Friday, September 14, 2007

Afghanistan deteriorates

Today's blog entry catalogues some of the bad news that NATO and US officials prefer to overlook in their rosy pictures of progress in Afghanistan.
Conflict spreads
An official with the International Committee of the Red Cross states that conflict in Afghanistan is "clearly spreading and in certain areas is intensifying". The violence now affects half of Afghanistan, the ICRC reports. In addition, the growth internally displaced people (IDP's) continues due to fighting. "Up to 80,000 additional civilians have been forced to leave their homes by the recent upsurge in fighting", reports SwissAid.

The worsening security situation also directly affects Afghan refugees. The UN's development news agency IRIN reports that 82% of the 2.15 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan do not want to return to their homeland. The reasons they gave for this reluctance were concerns about security (41%), shelter (30%) and livelihoods (24%).

“In recent weeks there has also been a stark deterioration of security in Kunar Province, as well as in Wardak and Logar and the central region in general,” [said a UNHCR spokesperson] (link).
Al Jazeera reports on the widening of the areas of conflict, featuring a journalist's experience in Kapisa province, north of Kabul. Their reporter, meanwhile, shows Afghan goevernment claims of security to be highly questionable:
General Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defence department, said: "The only organisation which is carrying out military operations in this area is the Afghan National Army and they have the trust of the people. ...
However, Al Jazeera's producer travelled with the Taliban for five hours in Tabag district and saw no sign of Afghan or American forces. (link)
Our allies, the warlords [Warning: disturbing content]
On the other hand, there are areas of Afghanistan where Taliban insurgents are not active, yet the people there continue to suffer from a lack of security and the rule of law. Takhar province is one such area. There, as IWPR reports, warlords who are part of Afghanistan's parliament rule through violence and intimidation:
While attention focuses on fighting in southern Afghanistan, there are parts of the north where the law is made not by Kabul, but by militia commanders who use violence and intimidation to maintain their hold over the civilian population. ...

Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word of her.

“Commander Piram Qul [former mujahidin warlord and current member of parliament] kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother,” he said. “I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul.”

According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local militia commanders in the province.

“The government is lying when it says it’s in control of the country,” he said bitterly. “There is no government here, just local commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the Taleban.” ...
This disturbing picture is confirmed by an official from Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission:
“Five months ago, one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy in Bangee district,” [an AIHRC official] said. “The child was injured, with a perforated bowel. But when the child’s father tried to sue the commander, he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the whole matter was decided in his favour.”

There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, “It is a disaster here.”

A member of parliament who did not want to be named said that the commanders were a law unto themselves.

“Every single former commander has created his own local government in the districts,” said the parliamentarian. “They do whatever they please, with no regard for the law. No one, including the institutions of central government, can do anything without the permission of these local commanders. (link)
Corruption and graft
Interviewed by the BBC, Afghanistan's urban development minister Yousaf Pashthun says that a "land mafia" of well-connected persons has stolen 5,000 sq km of land this year.
Former military commanders, members of parliament and senior officials are seizing land and then selling it on illegally, says Yousaf Pashthun. ...

One man, who lives in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif, told the BBC how an estate that had been in his family for 80 years was taken over by local strongmen.

They drew up false papers, divided the land up into plots and sold it off for private housing, he says.

Although the original owner has taken the case to court, he is not optimistic since the people who stole his land are wealthy and powerful. ...

Mr Pashthun says one of the reasons very little is being done about the problem is that many people in positions of power, including the government, are involved in the land mafia. (link)

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