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.
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“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.”
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“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.”