If Afghanistan goes down
July 9, 2002
IT IS not clear who killed Abdul Qadir, one of Afghanistan's vice presidents, but the message from Saturday's assassination is obvious enough. Afghanistan's post-Taliban political order remains fragile; it is threatened by all the forces that may lie behind the killing: ethnic tensions, rivalries between the provinces and the center, the opium trade. The United States and its allies need to recognize that, without stronger efforts to stand behind Hamid Karzai's interim government, the opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan will be fumbled.
The key problem facing large parts of Afghanistan is lawlessness, which makes economic recovery impossible. The capital of Kabul, where Mr. Qadir was assassinated, is mostly an exception: There, an international peacekeeping force has allowed aid workers and wealthy returning exiles to open offices, and the streets buzz with commerce. But the countryside and some provincial cities are different. People with money stay away, fearing for their safety; or they buy security from local warlords, usually at high rates. Aid agencies face a choice between staying out or accepting that much of their assistance will be stolen by armed groups. A recent United Nations memo on northern Afghanistan states that "aid workers have faced intimidation, including threats, accusations, kidnapping, attacks, murder, rape of family members of national staff, armed robbery and . . . the gang rape of an international female aid worker."
In January President Bush promised to "help the new Afghan government provide the security that is the foundation for peace." But his administration has no apparent plan to deliver on this promise in the foreseeable future. It has resisted expanding the peacekeeping force beyond the capital, despite requests from Mr. Karzai and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. It is training a new Afghan army, but this is a long-term project: The United States aims to prepare 14,400 troops over the next 18 months. By contrast, there are an estimated 75,000 soldiers and another 100,000 militiamen working for local commanders in Afghanistan. It will be years at this rate before the central government has the clout to impose its will upon local warlords.
Mr. Bush has vowed not to abandon Afghanistan; he has even likened his ambitions for reconstruction to the Marshall Plan. But that plan involved funneling nearly $100 billion, in today's dollars, into Europe; the United States this year has pledged just $296 million for Afghanistan. Even the administration's sympathizers are stressing the need to ramp up U.S. efforts. "I fear that we may see this government and our efforts unwind here if we don't make the appropriate investment of men and effort and resources," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) on Sunday. "If this goes backward, this will be a huge defeat for us symbolically in that region . . . [and for] confidence in Americans all over the world. We cannot allow this to go down."