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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 October 2007, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
The challenges ahead in Afghanistan
By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC News

Gordon Brown and Hamid Karzai
Difficult steps lay ahead to keep Afghanistan's development on track
After a breakfast meeting in Downing Street, Gordon Brown and Afghan President Hamid Karzai painted an upbeat picture of developments in Afghanistan.

Far from concentrating on battles by Nato and British troops against Taleban insurgents, Mr Brown spoke of 7% economic growth, the building of hospitals and clinics, putting millions of children into schools, and training up Afghan troops to help take the pressure off the Nato and US forces there.

However this optimistic scenario was tempered by the lack of a time frame in getting Afghanistan up and running and constant references to long-term commitment.

While Mr Brown vowed that Afghanistan would never become a failed state again, President Karzai described Afghanistan's history as one of many years of tragedy and destruction - that now had hope.

The official visit of President Karzai to Britain coincides with the Nato defence ministers' meeting in the Netherlands where there is much pressure for more Nato countries to send more troops.

Both leaders referred to this as 'burden-sharing', stressing that it was central to Afghanistan's long-term success.

At present, American, British, Canadian and Dutch troops are bearing the brunt of the military deployment of about 50,000, with Britain supplying almost 8,000 troops.

Opium crop

If Afghanistan is ever to succeed as a self-supporting nation analysts believe it will need three specific policies to keep development on track.

Troop deployment will have to be measured in decades rather than years.

Elements of the Taleban will have to be brought into the political process. President Karzai outlined those with whom he would not do business - those with connections to al-Qaeda and terrorism and those who advocate violence against his government.

And opium growing will have to be substantially curbed in order to cut off funding to the Taleban.

Since their defeat in 2001, Afghanistan has become the source of 90% of the world's opium - the raw product that's refined into heroin.

Gordon Brown said that the number of opium-free provinces had increased in recent years from six to 13 (out of 34), but President Karzai ruled out a US appeal to allow the aerial spraying of opium fields.

Only 10% of the crop in the past year has been destroyed in operations from the ground, and Mr Karzai also gave no deadline as to when he expected to make significant inroads.

Alternative means of livelihood for the farmers needed to be put in place.

Development and security

While Iraq remains a predominantly American responsibility, Afghanistan - once host to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda training camps - poses a specific challenge to all Western democracies and particularly to Europe.

It's clear from the present Nato meeting that members have not yet decided on the issue of 'burden sharing'.

In effect, Nato remains unsure as to whether it is in Afghanistan as a united political and military force.

The Netherlands, for example, is under pressure to pull out its troops, and Germany, Italy and Spain are reluctant to send theirs down to the more hostile areas.

It is there, specifically in the opium-rich Helmand province, that the population needs proof that Western democratic institutions can deliver more development and security than a resurgent Islamic Taleban funded by the narcotics trade.



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