Afghanistan's regional neighbors to cut off arms supplies to internal forces, recognize the nation's borders and not to otherwise interfere in its internal affairs. In addition, it must press Iran and Russia, in particular, to stop providing aid to favored warlords and regional governors, while Pakistan must be urged to prevent pro-Taliban forces from using its territory for cross-border attacks. Senior US, Pakistani and Afghan military officers met on Tuesday in Islamabad to convene a commission to oversee efforts on the latter goal.

Finally, Washington should ensure that US aid programs match the priorities set by the Karzai government and are implemented under its authority. "Washington has accepted these ideas in principle but not in practice," the report said.

In particular, the Bush administration must rebuild the Kabul-Kandahar road by the end of this year as promised by the president, and press other donors to focus their activities on rebuilding infrastructure, especially the road system, it added.

(Inter Press Service)
Jun 21, 2003

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