Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 5 News List

UK slammed for breaking promises to Afghanistan

THE GUARDIAN , KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw talks to Afghan drugs officers recently trained by British customs officers in Kandahar in Afghanistan, on Tuesday. Straw was spending a second day in Afghanistan after talks with President Karzai in the capital on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

The UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, having completed a round of diplomatic talks in Kabul on Monday, said he wanted to confront the reality of life in Afghanistan. He got his wish Tuesday.

He left the relative stability of the capital to fly to Kandahar, the country's second-biggest city and the former heartland of the Taliban, to check reports that the country outside Kabul is in a state of lawlessness.

In Kandahar he came face-to-face with the scale of the problems the US and Britain have to deal with 18 months after the Taliban were overthrown.

The Taliban are still a menacing presence in Kandahar province, travel is hazardous, corruption is endemic, opium production dominates economic life and a warlord, Gulajha Sherzai, not the central government, is the provincial governor.

The night before Straw arrived in Kandahar a grenade exploded in the Abdurhub mosque, injuring 19 people. The provincial government, the police and Straw blame the Taliban. The mosque is the base of Mullah Abdullah Fyaz, an arch-critic of the Taliban.

Straw stopped to visit a US base where six of the most seriously wounded were being treated. He spoke briefly to one: the others were unconscious. He said afterwards: "It is strange again that the victims of the Taliban extremists are always likely to be fellow Muslims."

There are estimated to be between 200 and 400 Taliban still active. Lack of law and order was the main complaint at a meeting between Straw and 100 tribal leaders held in the open air in Sherzai's compound.

In comments echoed by other leaders, one said: "The promises and commitments that Blair made and that are in the Bonn Accord [the framework for Afghanistan's political future agreed in December 2001] have not been met yet.

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