Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prospects for 2008

The BBC has a sober analysis of the prospects for the coming year:

By David Loyn
BBC News, Kabul

After two years in which the violence in Afghanistan has become worse, it is hard to see signs of hope in 2008. ...

Failure to bring other meaningful development means that tactical victories, such as the symbolically important capture of the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand, have little value in the overall counter-insurgency campaign.

It is hard to win the hearts and minds of people whose fields and homes are constantly fought over.

The Taleban found it hard to recruit three years ago.

Now they have significant influence across the countryside, although not the main roads and towns, in most of Afghanistan.

Given the frail reach of the national police and justice system, the Taleban have increasingly been called on to settle local disputes.

... Mr Karzai does not need to face the electorate again until 2009 but there is some speculation that he could call an election in 2008, to cut off the campaigns of a growing number of serious challengers.

Attempts to introduce democracy further down to district level have so far failed, and instead the international community is trying better to understand how traditional power networks operate - sitting down with tribal elders instead of insisting that they face elections.

Tribal militias

The idea that democracy can provide a solution on its own - the dogma of 2001 - has been abandoned.

Alongside tribal elders, tribal militias are being trained and encouraged to defend their areas against the Taleban, despite the obvious risks of this strategy giving more power to regional warlords.

Aid flows remain far smaller per head than in some other post-conflict countries, and co-ordination, either in the military or civilian sphere, remains a major challenge.

The influential think tank, the International Crisis Group, speaks of the "failure of Kabul's diplomatic and donor community to engage fully in the fledgling process".

The former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has been negotiating terms for a new role in Afghanistan co-ordinating the international effort and its links with the Karzai government - a job locally nicknamed the "super gorilla".

He comes with experience from a similar role in Bosnia, but Afghanistan is a far larger task as he acknowledged recently, going as far as saying, "We have lost and success is unlikely". (link)

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