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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Afghanistan's security challenges
By Shirazuddin Siddiqi
BBC News

Afghan and US soldiers
Security has worsened in recent months
After the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and his international backers declared security to be a top priority.

Four years on however, violence has been on the increase.

One factor has been the re-emergence of the Taleban as a fighting force in the south and east of the country.

The hardline Islamic movement suffered a major blow when its former backer, Pakistan, swung its support behind the United States in its self-declared war against terror.

However, during the increase in Taleban attacks in recent months both Afghan and US officials have made it clear they believe that, at best, Pakistan has not been doing enough to clamp down on Taleban fighters operating from bases within Pakistan.

But it would be an oversimplification to say Afghanistan's security problems are solely down to the activities of the Taleban.

Another factor is the conduct of foreign coalition forces.

The aggressive approach in conducting the war on terror has been widely criticised by Afghans. It has created resentment, especially among rural Afghans.

The stories of mistreatment of prisoners in American custody have also undermined efforts to establish trust in the security forces.

That may not yet have led people to take up arms but it has certainly diminished the chances of people co-operating to root out rogue elements.

Drugs dealers

The war on poppy cultivation has also had an impact on security and social disintegration.

There are some very powerful players right across Afghanistan in positions of authority who are themselves involved in the drugs trade
Kim Howells
UK Foreign Office
In areas where poppy crops are eradicated local farmers lose in two ways. First, they lose their crop, which - in most cases - is their livelihood. Second, they face enormous problems with credit providers.

"If a poppy farmer can't pay his debts then the dealers will take his children instead," says an old farmer.

In some areas farmers have seen their crops eradicated while powerful militia leaders' crops remained untouched.

Poppy eradication leaves a large group of younger Afghans who were employed as farm labourers with no obvious future work. That creates a safer environment for drug dealers as the eradication programme is seen by many to damage their lives.

"Failure is not an option in this business because failure on the drug programme in Afghanistan is not just failure on drugs," says Doug Wankel, who works for US State Department from Kabul.

"It leads to the potential for a complete failure of the government of Afghanistan and a worsening of the national security situation for Europe and for the United States."

In addition, the Afghan government has publicly said some high-ranking government officials are involved in the drugs trade.

The government has said it has a full list of those involved and have even threatened to publish the list. But it has never done so .

"There are some very powerful players right across Afghanistan in positions of authority who are themselves involved in the drugs trade," Kim Howells, UK Foreign Office Minister told the BBC recently.

'Complaints'

Land-grabbing has become another attractive business for local militia leaders.

Harvesting opium
Despite eradication it is still not clear whether production has decreased
"We have received a large number of complaints about land-grabbing by commanders," says Fahim Hakim, Deputy Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

"It has gone up from 8% (of complaints received) in 2002 to 38% in 2004. The increase indicates how much the impunity has contributed to the problem."

Militia commanders are still powerful. Some of them control key government posts which give them legitimacy.

The path to democracy is not in their interest and critics say there is a prevailing sense of impunity so they often feel free to do as they please.

Absence of justice

Some former warlords are keen to have a dominant role in Afghanistan's new parliament.

Many ordinary Afghans think such warlords are only interested in the parliamentary process if they can use it to further their legitimacy and power.

"The Afghan justice system has not been able to deal with impunity," says Mr Hakim. "What commanders want is the absence of justice."

Afghans who voted for Hamid Karzai have begun to voice their disappointment. They ask if the president could remove the powerful Marshal Fahim from his post, why he can't do the same with others.

A recent reshuffle of Afghanistan's powerful regional governors was widely seen as cosmetic and insufficient to reduce the influence of the warlords. Hence, many people fear Mr Karzai will fail in his pledge to reduce their power.

Only time will tell whether Mr Karzai and his international backers are developing strategies that can provide a long-term response to these issues.



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