RFE/RL analyst Amin Tarzi says that nearly five years after the demise of the Taliban regime, many Afghans still have two main concerns -- security and food for their families.
"September 11, for the vast majority of the Afghans, brought a chance for them to get out from under the yoke of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda," he says. "The presence of foreign forces and foreign investments led by the United States was a hope, but... Afghanistan is no longer a success story as it was in the first two or three years after the Taliban regime fell. There are a lot of successes. But they have been overshadowed by A lack of progress in some major areas -- the issue of narcotics, the issue of the dispensation of justice. And also, justice and security go hand in hand."
In recent weeks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has touted accomplishments since late 2001, reminding ordinary Afghans how desperate their plight had been five years ago.
During "four years of achievement," he said 4 1/2 million refugees had returned, children had returned to school, and Afghans have voted in presidential and parliamentary elections. He also stressed creation of a new constitution, and improvements in the economy.
The Afghan president insists that most ordinary Afghans still want the presence of foreign security forces despite "mistakes," a reference to the deaths of civilians in military operations.
"The Afghan people...very much want the presence of the international community because we recognize as a nation that we will not be able to travel this road alone without the international community. Whether it is the fight against terrorism, or whether it is the defense of Afghanistan against terrorism, or the rebuilding of Afghanistan toward a better, more prosperous future."
The International Community's Approach Must Change
Chris Alexander, the deputy special representative in Afghanistan of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says the progress made in Afghanistan during the last five years should not be underestimated.
"A huge number of refugees have returned. Roads have been built. A huge number of schools are now open that simply were not open several years ago. And a large part of this country -- most of this country -- is engaged in development and is engaged in reconstruction. But the job is not over."
Alexander also recognizes that resurgent Taliban violence in southern Afghanistan is a threat to economic development.
"The serious challenges of security in southern Afghanistan this year are acute enough, are grave enough, that the approach of the Afghan government [and] the approach of the international community in support of the Afghan government is going to have to be different," he said. "And we are going to have to deliver on our commitments with a rigor and with a diligence that we probably haven't seen up until now, given the scale of violence in southern Afghanistan."
Afghan Army Needs To Replace NATO As Soon As Possible
For NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Afghanistan has become the alliance's primary mission. He says institution building -- the drafting and approval of a new Afghan constitution, the democratic election of a president, the formation of an elected parliament, and the creation of provincial councils -- has given Afghanistan ownership of its own reform process.
But de Hoop Scheffer also worries about the threat posed by resurgent Taliban violence to the goal of bringing prosperity to ordinary Afghans.
"There is still a lot to do on all sides," he says. "There is no security without development. A precondition for development is security. NATO came and will stay to provide and to see that that climate of security and stability is provided. That should be matched by the development side of the coin. That is, of course, the United Nations, the European Union, the Group of Eight, the bilateral international donors -- and also, the Afghan government."
The NATO secretary-general also says the recruitment and training of Afghanistan's government security forces need to be quicker.
"Part of an exit strategy -- which is as important for NATO as it is for the Afghan government -- is, or course, development. It is training of the Afghan National Army. It is the training of the Afghan National Police. They want to take responsibility for their own country as soon as possible. NATO's contribution is a longer-term commitment. There is no way we are going to leave. But the Afghans should be able to take their own country into their own hands as soon as possible."
'The Hand Destroying Afghanistan'
Afghan Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel has complained recently that political thuggery among rival warlords is hampering development in Afghanistan. He has called for political parties that support some warlords to be disbanded in an attempt to curb warlordism.
Meanwhile, Karzai has expressed concern about the findings of a UN report that documents record opium-poppy cultivation across Afghanistan this year. The report was presented to Karzai on September 2 by Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. A detailed summary of the report will be publicly released on September 12.
Karzai blames Afghanistan's drug barons for the closure of schools in Helmand Province, the killing of mullahs in Kandahar, and a slower-than-hoped pace of development.
"There are three hands responsible for the insecurity in Afghanistan," he says. "The first is terrorism. The second is foreign interference in support of terrorism. And the third is the money that comes from the opium poppy trade. In the end, all three come together as one hand. And that is the hand that is destroying Afghanistan."
Karzai says Kabul's counternarcotics campaign must get stronger every year until the problem is eradicated. He says an important part of the effort will be to remove corrupt officials from government offices and to reform the justice system so that powerful warlords and drug barons are held accountable for crimes.
OPIUM FARMING ON THE RISE Despite a nationwide program by the Afghan government to eradicate opium-poppy fields and offer farmers alternative crops, international experts say that the 2006 opium crop will be as much as 40 percent larger than the previous year's. Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world, and the source of as much as 90 percent of Europe's heroin.(more)