Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Afghan elections pointless without security

The US may have ousted the Taliban from power, but Afghans still don't enjoy the freedom from fear that they were promised

By Duncan Campbell  /  THE GUARDIAN , London

Elections in Afghanistan have been delayed for a second time, according to an announcement this month, with the country now supposedly choosing a president in October and a legislature next spring.

The announcement made few waves, as news media largely treat Afghanistan as yesterday's news. Nearly three years after Operation Enduring Freedom was launched to remove the Taliban regime and bring liberty and prosperity to one of the world's most impoverished countries, little of the operation endures and basic freedoms -- notable freedom from fear and poverty -- remain elusive.

The election's timing, a month before US President George W. Bush goes to the polls himself, has as much to do with American as Afghan politics.

With Iraq in turmoil, a newly elected Afghan president will be offered as proof that at least one of Bush's foreign policy objectives have been met.

Many Afghans, particularly in Kabul, clearly welcomed the removal of the Taliban.

But the one thing that the Taliban did provide was security, so that people could travel in the countryside without fear of ambush and so that the plunder, rape and corruption of the warlord era that preceded them became largely contained.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the New York Times that the threat from the Taliban was "exaggerated" and that the real danger to the future of Afghanistan lay with warlords and their militias.

Part of the reconstruction process after the war was meant to be a disarmament of the militias, but so far only around 10,000 out of 60,000 have responded to the incentive of new jobs and handed in their weapons.

Many Afghans surveying the chaotic aftermath of the US war have ruefully suggested that the Taliban should be invited back in a limited capacity to run security. Every day come reports of fresh attacks on anyone associated with the election process or the West, along with a steady drizzle of ambushes, assassinations, rocket attacks and explosions. Only this week there was a fatal clash between US forces and the Taliban in Zabul.

The election date announcement came as an independent research body published a report on the failure of Afghanistan's security policy that accused the international community of serious neglect. The report by international scholars of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), says that compared with countries where the international community has intervened militarily, Afghanistan has been badly let down.

NATO recently decided to increase its forces there from 6,500 to 8,700, which the report claims will be inadequate. "Shamefully, Afghanistan has the lowest international troop-to-population ratio of any recent intervention," asserts Colonel Philip Wilkinson, who wrote the paper with Michael Bhatia and Kevin Lanigan.

The report says that Afghanistan now has one member of the military to 1,115 members of the population, compared to one per 50 at an equivalent period in Kosovo, one per 111 in East Timor, one per 161 in Iraq and one per 375 in Haiti.

"NATO's continued inability to provide significant forces will only further embolden President Karzai's opponents -- whether warlords, poppy-growers or terrorists," the report concludes. "The Taliban are far from defeated, poppy production has soared and regional warlords are still brazen in their abuse of citizens and in their dealings with the central government."

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