The State of Afghanistan

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism of the Bush administration for ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan, and the suggestion that Afghanistan is reverting to the kind of condition it was in before the Taliban were toppled.

But just now I saw Hamid Karzai on CNN, and he made the case for Afghanistan being MUCH better than the critics are suggesting. In fact, he said that it’s in better shape than even he thought it would be a year ago. Some points:

[li]There are 3 million children back in school, when estimates last year was that they could only have 1.5 million children back in school within a year.[/li][li]The U.S. has thousands of military engineers in the country rebuilding the infrastructure. Bridges, roads, schools, and hospitals, including the largest hospital in Afghanistan. 225 projects have been completed so far.[/li][li]2 million afghan refugees have returned.[/li][li]There is a free press, free radio, etc. Over 100 new media outlets have opened.[/li][li]There is a 50 million dollar Hyatt hotel being built in Kabul, suggesting significant faith in the stability of the country.[/li][li]The U.S. is training and building an Afghan national army[/li][li]The Afghanistan civil service is growing at a rapid rate[/li][li]Aside from all the military aid, the U.S. has given Afghanistan 900 million dollars in direct financial aid.[/li][li]The predictions of widespread chaos and starvation never came true. There was no famine, and the country just announced a shift from ‘emergency’ stabilization and food aid towards long-term rebuilding of institutions and infrastructure.[/li][/ul]

On the other hand, there are still large numbers of ex-Taliban fundamentalists, and they’re still fighting. Away from Kabul, there are still regular attacks on U.S. and Afghan soldiers, and in some of the remoter regions there seems to be a return to the type of Sharia law the Taliban imposed.

So, the debate is, has the rebuilding of Afghanistan so far been successful? If not, what should the Bush administration have done that they’re not doing?

And what do you think the future of Afghanistan will be? Will it stay free and relatively peaceful? Will its economy continue to grow? Or will it descend back into chaos or religious rule? If so, how?

I personally do not know what the state of Afghanistan is, but I think that President Karzi (sp?) is trying to put a positive spin on a not-so-positive situation. If he admits that his country is falling into chaos once again, it makes his government look weak. When he testified before a Senate committee this past week, many of the Senators (from both parties) were quite incredulous at some of his rosy statements about how good things are in Afghanistan.

Virtually everything you’re talking about Sam Stone is in Kabul. Afghanistan is a huge country, and outside of its capital a great deal of the land is still run by warlords.


The press has abanonded Afghanistan, not the US. I agree we’re still doing a lot there (even if it mostly shows in Kabul), but you just don’t see it on CNN much anymore.

However, I don’ thing the US will put an all-out effort there unless we have more terrorism issues with that country. We’ll let them bungle along and only step in on a larger scale if we have another Taliban like entity on the rise.

Iraq, on the other had will be different. Maybe beacause it is more urban and has a somewhat non-third world infrastructure. It’ll be close to what happened in Germany and Japan after WWII.

Yes, I admitted that in the remote regions there is still chaos and rule of warlords. But is that unexpected? Is it a sign of failure of some sort? Was the U.S. supposed to pacify the entire country in a year?

I don’t think anyone thought Afghanistan would turn into Kansas in a year. The question is, is it on the right path? Is it going to continue to improve and stabilize? Did the Bush administration do something wrong there?

Well, here’s Karzai’s main anxiety, and I can’t say that I blame him one bit:

I think that as long as the U.S. maintains some kind of presence, things will slowly but surely continue to improve.

It takes a while for warlords to get with the Jeffersonian Democracy program sometimes. :smiley:

But I’d be very surprised to see the U.S. do a complete Soviet-style “so long and thanks for all the fish” 180.

