A Scary Afghan Road
By Nicholas D. 0aKristof
New York Times
Saturday 15 November 2003
Here's a foreign affairs quiz:
1. In the two years since the war in Afghanistan, opium 0aproduction has:
(A) virtually been eliminated by Hamid Karzai's government and 0aAmerican forces.
(B) declined 30 percent, but eradication is not expected until 0a2008.
(C) soared 19-fold and become the major source of the world's 0aheroin.
2. In Paktika and Zabul, two religiously conservative parts of 0aAfghanistan, the number of children going to school:
(A) has quintupled, with most girls at least finishing third 0agrade.
(B) has risen 40 percent, although few girls go to school.
(C) has plummeted as poor security has closed nearly all schools 0athere.
The correct answer to both questions, alas, is (C).
With the White House finally acknowledging that the challenge in 0aIraq runs deeper than gloomy journalism, the talk of what to do next is sounding 0arather like Afghanistan. And that's alarming, because we have flubbed the peace 0ain Afghanistan even more egregiously than in Iraq.
"There is a palpable risk that Afghanistan will again turn into a 0afailed state, this time in the hands of drug cartels and narco-terrorists," 0aAntonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs 0aand Crime, writes in a grim new report on Afghanistan.
I strongly supported President Bush's war in Afghanistan, and I 0awas there in Kabul and saw firsthand the excitement and relief of ordinary 0aAfghans, who were immensely grateful to the U.S. for freeing them (a crucial 0adistinction between Iraq and Afghanistan, to anyone who covered both wars, is 0athat you never saw the same adulation among Iraqis). Mr. Bush oversaw a smart 0awar in Afghanistan, and two years ago the crisp mountain air there pullulated 0awith hope along with pleas for more security.
One day back then when I was thinking of driving to the 0asoutheast, six Afghans arrived from there minus their noses. Taliban 0aguerrillas had stopped their vehicle at gunpoint and chopped off their noses 0abecause they had trimmed their beards.
I stroked my chin, admired my own proboscis, and decided not to 0adrive on that road.
Every foreign and local official said then that Afghanistan 0adesperately needed security on roads like that one. But the Pentagon made the 0asame misjudgment about Afghanistan that it did about Iraq: it fatally 0aunderestimated the importance of ensuring security. The big winner was the 0aTaliban, which is now mounting a resurgence.
"Things are definitely deteriorating on the security front," 0anotes Paul Barker, the Afghan country director for CARE International. Twelve 0aaid workers have been killed in the last year and dozens injured. A year ago, 0athere was, on average, one attack on aid workers per month; now such attacks 0aaverage one per day.
In at least three districts in the southeast, there is no central 0agovernment representation, and the Taliban has de facto control. In Paktika and 0aZabul, not only have most schools closed, but the conservative madrasas are 0aregaining strength.
"We've operated in Afghanistan for about 15 years," said Nancy 0aLindborg of Mercy Corps, the American aid group, "and we've never had the 0ainsecurity that we have now." She noted that the Taliban used to accept aid 0aagencies (grudgingly), but that the Taliban had turned decisively against all 0aforeigners.
"Separate yourself from Jews and the Christian community," a 0arecent open letter from the Taliban warned. It ordered Afghans to avoid music, 0afunerals for aid workers and "un-Islamic education" or face a "bad 0aresult."
The opium boom is one indication of the downward spiral. The 0aTaliban banned opium production in 2000, so the 2001 crop was only 185 metric 0atons. The U.N. estimates that this year's crop was 3,600 tons, the 0asecond-largest in Afghan history. The crop is worth twice the Afghan 0agovernment's annual budget, and much of the profit will support warlords and the 0aTaliban.
An analyst in the U.S. intelligence community, who seeks to 0adirect more attention to the way narco-trafficking is destabilizing the region, 0asays that Afghanistan now accounts for 75 percent of the poppies grown for 0anarcotics worldwide.
"The issue is not a high priority for the Bush administration," 0ahe said.
If Afghanistan is a White House model for Iraq, heaven help 0aus.
Jump to TO Features for Sunday 16 November 2003
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