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Afghanistan in Need

Prepared by: Esther Pan
April 10, 2006

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Often cited by U.S. officials as a post-9/11 success story, Afghanistan is now experiencing an alarming rise in insurgent attacks on government and international-led forces. Recent attacks have increasingly featured once-rare suicide bombings and other tactics more common in Iraq (BBC), a phenomenon explored in this CFR Background Q&A. As President Hamid Karzai tries to bring security and prosperity to his war-torn country, he and other leaders are pushing the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year plan for security, governance, and development, as a road map. But experts say there is little hope all its recommendations will be met. Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin writes in a new CFR Special Report that sustained support from the United States and other international actors is crucial. Emphasizing security, the CFR report calls for U.S. pressure on Pakistan to clamp down on local Taliban leaders using Pakistan as a base to launch attacks on Afghanistan. The Center for Defense Information offers an update of the Afghan security situation. Karzai, who has been criticized for being too dependent on the Americans, is currently battling to get his cabinet approved by parliament (RFE/RL).

There are several roadblocks to security in Afghanistan. Security lapses, even at U.S. bases, are a cause for concern. The Los Angeles Times reports security is so lax that stolen disk drives with classified U.S. military information are for sale at a local market near Bagram air base (LAT). And the flourishing opium trade is particularly vexing. The latest UN report on opium trends in Afghanistan shows a steady rise in opium production since 1986—with the exception of 2001, the year the U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Taliban. The drug trade was worth more than $2.2 billion in 2004, or 60 percent of Afghanistan's legitimate GDP. Another UN report lists the roughly $500 million spent on alternative livelihood projects in the country, designed to try to lure farmers away from drug cultivation. Nearly 64 percent of the funding for this program comes from USAID. But despite these efforts, the BBC says Afghanistan is losing the war against drugs.

Reconstruction is another critical goal seen as getting short shrift. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the image of Afghanistan as a success relative to Iraq has led to comparative neglect for its many needs. An International Crisis Group report says one way of bolstering Afghan reconstruction is for the European Union to develop a more forceful presence in Afghanistan to reflect its financial contributions.

Religious intolerance in Afghanistan poses complications for Kabul in its relations with Western allies. While the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2005 found fewer instances of the abuse of religious freedom than in the past, the case of Abdul Rahman—the Afghan sentenced to death for converting to Christianity—shows the limits of religious freedom in practice (NYT).

Overall, experts say Afghanistan's progress continues in fits and starts. Some say it's important to acknowledge the progress that has been made. The September parliamentary elections were held peacefully. And Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution writes in the International Herald Tribune that the international community should support the NATO mission in Afghanistan, calling it "a remarkable and so far mostly successful development."

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