Without comment, from respected non-Liberal news sources:

The rebirth of a nation” The Economist
9 Jan 9 2003
“… Afghanistan remains in critical condition. Things have not got better so much as less bad. Physically surviving 2003 will be a success for Mr Karzai. He narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in his hometown of Kandahar last year; another attack claimed the life of his vice-president. He has still not visited most of the country he was elected to represent. He is guarded not by his own people but by American mercenaries, who are shadowed by American special forces, who in turn are ringed by peacekeepers. His government needs to gain more credibility with ordinary Afghans this year if it is not to collapse, perhaps bloodily. That means delivering real improvements in the quality of life and making government more representative. Mr Karzai aside, the government is dominated by ethnic Tajiks of the former Northern Alliance whose loyalty, if to anyone, is to the memory of Ahmed Shah Masoud, the charismatic Northern Alliance leader killed by al-Qaeda just before the September 11th attacks on the United States.


continued… (omitted text)
“Underpinning everything is the question of security. Nothing can progress, all agree, unless the peace sticks. There are three partners to that: the kernel of a planned 70,000-strong Afghan national army whose regional commands will seek to disarm private militias; an international peacekeeping force of 5,000 watching over Kabul and its surroundings; and an American-led force of 9,000 operating out of air bases at Kandahar and Bagram and charged with eradicating terrorists. The Afghan army, the first step in a possible cantonal system with strong central institutions, is making slow progress. It will take years for it to counterbalance the commander culture that holds valleys hostage to the local gunslinger. The international peacekeepers, at present under Turkish command, have been a success but there are no plans to extend their reach to other cities. American forces are less popular. Confusion between their humanitarian and military work together with the swagger of their casually dressed so-called special forces—a seemingly sweeping term in Afghanistan—has alienated many aid workers and peacekeepers, whose role is more clearly mandated.”

“Return of the Taliban
Diplomats worry that the United States is wasting its time trying to counteract Iranian influence in Afghanistan’s western provinces. Still, European intelligence sources in Kabul agree with their American counterparts that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping in camps on both sides of the border with Pakistan and are allied now with the battle-hardened fighters of a brutal former mujahaddin commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. All the more reason then to step up the reconstruction effort in parts of the country still sympathetic to the Taliban.”
Afghan agency warns of increasing “terrorist” activity in the south
BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom 02 Mar 2003
Kabul, Hindokosh News Agency, 10 Hoot 1381 [1 March 03]: The activities of the Taleban, Al-Qa’idah and [Islamic party leader Golboddin] Hekmatyar, have intensified in southern Afghanistan.
“Commenting on the issue, an authorized military source in Paktia Province has said that “there is a huge possibility that the terrorist group may intensify their activities, as the weather gets warmer”. He continued, "The presence of such group’s devotees is very prominent in the Zormat area while the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice [a department which existed under the Taleban regime, patrolling the city and penalizing those without beards and women without burkas] is still operating, and it also has the support of the people of the Zormat area……”
“Afghanistan’s war is won but the peace could yet be lost” By Victoria Burnett
Financial Times 27 Feb 2003

