Tue, Sep 09, 2003 - Page 5 News List

US losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan

DISILLUSIONMENT Corruption, weak leadership and the apparent immunity of marauding warlords are causing ordinary denizens to lose faith in American rule


Those benefiting most are the commanders aligned to the government and working with the US-led coalition, say Afghans in eastern Jalalabad who spoke to reporters.

Commander Mustafa, a soldier of Zahir's and a partner with the US-led coalition, denies the allegation. In an interview at his base near the border with Pakistan, surrounded by a dozen men with kalashnikov rifles, he said his men would seize and destroy any drugs they found.

A UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the drug trade couldn't possibly flourish without the patronage of government officials and military commanders.

Human Rights Watch recently issued a 101-page report warning that "Afghan warlords and political strongmen supported by the United States and other nations are engendering a climate of fear in Afghanistan." It named a string of men in senior government positions.

This climate of fear, the advocacy group said, jeopardizes efforts to adopt a new constitution and hold national elections in mid-2004.

A disarmament campaign was to have begun July 1, but the UN delayed it, demanding the Defense Ministry first be reformed to reflect Afghanistan's ethnic diversity. The UN wants sweeping changes to take power away from Defense Minister Fahim's private army.

Nearly two years since taking power, Karzai's limited reach is allowing the corruption to flourish.

Several months ago, Karzai banned logging in eastern Afghanistan, but it still flourishes in areas where his appointees govern.

The rock-strewn road from Kunar in eastern Afghanistan to neighboring Nangarhar province is bumper-to-bumper with timber-laden 16-wheelers.

In Kabul, Afghan businessmen who have come back from the US to invest here are disillusioned.

Abdullah Aziz, who returned to Afghanistan from California where he has lived since 1978, said he went to northern Kunduz province to retrieve his property.

He said he brought a letter from Karzai to the governor. "He took the piece of paper and he said `Karzai -- he is no one here.'"

Aziz is still trying to get his property.

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