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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 09:48 GMT
Afghan reports offer bleak assessments
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

British marines in Afghanistan (archive)
Exactly two years ago, the Afghan government and its many international backers met in London to plot a plan for the future, but the progress reports do not make for pretty reading.

The relief agency, Oxfam International, has sent an open letter to the leaders of supporting nations calling for "a major change in direction in order to reduce suffering and avert humanitarian disaster."

The influential US-based Afghanistan Study Group has meanwhile warned that the progress made in the six years since the end of the Taleban regime "is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people".

And the US think-tank, the Atlantic Council of the United States, starts its report with the words: "Make no mistake, Nato is not winning in Afghanistan."

Efforts undermined

By way of example, the day began in Kabul with a suicide bomb attack on an Afghan National Army bus and the discovery that four kidnapped security contractors working on a road building project had been beheaded by the Taleban.

The bomber blew himself up before reaching his target, but civilians were killed and injured in another blast in the capital just a couple of weeks after the attack on the five-star Serena Hotel that has affected the work of many aid workers.

Signatories of the Afghanistan Compact (31 January 2006)
Donors pledged $10.5bn in aid at the London conference in 2006

The "Afghanistan Compact" came out of the London Conference in the spring of 2006, agreeing on the principles of promoting development, security, governance, the rule of law and human rights in the country.

And while there has been progress on many fronts, the assessment of the three think-tanks and organisations is bleak.

Oxfam said many of the compact's targets had not been hit, and efforts had been undermined by increasing insecurity.

"The international community could be a great deal more effective, but too much aid is unco-ordinated or ineffectively delivered," said Oxfam's policy advisor in Afghanistan, Matt Waldman.

"They need to improve their coherence in terms of aid, efficiency too - much of aid is wasted on very expensive consultants or on contractors who make quite significant profits."

Call for change

There is a feeling among diplomats in Kabul that the international community is lacking in direction - hence their disappointment that President Hamid Karzai rejected the UK's Paddy Ashdown as a new super-envoy.

A United Nations representative who could co-ordinate and take the civilian effort forward is seen as the key to improving coherence, but it will be some months now before the position is filled.

Afghan MPs listen to a speech by a US envoy (30 January 2008)
Afghanistan is at a crossroads - it's time to revitalise and re-double our efforts towards stabilising Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies
Afghanistan Study Group

The rejection of Lord Ashdown by the Afghan president at the 11th hour is indicative of the precarious relations between the international community and the charismatic leader.

Oxfam's criticisms and call for change are echoed by the two US bodies.

The Afghanistan Study Group, headed by the former US ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering, and Gen James Jones, the former Nato Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says "too few military forces and insufficient economic aid" are to blame.

"Afghanistan is at a crossroads," their report says. "It's time to revitalise and re-double our efforts towards stabilising Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies."

The recommendations are for a special envoy for Afghanistan within the US government to co-ordinate all US policies, and for Congress to "decouple Iraq and Afghanistan" and formulate a new unified five-year strategy.

And the Atlantic Council of the United States says its report is intended "to sound the alarm... that urgent changes are now required to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failing or failed state".

Heavily-armed Taliban fighters are gaining strength

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