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Afghanistan: Kabul Cautiously Welcomes Interim Administration

  • Charles Recknagel

The UN-sponsored accord between four Afghan factions to form a new interim administration for Afghanistan is getting a cautious welcome today from many in Kabul.

Kabul, 6 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The first reaction of many in Kabul to the news that Afghanistan would soon get a new interim administration was to hail the accord but safeguard their money. The announcement, made yesterday in Bonn, caused people here to rush to protect their savings by selling their Afghan currency for U.S. dollars. The rush caused the Afghan currency, the Afghani, to plunge immediately in value from a pre-announcement rate of some 32,000 Afghanis to the dollar to 38,000.

But the run on dollars soon leveled off, with the afghani beginning to gain value again by today. By midday, the local currency had recovered 80 percent of the ground it had lost overnight.

Currency exchangers here say that such runs on hard currency are normal whenever Afghanistan goes through yet another change of government. So the sudden drop in the afghani's value may be better interpreted as a protective reflex action than a lack of confidence in the country's political future.

Abdul Wali is a currency exchanger in Kabul's main market, which straddles the city's central riverbed -- now dry for the winter season. He says he is encouraged by the Bonn accord, which provides for the handover of power on 22 December to the new interim administration. The administration, to run for six months, is to be headed by Hamid Karzai, a former deputy foreign minister of the pre-Taliban mujahedin government.

The administration, whose key Foreign, Defense, and Interior ministries will go to the Northern Alliance, will be responsible for preparing a national assembly, or Loya Jirga, to establish a broad-based transitional government to move toward general elections.

But the money exchanger, like many others here, says he will withhold final judgment on the new accord until he sees a Loya Jirga actually convened. The Loya Jirga is to be held under the auspices of former Afghan King Zahir Shah, who is widely seen as one of the few figures disinterested enough to take the country beyond the factional politics that characterize it today.

That cautious welcome for the Bonn accord may be typical in Kabul, a war-weary city that has reacted with no public demonstrations for or against yesterday's announcement.

Najibullah, a shop owner in the main market, says he welcomes any news that promises the prospect of peace and stability for the country: "For the people of Afghanistan, and especially Kabul, the situation [under the Taliban] was very bad. So we welcome the arrival of the interim administration, and we welcome the arrival of Afghans in Europe and especially of the exiled King Zahir Shah."

The accord creating the interim administration comes just weeks after the Taliban left the capital to the Northern Alliance without a fight. Many here say the changeover has given grounds for a rare sense of optimism as the city has stayed peaceful and, unlike many other parts of the country, feels secure.

Money trader Wali expresses a sense of security in the capital: "With the fall of the Taliban, people thought that the security situation might deteriorate. But, with the help of Allah, no such thing has occurred. And in general, after the fall of the Taliban, business has very much improved."

Another shopkeeper, Abdul Sami, agrees. He sells candies and sweetcakes in one of the capital's many other smaller markets. He says his business is also benefiting from the city's sense of security, which is in sharp contrast to the situation in the south and east of Afghanistan: "The security in Kabul is better today, but the security situation on the roads [elsewhere in the country] is worse. That affects our buying and selling of products, because when the roads are insecure we are not able to bring in products. For example, from Peshawar, the prices have increased."

The shopkeeper also said he welcomes the accord's request to the UN to consider authorizing the early deployment of an international force to assist in maintaining security for Kabul as new Afghan government forces are established.

A sense of security -- from Kabul to other areas of the country -- will have to be a priority for the new administration. The United Nations said here yesterday that "insecurity remains the most serious single hurdle affecting normal delivery of humanitarian assistance, as the entire eastern and southern regions and parts of the north are difficult or impossible to reach."

Beyond the security questions, the new administration and the international community face a daunting range of other challenges. Here in Kabul, a main concern will be to rebuild the capital's medical infrastructure. A new assessment by the UN's World Health Organization estimates the city has a total medical staff of just some 3,500 professionals. One-third of these are women who, until recently, were banned by the Taliban from working. The study says that means there is one health professional for every 1,700 of the city's residents.

Another challenge in the capital will be to restore Kabul's financial life. The city's industrial zone is a wasteland of gutted factory buildings that have been scavenged for parts during years of inactivity due to the country's collapsed economy.

The international community is due to address the problems of reconstructing Afghanistan at a ministerial-level donors' conference in January. As a World Bank report in November said, "[T]he key economic institutions of the state -- its central bank, treasury, tax collection and customs, civil service, and judicial system -- are all extremely weak or simply missing."