Amid Current Problems, Afghan Vice President Hopes for Better Future
Criticism over the conduct of US-led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan continues to mount. On May 27, the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, said US coalition forces in Afghanistan were engaging in dubious practices that undermined efforts to promote reconstruction. The European criticism came a day after the rights group Amnesty International lambasted the Bush administration, calling it "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle."
The European Commission's chief complaint concerned the behavior of US coalition forces, especially in southern Afghanistan. Troops there often do not wear uniforms; they also reportedly travel in unmarked civilian vehicles. Such actions contribute to a "situation where the distinction between humanitarian and military personnel is becoming blurred," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted a European Commission spokesman, Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe, as saying.
"This undermines the perception of humanitarian aid workers being impartial, being neutral, and therefore makes it also difficult to carry out" reconstruction activities, Ellermann-Kingombe added. On May 27, the commission announced a 35.2 million euro aid package that is designed to assist the "most vulnerable sections" of the Afghan population.
On May 26, Amnesty International released its annual report, in which it assailed US actions connected with its war on terrorism. Amnesty International cited "allegations of torture or ill-treatment of detainees held at a US base in Afghanistan and of detainees held by US forces in Iraq." Earlier in May, the US-based group Human Rights Watch accused US forces of engaging in "systemic" abuse of detainees.
"Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses and using pre-emptive military force where and when it [the United States] chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty," Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan wrote in an introductory message to the report. "The USA and its allies purported to fight the war in Iraq to protect human rights but openly eroded rights to [try to] win the "war on terror."
The Bush administration disputed the Amnesty International report. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said May 26: "We don't necessarily agree with their views. We have recognized the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib. There is a firm U.S. process underway to identify those responsible. ... Justice is being served and will be served in that matter."
Beyond the debate concerning the practices of the US-led coalition forces, Afghanistan is facing a variety of threats to stabilization efforts, including warlordism and drug trafficking. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. These problems are fueling concerns that parliamentary and presidential elections, now scheduled for September, may be unable to accelerate the Afghan stabilization process.
EurasiaNet recently spoke to Afghanistan's Vice President Hedayat Amin Arsala, who, like President Hamid Karzai, is a Pashtun, on the country's near-term political challenges. The full text of Arsala's comments follows:
EurasiaNet: How are you dealing with the recent instances of warlord infighting? Do you have any plans to address the issue of warlordism?
Arsala: In the case of [the western province of] Herat we have sent a battalion of our national army and it is stationed there now and basically things are relatively calm. We also sent another delegation to investigate what really went on so that we can take actions as the result of the findings of that delegation. [On May 21, US officials announced that Herat's governor, Ismail Khan, had agreed to participate in a United Nations' sponsored disarmament program].
EurasiaNet: Senior American officials recently hinted that aside from the Afghan National Army (ANA), another military force may be needed to specifically combat Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the volatile southeastern Afghanistan. Could an attempt to create such a special force undermine the development of the ANA?
Arsala: I am not aware of this, and, in any case, I will not be supportive of it. Whatever is done should be done within the context of ANA, and it has to handle these issues [containing the Taliban and al Qaeda]. We could speed up the process of strengthening and expanding the national army, but anything beyond that, or outside that, would be unwise in my judgment.
EurasiaNet: The poppy harvesting season is already underway. Do you think that the recent anti-poppy pronouncements by your government can be effective?
Arsala: I personally think that drug [cultivation] and drugs trafficking are our greatest enemies today in Afghanistan. [They] provide sustenance to all the destabilizing forces in this country -- apart from causing misfortune and damaging society, not only in Afghanistan, but in neighboring states and beyond. It is also destabilizing politically, as [drug cultivation and trafficking] support forces of instability, such as private armies and ...terrorists.
This is not something that we alone can deal with, it's an international issue. Afghans alone cannot do it [curtail drug production] because alternative crops or alternative means of income are necessary. ... We need the support of the international community. In terms of law enforcement, it again is not our exclusive problem, but also that of neighboring states and the world at large. We should all be on board against poppy cultivation, as well as against drug trafficking.
EurasiaNet: Many analysts suggest inter-ethnic tension continues to pose an obstacle to the reconstruction process. Such tension was evident at the constitutional Loya Jirga last December. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. How do you view the inter-ethnic balance today in Afghanistan?
Arsala: During the Loya Jirga, this issue popped up, but I do not think it was that serious. Differences of opinion, yes, but the question of ethnicity wasn't that critical. My hope is that we won't move in that direction. Naturally the people of Afghanistan are tired of these ethnic differences, of these conflicts and wars. Anything that sort of takes us back to an unstable situation, the people will reject it, and when I say people, I mean all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan without any exceptions.
EurasiaNet: Where do you see Afghanistan a year from now?
Arsala: You know Afghanistan, where it was two years ago. We have come quite a way from that point. The environment has basically totally changed, and I think for the better. My hope is that this trend will continue, and that next year will be better than this year, and that we will be somewhat more prepared for a more rapid pace of reconstruction and a more rapid rate of development in all sectors of the country.
Abubaker Saddique is an independent journalist reporting on South Central Asia.
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