<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile — Progress in Afghanistan despite ongoing horrors, international apathy

Progress in Afghanistan despite ongoing horrors, international apathy

Friday, March 21, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

UNITED NATIONS — Despite an upsurge in Islamic fundamentalist violence, a dangerously entrenched opium drug trade, and a reluctance of the international community to send additional troops to stem the Taliban insurgency, the situation in Afghanistan has nonetheless seen some notable and impressive progress. Those gains emerged in a recent UN Security Council briefing on the embattled South Asian country which is now six years into the still-uphill struggle for development and a more democratic government.

A Report on Afghanistan by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that while most parts of the vast mountainous country remain stable, there’s an increasingly coordinated insurgency in the south, Moreover, the conflict has been concentrated in a fairly small area where seventy percent of the security incidents were concentrated in ten percent of the districts.” More worrying however were attacks on humanitarian workers and international relief staff.

There’s also been violence in Kabul the capital.

Most dangerously, the “Taliban and related armed groups and the drug economy represent fundamental threats to still fragile political, economic and social institutions. Despite tactical successes by national and international military forces, the anti-government elements are far from defeated.”

First, some good news. United States UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, (himself an Afghan born American) stated, reconstruction has steadily increased. The extent of paved roads grew from 50 km in 2001 to 4,000 km today; the level of primary health care has increased from 8 percent coverage in 2001 to 80 percent today. The number of children enrolled in school increased from 900,000 in 2001 to more than 5 million today. He added, “Before virtually no girls were in school, today, about a third of all students are girls and young women.” And even the economy has continued to grow at “impressive rates from 12-14 percent per year — the highest in South Asia.”

Amb. Khalilzad concedes, “Security remains a huge challenge particularly in the southern provinces. The Afghan Ambassador Dr. Zahir Tanin admitted, “Providing security for our people is not only our main objective, but our primary challenge. Terrorists have increased attacks against civilians, schools, religious figures, security forces and international partners.”

Following the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban forces in the wake of September 11, 2001, a robust international troop commitment has striven to bring progress and stability into a land of 30 million people which had become a terrorist state. On the security side there’s the direct American troop commitment of 27,500 forces now being reinforced by 3,500 Marines. Equally there’s a multinational mission with more than 40,000 troops from forty countries especially Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. The units are also involved in training missions for the Afghan army which today stands at 58,000 troops.

Yet the lingering dislocation and damage from the original Soviet occupation, (1979-89) followed by fundamentalist Taliban rule until 2001, serves as a millstone to socio-economic development. So does effective control of the vast and porous frontier with Pakistan which has been a primary conduit for terrorists and contraband. Amazingly, more than two million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan. The Pakistan government stresses that it has deployed 100,000 troops on the dangerous frontier as a contribution to control and counter-insurgency.

When it comes to major economic development it’s countries like the USA, Canada, Japan and the European Union who are the global good guys. This year Washington will provide $3 billion in total assistance including a billion dollars for health, education, and agriculture. Japan has given over $1.3 billion in assistance and has just announced a special package of $110 million for the border area. According to Tokyo’s Ambassador Yukio Takasu, “Japan is fully committed to supporting the efforts of the government of and people of Afghanistan.”

Still given the fluid security situation, the growing drug trade and the endemic problems with corruption and tribalism, it’s a tough sell to get reluctant European governments to commit additional NATO military forces into Afghanistan.

Australia’s Ambassador Robert Hill stated it best, “I cannot stress enough that the international community, has real and enduring interests in Afghanistan’s stability. Afghanistan remains front-line in global efforts to defeat terrorism — a threat affecting all countries that support democracy, secularism and moderation. No member of the international community can afford to see Afghanistan succumb again to the forces of extremism and ideological fundamentalism.”

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