“… There are new freedoms, a new currency and an embryonic national army. The country has a moderate, intelligent leader and a band of committed politicians, technocrats and aid workers pushing reconstruction forward.
But as Mr Karzai is paraded in Washington, the reality at home is one that might give pause, rather than comfort, to those setting their sights on the Gulf - perhaps the next focus of US efforts at rebuilding, or remodelling, states.
Eighteen months into the US-led campaign to eliminate them, the Taliban is believed to be regrouping, now with a new ally, renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Barely a day goes by without a rocket fired at a coalition base and ISAF, the international peacekeeping force in Kabul, is rattled after a spate of attacks. In recent weeks coalition forces have twice engaged in the heaviest fighting for a year. There are 13,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan, but results are elusive. They continue to scour the stony valleys for arms and rebels, searching villages, looking in barns and under carpets.”
continued… (omitted text)
“While the limits of Mr Karzai’s power are partly of his own making - the easy-going president is widely seen as accommodating to the point of weakness - they are also due to the continued reluctance of the foreign powers to commit the troops and funds needed to police a vast, fractured nation.
“The biggest hole is security because all the other institu tion-building efforts won’t work without that, and that’s a gap that has to be filled with an international presence,” says Mr Rubin.
The result is an unhealthy compromise between the central government and the country’s warlords, who are happy to co-exist as long as Mr Karzai treads around their turf, rich with cash from the poppy fields that make Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer.
As well as depriving Mr Karzai’s government of influence outside the capital, this places his western backers in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with people whom they would think twice about feting at home.
Even in Kabul, Mr Karzai is surrounded by rivals, some nominally allies, who would not grieve over his downfall - among them former Mujahideen commanders who fought the Soviets and feel sidelined.
Observers say a power struggle between the Northern Alliance and other members of Karzai’s cabinet may be more explosive than anything the Taliban has in store.
Many believe the seeds of the problems were sown in the war to oust the Taliban, when the US-led coalition failed to prevent their Northern Alliance allies taking Kabul.
Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim, the defence minister and Northern Alliance commander, has repeatedly ignored calls to disband his large personal militias, or at least move them outside Kabul. In a rare gesture of conciliation, he reshuffled his ministry last week to include a more diverse ethnic mix.
Mr Karzai’s lack of clout leaves his government hamstrung as Afghanistan faces a sensitive and crucial stage in the reconstruction process - demobilising thousands of armed men and drafting a new constitution.
After lengthy delays, the demobilisation process has made its first steps, with the formation of four commissions and pledges of $51m in aid last week, which will help provide economic incentives to disarm.”

Well, consider Afghanistan is coming off the mess of the Soviet invansion, followed by the Taliban, who didn’t do anything to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, I would say Afghanistan is making reasonable progress due to US aid. It will be awile for it to become a normal state, but with at least a couple more years of US help, it wouldn’t become a basketcase country again. At least in the regions around Kabul, it will take longer for the outlying regions to develep, but that can’t really be helped.

Hmm, sure sounds as if you had the idea that the US would maintain the peace there.
Now you are saying the US was only there to put them on the right road? Let the buggers sort themselves out?

Huh what? You totally lost me there. The U.S. IS maintaining the peace. I just said that they are busy training the Afghan army, which is now 3,000 strong. In addition, there are thousands of U.S. soldiers there, 4,000 British soldiers, and 1,000-2,000 Canadians are preparing to go over.

What was your point? That the whole country isn’t Disneyland yet? Well, duh. The U.S. is not setting up a police state, y’know? The important thing is to stabilize the country, get the government working, and to build up a homegrown army than can protect the government from assault and overthrow. That’s what they are doing.

BBC, Economist and Financial Times paint a far less rosy picture of both US role and the progress in Afghanistan.

Maybe they’re just “liberal” dupes?

Does anyone here seriously believe we went to war in Afghanistan to free the people from the Taliban. We didn’t give a rat’s ass about Afghanistan when the Russians were brutalizing it, except to express glee at the opportunity to bleed the Soviets white by arming thier enemies. But, after all, as ol’ Hank Kissinger said when he buggered the Kurds, “covert action isn’t missionary work.”

Our intentions in Afghanistan were, and remain, entirely selfish. To piously pretend otherwise at this juncture is pure hogwash. We have installed a decent enough fellow as mayor of Kabul and that is just about the extent of our humanitarian accomplishment. We went there to get OBL, and didn’t, and now we want to pretend we were on a rescue mission.

Drivel. Utter drivel.

Well, simple.
Back then, the government, you and others were assuring us that a nice democracy would be installed, a la Japan and Germany.
Just like you’re assuring us now about Iraq.

Now, when we point out that this didn’t happen, you say: ‘Duh!’

Malcolm Garcia of the Kansas City Star says it’s still pretty bad. Whose dupe is he? :smiley:

And let us not forget the “drug” factor, which I would think would mitigate against the U.S. doing a complete pullout. As long as there are drug wars to be fought, the U.S. will have to maintain at least a token presence, I’d think.

So Afghanistan still isn’t Kansas. We already knew that.

Sam: Thank you for posing this question. In your analysis, you might consider substituting “remote regions” with “every area outside of Kabul”. The latter might be more accurate, speaking in a strictly relative sense.

