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Afghan challenges for President Karzai

After being declared the victor of Afghanistan's fraught presidential election, Hamid Karzai now faces the prospect of governing a country blighted by insurgency and corruption.

As Western governments insist the money they pour into the country be spent effectively, the BBC considers some of the challenges facing the new government.

SECURITY

Afghanistan's most pressing challenge is the growing Taliban insurgency across the country.

File Taliban picture
Reports say the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is "growing"

In the run-up to the election a series of co-ordinated attacks on government facilities in Afghan cities highlighted the ability of the Taliban to strike at will in an organised manner.

And the recent attack on UN staff in a Kabul guesthouse showed the Taliban's determination to go after high-profile targets.

The Taliban have even begun to infiltrate previously peaceful parts of the country.

The Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has warned the mission to tackle the Taliban could end in failure - and identified a window of six to 12 months in which to act.

President Barack Obama is currently considering his request for about 40,000 extra US troops - but President Obama has always stressed he needs a credible partner in government in order to honour more troop and resource commitments to Afghanistan.

Some analysts say the key to ensuring Afghanistan's long term security is training Afghanistan's security forces.

President Karzai and the US government have long recognised that Afghan security forces need to be better trained. It is one of the key planks of Gen McChrystal's new Afghan strategy - and it is a colossal task .

piechart

Another strategy has been to reach out to the "moderate Taliban". In his first speech after victory, President Karzai called on "Taliban brothers" who have been fighting an insurgency against him to "embrace their land".

The idea that moderate elements of the Taliban could be part of a reconciliation process has also been considered by the US.

But as Taliban wages far outstrip what the average Afghan earns, it is unclear how the government can win them over.

Meanwhile, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the Afghan conflict. The number of civilians killed in the conflict in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2009 has risen 24% compared with the same period last year, the UN says.

CORRUPTION

Just one day after Hamid Karzai was declared president, he vowed to remove the "stigma" of corruption.

Hamid Karzai's administration has been accused of corruption

"Our government has been seriously discredited by administrative corruption," he said in his first speech to the nation.

After an election process marred by widespread vote-rigging, this is a promise that will be closely monitored by his allies in the West.

Both President Obama and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown told President Karzai that tackling corruption must be a key priority of a new administration.

The last few years of Afghan government have been beset by allegations of corruption:

  • Government officials, including relatives of Hamid Karzai, have been accused of abusing their connections for profit - a claim he has denied
  • Bribery among low-level officials and police is a cause for dissatisfaction in polls conducted among Afghans
  • There have long been concerns about how aid money is spent and the culture of accountability and openness
  • In 2006 the UN and World Bank said that key Afghan drug traffickers had sponsors in the top echelons of government

The link between drugs and corruption is something that has long exercised Afghanistan's Western sponsors. After being sworn in as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton branded Afghanistan a "narco-state" and said the government was "plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption".

And even Nato's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been quoted as saying: "The basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it's too little good governance."

Good governance is a question that President Karzai says he will put at the heart of his new administration.

CREDIBLE INSTITUTIONS

Other aspects of Afghanistan's civil administration concern Western commentators and rights groups.

Its conservative judiciary is frequently criticised by rights groups over certain judgements.

Afghanistan's human rights commission has also in the past made calls for the reform of Afghanistan's judiciary which it has said is dominated by religious conservatives.

Even the impartiality of the Afghan election commission was called into question by Hamid Karzai's opponent Dr Abdullah Abdullah - all seven of its commissioners are appointed by the president.

Ensuring the credibility of key organs of government will be an important challenge for President Karzai.

DRUGS

Police officers destroy poppy crops in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan, July 2009
The UN says eradication efforts have been a failure

The link between Afghanistan's flourishing illegal drugs trade and Taliban militancy is undisputed.

It is Afghanistan's illicit poppy cultivation that keeps the Taliban in riches. In fact the US has said that it will target Afghan drug lords as part of its anti-militant strategy.

But the consequences of Afghanistan's poppy cultivation spread far and wide.

In October 2009 a UN report said Afghanistan's illegal opium production had devastating global consequences.

It said Afghan opium funds global terrorism, caters to 15 million addicts, and kills 100,000 people every year.

But, it added, corruption and lawlessness in Afghanistan meant hardly any drug hauls could be seized.

The challenge for President Karzai - working with coalition forces - will be to strengthen local law enforcement agencies and their ability to combat drug lords and poppy cultivation particularly in the south of the country.

This year, however, poppy cultivation and opium production in Afghanistan appears to have decreased sharply . But correspondents say the fear is that suppliers are just depleting stockpiles to boost world heroin prices, which at the moment are low.

Eradication programmes and policies to encourage Afghan farmers to grow wheat instead of poppies have had mixed success.

In some areas, such as the far north of Afghanistan, farmers have switched to wheat cultivation.

But many complain they made better money when they grew poppies. Addressing the needs of poor Afghan farmers while trying to deter them from growing poppies is just one aspect to this immense task.

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INFRASTRUCTURE

Aside from the geo-political considerations of security, drugs and corruption, it is the hardships of daily life which concerns ordinary Afghans the most.

Afghan girl at school

Afghanistan has some of the world's worst health indicators, with an average life expectancy of 44.

And although Afghanistan has seen a massive increase in school enrolment since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, more than two-thirds of Afghans over the age of 15 cannot read and write.

Basic infrastructure continues to be a major complaint for many Afghans. Parts of the country remain virtually inaccessible.

A case in point is the remote north-eastern province of Badakhshan: it has the world's highest maternal mortality rate and with dirt tracks connecting high mountain passes, is in desperate need of investment. Health and infrastructure were the issues in Badakhshan for the voting public.

Indeed Kabul only received all-day electricity in June 2009.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS

The debate over women's rights in Afghanistan flared up again after a bill allowing a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex became law earlier this year.

The original bill had to be withdrawn after an outcry: it effectively condoned rape by removing the need for consent to sex within marriage.

Critics say the amended version of the law remains highly repressive. The law governs family life for Afghanistan's Shia minority.

Although the principle of equality is enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution, women's rights campaigners say there are still many battles ahead.

In large tracts of the country, girls are still unable to go to school. And few female candidates ran for office in the latest election campaign.



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