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U.S.: Panel Urges Increased Support For Afghan Government

An independent panel of experts says that without greater support for the Transitional Administration of Chairman Hamid Karzai, security in Afghanistan will deteriorate, prospects for economic reconstruction will dim, and the country will revert to warlord-dominated anarchy. The panel, formed by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, says a failure in Afghanistan could erode America's credibility around the globe and mark a major defeat in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

New York, 20 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A task force composed of former U.S. diplomats and Central Asian experts has joined the latest round of calls for a greater international commitment to the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

One day after the head of UN peacekeeping urged the Security Council to authorize an expansion of security outside Kabul, the task force issued a report calling on Washington to lead efforts to bolster the Transitional Administration of Chairman Hamid Karzai.

The report, issued on 18 June, was co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, both New York-based policy institutions. It says international peacekeepers must be expanded beyond Kabul and that the United States must help accelerate the development of the Afghan National Army.

The report also calls for increased U.S. diplomatic pressure on Afghanistan's neighbors not to undercut the Karzai government by backing warlords or failing to curb pro-Taliban remnants. And it urges donors to provide Afghanistan with $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for each of the next five years.

Frank Wisner is a former U.S. ambassador to India and co-chairman of the report. He says that although progress is visible, bad news still prevails in Afghanistan. "The central feature of our conclusion is that we believe the time is right to focus on a key issue, and that is the strengthening of the Karzai transitional government and making certain that that government succeeds, having around it a proper security context, a proper diplomatic context, and the economic support that's necessary to give Afghanistan a chance to move forward," Wisner said.

At this week's UN Security Council meeting on Iraq, the United States and Britain announced their support for expanding the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. These teams bring together 70 to 100 soldiers trained in reconstruction work and are aimed at creating zones of stability.

But the independent panel's report calls for more. It says any further security deterioration in Afghanistan will have far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign policy and will undermine the global position of Washington as a peacekeeper.

Wisner drew a parallel between the current situation in Afghanistan and U.S. peace efforts in Iraq. "Our credibility as a peacekeeper, our credibility as a warrior against terror, our credibility as a force for stability, our credibility as a mobilizer of international coalitions when crises are reached and if we don't succeed and get it right in Afghanistan -- these points of credibility are all at issue. And with them, I'll suggest as well is our ability to look forward to the kind of exit from Iraq that we as Americans would want to achieve at a certain point. If we can't get it right in Afghanistan, it's going to be a lot harder to convince others to work with us to get it right in Iraq," Wisner said.

The report recommends including peacekeeping as part of the mandate for the 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops stationed outside Kabul, so they can support the central government against defiant warlords. Alternatively, it says, the United States could support an enlargement of the 4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and an expansion of its mandate to operate outside Kabul.

Another contributor to the report is Dennis Kux, who is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. He noted the perils that factional fighting presents for the central government: "There's been an increase in factional fighting around the country and in the south. The Taliban who fled into Pakistan have been coming back across the border from their haven in the tribal areas, creating trouble. It isn't that the Karzai government is in danger of being overthrown -- none of these people have that capability -- but the whole process could unravel. And over time, it could relapse into the anarchy of the 1990s. And that should be the last thing the United States wants."

Nicholas Platt is a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, the president of the Asia Society, and a co-chairman of the report. He cited the report's warning about interference from Pakistan, Iran, and Russia. Platt said that despite their assurances not to interfere in Afghanistan's domestic affairs, these countries clandestinely support opposition groups of their liking.

"The only way to really deal with this is for everybody to agree not to interfere. We have gotten everybody to agree to this. They all made nice, ringing declarations back in 2002 that they will not interfere into the domestic affairs of Afghanistan. But we should mount a big campaign to get various different countries involved to live up to those commitments. Pakistan is first on the list because of the messy situation along the border, the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Platt said.

Marshall Bouton is president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and a co-chairman of the report. He said one of the clear signs of the limited power of the current government is the drastic increase in poppy and opium production in Afghanistan.

"And a sign of the failure today is the extraordinary increase of the poppy production. UN estimates that poppy production in 2002 was up 18 times over what it was in the last year of Taliban rule [in 2001]. And the total value of poppy production that year was greater than that of all of the assistance provided by all of the donors in the same year," Bouton said.

The authors of the report acknowledge that the levels of commitment established at a Tokyo donors meeting early last year have fallen short of the mark. It was estimated then that about $10 billion would be needed, and so far only $5.2 billion of that has been committed. It's evident now, the report says, that the needs are more on the order of $15 billion over five years.

The Asia Society's Platt said the U.S. needs to commit to provide one-third of this, or $1 billion a year over five years -- in addition to relief aid.

"The [Afghan] government has to be seen as the place where you go to get money. And whether it's for building a road or military purposes or just administration of a particular district...if they don't have the power of the purse, they can't be effective. So all of these measures have to be accompanied by ways of channeling the funding to the extent possible through the central government," Platt said.

The co-chairs of the report urge the U.S. government to make sure that U.S. aid programs match the priorities established by the Afghan government and are implemented under its aegis. It says Washington has accepted these ideas in principle but not in practice.