quinta-feira, dezembro 09, 2004
Afghanistan's George Washington?
"Hamid Karzai has been sworn in as Afghanistan's first-ever elected president - a happy moment for a country that has known decades of desperation. But with much of the country run by warlords and awash in drugs, Mr Karzai has his work cut out"
THE first time is always special. With the inauguration on Tuesday December 7th of Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan has its first-ever democratically elected leader. Many of the world's great and good, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, America's vice-president and defence secretary, attended amid high security. As with the election itself, held in October, threats of violent disruption from the Taliban failed to materialise.
Now Mr Karzai must return to the difficult task of running this still-devastated country. His first challenge will be forming a cabinet, which requires several simultaneous balancing acts. One is ethnic. Mr Karzai is a member of the country's biggest ethnic group, the Pushtun, based in the south. But Afghanistan's minorities include Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others. Such minorities dominated the Northern Alliance, which helped America topple the Taliban regime in late 2001. They were over-represented in the transitional government headed by Mr Karzai before his election. They will expect a healthy number of posts in the new cabinet too.
Some of the choices for his cabinet will be unproblematic. For example, Mr Karzai is expected to offer Yunus Qanuni, his closest challenger in the presidential election and a Tajik, a top job. But other choices are more difficult. What to do with the warlords who run much of the country? In the transitional government, many unsavoury characters were brought in to keep them out of trouble. But this has merely delayed the problem of dealing with them. Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation, has written to Mr Karzai asking him to stiffen his spine, keeping nasty types out of the government and bringing to justice those credibly accused of human-rights abuses.
But Mr Karzai may be tempted to draw at least one warlord into his government: Ismail Khan. As governor of the western province of Herat, Mr Khan ran it like a personal fief, leading Mr Karzai to sack him in September. But his style of local government was actually quite effective, and he was admired by many in the region. Kept outside the government, he would make an irritatingly popular opponent of the president.
Furthermore, Mr Karzai has needed the warlords' help in keeping the country relatively quiet. America has some 18,000 troops in the country, but they are largely confined to hunting Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in the south and east. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), led by NATO, has just 8,000 troops and mostly remains in Kabul, the capital. It may get another 2,000 troops soon, but this will not be enough to make much of a difference on the ground. And the nascent Afghan armys 13,400 troops are poorly trained, ill-equipped and prone to desertion.
Hence the hope for an offer of amnesty to ex-Taliban fighters.
The government has in the past encouraged them to lay down their weapons. But Mr Karzai is soon to announce the first full-fledged programme: the top 100 or so leaders will be excluded from the deal, but the rest will be encouraged to run for office or otherwise take part in rebuilding and reconciliation. An American general told the Associated Press that a successful programme might allow a reduction in American forces after parliamentary elections in April.
But even neutralising the threat from violent Islamists, whether Taliban or al-Qaeda, would not be the end of Afghanistan's troubles. Five years of Taliban rule following seven of warlord-driven civil war and, before that, a decade of Soviet occupation have left the country and its economy a wreck. Its infrastructure is shattered, and per-capita income is just over $240 a year.
It is therefore little surprise that some 10% of the Afghan population is now involved in the cultivation of opium (from which heroin is derived), according to a recent study by the United Nations. The drug is the biggest item in the Afghan economy, and it is booming. This year's crop, at export prices, was worth $2.8 billion - equivalent to 60% of Afghanistan's official GDP in 2003.
And only bad weather kept the harvest from being much bigger-the number of hectares under opium poppy cultivation spiked in 2004. Efforts to get opium farmers to switch to crops like saffron or fruit have been largely unsuccessful." - The Economist Global Agenda (Dec 7th 2004)