The Country Is in Need of International Support

Afghanistan's interim President Karzai announced a postponement of the elections. This goes to show that the international community must deliver the support it promised. A commentary by Peter Philipp

photo: AP
Afghanistan's interim president Hamid Karzai

​​Maybe the participants at the Afghanistan Conference in Petersberg, Germany, in late 2001 were a little too optimistic in seeking to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections in their native country by June of this year.

Only a few days before the latest Afghanistan Conference in Germany, Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's interim government and undisputed favourite to win the elections, has announced that the ballots will be postponed by at least three months. What's more, no-one knows for sure whether they will go ahead then either.

The election lists are nowhere near being ready and the security situation in Afghanistan still leaves a lot to be desired. While the Taliban have recovered their strength in several provinces and the traditional regional warlords are regaining control, the power of the central government is still largely restricted to the capital, Kabul.

The only thing working is the cultivation of poppies

The only thing that is really working properly is the cultivation of poppies and the trade in opium. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of this narcotic, which is obtained from the opium poppy. In fact, three-quarters of the world's supply of opium comes from Afghanistan.

This lucrative export commodity earns the country just under € 2 billion. However, the main beneficiaries of the trade in opium are the warlords: it is they who 'protect' the fields of opium poppies and it is they who reap the financial rewards, which they use first and foremost to expand and arm their militia.

It is a well-known vicious circle, which under any other circumstances would probably have led the world to turn its back on Afghanistan and ignore it. However, the international community has a vested interest in stopping the production of opium in Afghanistan as it sees this as a way of overcoming its drugs problems, especially those in Europe or the USA.

Large part of promised donations have never been paid out

In short, Afghanistan and the rest of the world both have an interest in stopping the opium trade. It is this state of affairs that allows the Afghan Minister of Finance to confidently demand $ 28 billion over the next seven years. Even though only one-sixth of this sum was pledged at the last donor conference in Tokyo in 2002, a large part of this amount was never actually paid out.

Foreign politicians warn that Afghanistan itself must make an effort to improve the situation. That being said, they are well aware that the Afghans are not in a position to do so and will not be for quite some time.

In order to help themselves, several requirements would have to be fulfilled: for a start, the influence of the regional rulers would have to be weakened and the central government would have to take control of the entire country with the help of the police and armed forces. However, the country is a long way away from this goal. It may in fact be necessary for NATO to step in and assist the government.

While the USA is reinforcing its troops in Afghanistan, it continues to focus its efforts on the search for Osama Bin Laden and the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The central government's only support comes from NATO's ISAF international security force. Very wisely, NATO initially restricted its operations to Kabul and later extended them to include the comparatively unproblematic city of Kundus.

However, if they really take their work seriously, they will have to establish a presence in other parts of the country; namely in potentially dangerous places that are racked by fighting. If, on the other hand, they want to wait until the Afghan government itself assumes control, then it is likely that several election dates will go up the Swanee; and the future of Afghanistan with them.

Peter Philipp

Translation from German: Aingeal Flanagan

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