Critics say Afghanistan is forgotten war

Posted 10:52 a.m. Feb. 11

by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

With conflict in Iraq increasingly likely, the continuing war in Afghanistan seems to have fallen off the map, according to human rights activists.
As hundreds of troops remain stationed in the war-ravaged country, countless international organizations are working in an attempt to reconstruct what 23 years of civil war devastated.

A Jan. 29 conference at George Washington University’s Law School focused on Afghanistan’s reconstruction and gauged how much Americans still care about the nation.

Progress is being made, the conference concluded, pointing to a group of Afghan women who became the first females to receive their driver’s licenses since the collapse of the Taliban.

“For some women it’s about having a skill, a new skill, and I think that psychologically its very important for women to have something for themselves and this is something that really theirs, that nobody can take away,” a female officer for the German humanitarian agency Medica Mondiale told the BBC.

But reconstructing Afghanistan will require more then just granting driver’s licenses, activists point out. Groups like Medica Mondiale believe economic, political and physical problems, in addition to social ones, must be resolved quickly for the sake of stability and democracy in the region.

“The major influential groups in Afghanistan are military, rather than political, but none of the parties to the conflict (the warlord factions) are seen as legitimate political actors by the Afghan people,” Kristian Berg Harpviken and Arne Strand of the Post-War Reconstruction Development Unit in the United Kingdom told reporters.

The problem of Afghan development is primarily internal, they said. But working with the warlords, despite their atrocious human right violations, is necessary for the future of political stability, they added.

The challenge, they believe, is striking a balance between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the internal dynamic of the Afghan people, including warring factions.

In a speech delivered to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Marina Ottaway, a senior associate and co-director for the Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project, told the audience that they must “make a choice between two competing images for Afghanistan — that of a vibrant, stable and cohesive democratic state, or a more realistic one of a country that does not meet Western standards, but is markedly less dangerous and more hospitable for economic development.”

She added that the “highly decentralized, quasi-medieval system” that permeates Afghan society must be embraced and utilized by international actors if they desire to establish a working system within the country.

But countless other problems plague Afghanistan including poverty, illiteracy, the lack of economic funding, infrastructure and environmental devastation and refugees.

The international community has pledged billions of dollars to reconstruct the country. That money helped fund a Back-to-School Campaign that far exceeded the expectations of anyone. But a lack of space and professional guidance amounted to a roadblock for young Afghans seeking the resources to learn, compounded by the fact that the country has just five universities.

Foreign investments are beginning to help the situation. A ratified law on foreign investment has encouraged thousands of companies to apply to help in rebuilding the devastated economy.

Anwar Ahady, the head of Afghanistan’s central bank told CNN: “There is a great deal of interests in telecommunications as a profitable business and we are very much interested in foreign banks coming here.”

Ahady has already reorganized the system of banknotes and decreased inflation. But this country with a per capita income of $200 still has a long way to go, activists believe.

One critical starting point is infrastructure. Just 13 percent of roads in Afghanistan are paved, limiting access between towns and cities. Less then 25 percent of the population has access to education, sanitation, or technology, international relief organizations estimate.

Even with these obstacles, activists believe the collapse of the Taliban has brought great relief to the country. Ending drug trafficking and terrorist activities is giving way for breathing room within the nation. And the commitment of the international community to rebuild the nation continues to provide the base for Afghani regeneration.

On Monday, Germany and the Netherlands took command over a 22-nation peacekeeping task force in the Afghani capital of Kabul. The 4,500-member force oversees security in Kabul and assists U.S. forces with peacekeeping in the capital.

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