Thursday, February 27, 2003
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ASSESSING AFGHANISTAN: President Bush's declaration
ASSESSING AFGHANISTAN: President Bush's declaration that the U.S. will build a free and stable Iraq is causing both supporters and critics to take another look at Afghanistan to see how things are there. Evidence of increasing stability and democracy supports the assertion that Iraq can be remade -- evidence of lawlessness and authoritarianism would suggest more humility.
So what's the situation? Depends on who you ask. Hamid Karzai thinks the Afghan situation is continually improving -- of course, he has a strong political incentive to advocate that line of thinking . That same Chicago Tribune story shows that Democratic Senators believe the situation is deteriorating -- of course, they have strong political incentives to advocate that line of thinking.
"In a city that had a handful of shopworn eating places two years ago, a new Chinese or Italian or American hamburger restaurant opens almost weekly, as well as kebab shops by the score. Small hotels have sprung up, and a $40 million Hyatt is on the way. The food bazaars are bustling and there are downtown blocks filled almost entirely with bridal shops. Rebuilt homes are rising from the ruins, and every little storefront seems to be stuffed with bathtubs or fans or with men building and carving things to be sold....
According to Commerce Minister Seyyed Mustafa Kazemi, the number of foreign firms setting up shop in Afghanistan is growing fast.
He said that in the past six months, his ministry has approved 2,600 business licenses, compared with 2,045 in the 45 years before. Many were given to foreign firms, he said, or those headed by Afghans living abroad who want to return to their homeland. These licensed businesses are the large ones that will pay all taxes and other government fees; most Afghan businesses still open without registration and beyond the reach of central government tax collectors."
However, that report only deals with the situation in Kabul. This Knight-Ridder story suggests much more pessimism about the situation outside the capital:
"More than a year after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government that sheltered Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan is a fractured country torn by ethnic strife and divided regional loyalties. Its roads are impassable and unsafe, plagued by bandits. Opium production is surging. Regional armies owe no allegiance to the national government, and neither do political leaders who run their provinces like little countries....
'The central government is very weak and can't unite the country because it can't obtain the financial support from the international community,' said Abdul Razak, director of commerce in the southern city of Kandahar."
The truth probably lies somewhere in between, though I always trust the report coming from the sticks more than the report coming from the capital. Two final thoughts on this, however.
First, comparing Afghanistan to Iraq is as unfair as comparing it to post-W.W.II Japan. Afghanistan is the toughest test imaginable for post-war reconstruction. The fact that any demonstrable progress has taken place in a society with no sizeable middle class, economic infrastructure, or stable governance for the last 25 years is worth celebrating. Iraqis are not nearly so impoverished, uneducated, or factionalized as Afghans.
Second, for all of the criticism being levied at the U.S. for not doing enough to rebuild the country, it's pretty clear that the U.S. is doing more than others. This Iranian news story paints a slightly discouraging picture of Afghanistan, but not so bad as the Knight-Ridder story. The key line:
"'The US has been true to its pledge much more than the rest of the global community in providing financial assistance to Afghanistan,' said [Tehran representative of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan Qolam-Hussein] Nasseri.
Considering the source being quoted, and the organization doing the quoting, it's tough to argue that the U.S. has fallen down on the job in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: This Washington Post op-ed definitely comes down on the negative side. Of course, I have no idea where they get their info.posted by Dan on 02.27.03 at 11:23 AM