Anyway, you asked what the US should do. This liberal believes that Bush should keep his promise not to abandon the country and fund a program of economic development. The Bush admin forgot to do this for 2004: embarrassed Congressional staffers then penciled in $300 million. This seems a little low to me, at least in contrast to the $20+ billions of grants and loan guarantees offered to Turkey. Still, I would be interested in seeing a comparison of US/World/Multilateral aid to Kosovo/ East Timor / Afghanistan.

Alas, this analysis is a little piecemeal. (BTW: Thanks for the info wmfellows.)

Is Afghanistan on the right path?
Well, rule of law-wise, they aren’t doing too hot. The Bonn meeting of 2001 set up a bunch of judicial commissions that have done little. Power abhors a vacuum, and fundamentalist interests have set their sites on judicial system:

Emphasis added.
Here’s another summary of the Afghan situation:
"Ethnic rivalries run deep and war lords once again control much of the country. Afghanistan not only needs to revive its economy and establish a functioning government but it will need to rebuild all its institutions, including a military and a judiciary. Millions of mines will have to be removed and millions of refugees returned to their homes. The scale of the country’s problems are vastly greater than those of such places as East Timor or Kosovo. "
Emphasis added. From

Thanks for the insightful comments. But back to the OP, what specifically do you think we should be doing differently?

Of course Afghanistan is still not a great place to vacation. But it is undeniably a better place then it was during the time of the Taliban. And since the trend in Afghanistan is towards better, not worse, I’d say we are doing a good job over there.

Question on the table: Genuine improvement or dead cat bounce?

I vote for genuine improvement (with a long way still to go).

I’m pretty optimistic about Afghanistan mostly because I trust the Afghan people. The Taliban tried to impose Saudi-style Islam on them but it didn’t work. The Afghans were glad to see the back of the arabs.

Shortly before the Afghanistan war I regularly checked an Afghani message board to try and get some feel for what Afghans thought. The posters were ex-pat Afghans, of course, not people actually living in Afghanistan and I realise that checking a message board is hardly a scientific cite but the sense I got overall was that while they feared a war, most of them couldn’t wait to be rid of the Taliban.

One post made by someone has kinda stuck in my mind. They said something like: “Afghanistan should be ruled by Afghans. Not by Omar and his Arab bum-boys”

Even before the Russians invaded, Afghanistan had problems. Herat was always a very oppressive city (heavily influenced by Iran) and Kandahar has always been influenced by the extremists in North Pakistan. Kabul has traditionally been a pretty cool place though.

Another factor to bear in mind: every time a group of ex-taliban or al Qaida attack western forces they presumably get wiped out. So gradually their numbers are getting fewer.

Something is going to have to be done about the warlords but I think a decent Afghan army is going to have to be built first. I don’t think fighting the warlords is the answer - they are going to have to be integrated somehow into the overall structure and made to obey national laws.

In particular they are going to have to be made to understand that, even in areas they control, national Afghan law takes precedence. And if they bully people in the streets (or kill people) then there WILL be consequences.

This can all be achieved by negotiating with the warlords though. It’s kinda sad that we still have warlords in the world in the 21st century. But then Afghanistan has traditionally been ruled by tribal councils.

Whereas I think it might be possible to simply impose democracy on Iraq (after a suitable transition period), with Afghanistan I think it’s going to have to be baby steps.

I thought the cites above were meant to demonstrate that the situation was getting worse (or at least sliding back to “just as bad before invasion”)? Or are you disputing the cites?

Let me propose one guideline for evaluating Afghanistan’s situation.

Look at migration.

If people don’t think there’s a reasonable chance that they will be able to scratch out a decent living in the hinterlands, they won’t try to reclaim their land there. (I’m setting the bar lower than, “Establishment of democracy”, btw.)

As it is, Afghanistan is experiencing huge return migration, according to The Economist. My WAG is that a nontrivial share of it is happening outside of Kabul.

We’ll know that things are not doing too well if this hopeful trend reverses itself.