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An Afghan Mission with Risks or Total Chaos?

Security in Kabul is getting worse and two journalists were recently sentenced to death there. The international community, including Germany, should put more effort into rebuilding civil society.


Chaos in the provinces threatens to overwhelm the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The command of the International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) changed hands on Monday. But the situation in the capital, Kabul, and in the rest of country has not changed. On the contrary, the relative security that the foreign soldiers in Kabul were able to create surprisingly quickly at the beginning of their mission seems to be increasingly under threat. And none of Afghanistan's many problems have been solved.

Only minimal progress has been made in rebuilding the country. While aid organizations virtually jostle each other in the capital, displaying how much money they have with their expensive Jeeps, the misery of the rural population is as great as it's ever been.

The countryside is largely controlled by provincial rulers, many of whom are former mujahedeen leaders. They maintain their grip on power with the help of their own armed men. They use the immense profits they accrue from drug trafficking to pay for weapons, ammunition and private soldiers. Afghanistan has the dubious honor of being the global leader in the opium and heroin markets. And the regional warlords also fight each other to protect the boundaries of their individual spheres of control.

The provincial threat

Meanwhile, even the optimists among Afghanistan's observers recognize that the Taliban's dark ideas still occupy the minds of many an Afghan citizen. And the chaos in the provinces bodes well for a resurgence of the Taliban. That would suit the remaining al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and in the Afghan-Pakistani border regions. The American military is far away from having defeated them all.

It's not just that the battles continue and that attacks on representatives of the transitional government and even on aid organizations, including the UN, are carried out more and more frequently in many provinces. Bomb attacks and suicide bombers are on the increase in Kabul as well . The capital -- previously an island of relative stability -- could yet be overwhelmed by waves of violence from the countryside.

The result is that Afghanistan's provinces must be pacified. After two decades of bloody quarrels, the Afghans will hardly put an end to the power struggles and overcome the ethic conflicts on their own. The wounds are too deep and the appetite for revenge too strong for reconciliation without help from outside. Afghans will not recognize there is a better alternative to the culture of the Kalashnikov until reconstruction of the country delivers visible advantages and palpable benefits to all.

But Afghanistan can only be developed if the weapons outside Kabul are also collected and drug crops are at least reduced drastically, thus depriving the provincial power brokers of the basis for their disastrous activities.

An extended mandate

That is why ISAF troops should be stationed in as many parts of the country as possible and as soon as possible. When they appear with their modern weapons and a mandate that is clearly discernible to every Afghan, collect weapons and make peace, a great majority of the population is sure to welcome them.

Of course, the areas where such a deployment begins must be chosen carefully. And it would also be wise initially to send a limited number of soldiers to protect regional reconstruction teams in certain cities and areas. It must, however, be clearly understood that such an expanded deployment is not free of risks. No one can guarantee that there will not be losses. Fourteen German soldiers have already lost their lives in Kabul.

If the international community -- and Germany as part of it -- is indeed prepared to accept the risks that the provinces present it must also call on the Afghans to return to reason and moderation, as difficult as that may be. The transitional government in Kabul and all Afghanis who hold office and power in the capital must do their part. In multiethnic Afghanistan a stabile, durable peace can only be rectified if all ethnic groups and tribes have an adequate share in political power. The current situation -- in which Kabul's ministries are occupied almost exclusively by Tajiks, while Pashtos, for example, don't have any key positions -- is untenable.

Death sentence for journalists

The death sentence delivered to two Afghan journalists and confirmed by Supreme Court President Maulavi Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari is a shocking step backwards that recalls the misdeeds of Taliban regime. In the weekly Aftab the two men, Sayeed Mahdawi and Ali Reza Payam, had criticized what they described as the reactionary interpretation and abuse of Islam for political purposes in Afghanistan.

Afghan mullahs have accused them of blasphemy. The theological exchange is one thing, while the brutal death threat is another entirely unacceptable response. Instead of reacting in a knee-jerk fashion and sentencing people with a different opinion to death, the Afghan clerics should engage in a sincere, verbal discussion about the correct interpretation of Islam.

The Director-General of the Deutsche Welle, Erik Bettermann, was right to protest publicly against the death sentence. He described it as a "severe blow to the basic right to press freedom" and an "alarming step backwards in the development of a civil society in Afghanistan."

Germany is inclined to support the development of civil society in Afghanistan and, along with 31 other states, including 17 NATO members, is taking a great risk by deploying troops as part of ISAF. But the governments and the people from the countries participating are certainly not prepared to help an Afghanistan that is ruled by radical powers looking toward the past.

Günter Knabe heads up Deutsche Welle's Asian language radio program

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