Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Afghanistan, change tack or pay the price


London, 14 Feb. (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - A 'make or break' situation faces the international community in southern Afghanistan in the coming months where the Taliban are threatening to launch a major offensive in spring and with the taking of Musa Qala two weeks ago showing that Islamists are now capable of conquering the bigger towns. This is the scenario outlined in the latest report from the Senlis Council, "Counter Insurgency in Afghanistan: Losing Friends and Making Enemies" - published on Wednesday - which concludes that the international community's own policies are at least in part responsible for the dramatic loss of support for both the Karzai government and the international military presence in the southern provinces - and for the rise in the Taliban insurgency.

The report came ahead of President Hamid Karzai's visit to Britain which begins a trip that takes in various European countries, including Italy.

“With our own policies, we have created our own enemies,” said Norine MacDonald QC, Founding President of The Senlis Council, an international policy think tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels.

MacDonald, who has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the past two years, said: “The policies implemented by the international community have created these resentful and poor young men who cannot feed their families, and they are now being easily recruited by the Taliban. Through these misguided policies, the international community has turned southern Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban”.

The Council, which seeks to offer innovative analysis and strategic proposals, has an extensive programme in Afghanistan examining the relationships between counter-narcotics, the military and development policies, and their impact on efforts to rebuild Afghanistan

“Although the insurgency in southern Afghanistan is extremely complex, it can be divided up into two basic groups,” said MacDonald. “There is a core Taliban insurgency which has ties to the Global Jihad, Al Qaeda movement, and a ‘grassroots’ Taliban insurgency which is driven by extreme poverty.”

Recruitment to the grassroots insurgency has exploded in the last year because the local population is becoming increasingly poor, more desperate and more resentful of the international community’s actions.

“The Taliban are a very competitive employer, offering wages with which no other employer can compete,” said MacDonald. “They are able to recruit so easily because people cannot feed their families.”

The Taliban offer up to 12 dollars a day against the two dollars a day for a soldier in the Afghan Army.

“There are many legitimate grievances of the local Afghan population which could be simply and inexpensively dealt with,” said MacDonald. “New Taliban recruitment could be avoided by simply showing local communities that the international community is in Afghanistan to help, leaving the ‘Global Jihad Insurgents” as the only legitimate enemy.”

Legitimate grievances, according to the Senlis report, include many civilian deaths, injuries and displacements caused by fighting; forced eradication of poppy crops while many farmers are still fully dependent on them to feed their families; the lack of food aid and humanitarian assistance, the perception that the Karzai government is a puppet regime; the lack of hospitals and schools and the perception that the international community does not respect the culture and traditions of Afghanistan.

The think tank points the finger at the under funding and neglect of humanitarian aid, development and institution building in the five years of international presence in Afghanistan, following the 2001 routing of the Taliban regime.

“This is a blatant disregard of the established counter insurgency theories, which advocate a complete package of diverse development based interventions such as medical assistance and education, in addition to the necessary military responses,” said MacDonald.

For example, no provision has been made for treating the large numbers of civilian casualties which occur due to fighting and bombing in the southern provinces. According to the Case Study, also released by Senlis Afghanistan on Wednesday, the two hospitals in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah are in a state of total disrepair and wholly unequipped to deal with any emergency war zone trauma or the widespread malnutrition now found in the area. These two hospitals of 600 are also the only health care facilities for a population of about four million.

“Proper provision has not been made according to the Geneva Conventions for civilian casualties in a war zone where international troops are actively fighting. The hospitals have no equipment, no medicines, no blood, no heating. For the most part, civilians injured in the bombing campaigns are abandoned by the international community.” said MacDonald.

The case study which accompanies the report provides examples of the unnecessary suffering caused by the lack of facilities and investment. An 8-year-old girl died from burns at the hospital in Helmand in January for the lack of about 30 dollars worth of medicine after three days of agony due to lack of any medicinal painkillers – a tragic irony for someone who comes from the place in the world which produces the raw materials for essential painkilling medicines.

In 2006, some 2000 NATO bombing campaigns were carried out over southern Afghanistan, causing an estimated 4000 civilian deaths and an untold number of casualties, for which there is practically no possibility of treatment.

The Senlis Council points out that while the US is still pushing hard for large scale crop eradication, this is simply creating more poverty, causing violence and proving ineffective, with poppy cultivation up 60 per cent last year, despite the drive to eliminate it.

The council is proposing an alternative – having the government licence the opium grown in Afghanistan for the production of medicine. This would supply livelihoods for many of the rural communities, whilst at the same time providing much needed essential medicines such as morphine and codeine, for which there is currently a world shortage. Opium poppy is a very hardy crop and one of the only ones which can grow in the harsh climate of southern Afghanistan, especially under the current conditions of drought.

Development and aid must start to match military interventions to show support for the drought-stricken, under-nourished local people and gain their support. The need is urgent, or their support will be lost to the insurgents, who are offering them food and money now.