South Asia

Sep 8, 2006

‘Taliban taking over’
By Sanjay Suri

LONDON – The Taliban have regained control over the southern half of Afghanistan and their front line is advancing daily, a group closely monitoring the Afghan situation said in a report this week.

The report on the reconstruction of Afghanistan marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US is based on extensive field research in the critical provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Herat and Nangarhar.

“The Taliban front line now cuts halfway through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces,” says a report by the

Senlis Council, an international policy think-tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels.

The report from Senlis, which has reported extensively on Afghanistan over recent years, says: “A humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty has gripped the south of the country.” The report blames “the US-and-UK-led failed counter-narcotics and military policies” for this situation.

“The subsequent rising levels of extreme poverty have created increasing support for the Taliban, who have responded to the needs of the local population,” the report says.

“We are seeing a humanitarian disaster,” said Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council. “There are around Kandahar now camps with people starving, kids dying almost every day, and this is obviously used by the Taliban to regain the confidence of the people, and to regain control of the country.”

The poppy-eradication program has been a disaster, he said. “It is a direct attack on the livelihood of the farmers, so there is a clear connection between the eradication and this humanitarian crisis. All this is being used by the Taliban to say … ‘When we were there we were maybe hard and cruel, but you could feed the family; now look what’s going on.’ They are more and more providing support [and] social services to the local population.”

The US-led nation-building efforts have failed because of “ineffective and inflammatory military and counter-narcotics policies”, the report says. “At the same time, there has been a dramatic underfunding of aid and development programs.”

The disastrous policies could have created the very circumstances for a growth of terrorism that the United States set out to fight, the report says.

“The US policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy,” Reinert said. “The reason that the international force [has been in] in Afghanistan for the last five years is to make sure that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for international terrorists.”

But the rise of the Taliban is still short of a rise in terrorism, he said.

“Right now we cannot say we see a lot of foreign elements; we see the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said. “We see basically the neo-Talibans as they are called – they are Afghans, they are people from the communities, they are from the Pashtun tribes who have been fighting in the south for so many years. In a way it is a civil war which is being waged over there.”

Hunger is leading to anger, the report says, adding that lack of funding from the international community means the Afghan government and the United Nations World Food Program are unable to address Afghanistan’s hunger crisis. “Despite appeals for aid funds, the US-led international community has continued to direct the majority of aid funds towards military and security operations.”

Reinert said: “Five years after [September 11, 2001], Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and there is a hunger crisis in the fragile southern part of the country. Remarkably, this vital fact seems to have been overlooked in the funding and prioritization of the foreign policy, military, counter-narcotics and reconstruction plans.”

Consequently the international community has lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, the report says..

The report warns of difficult conditions in makeshift, unregistered refugee camps of starving children and civilians displaced by narcotics-eradication and bombing campaigns.

These camps also accommodate families who have left their homes because of violence and fighting, the report says. Some are there because their homes have been destroyed by coalition forces’ interventions in the “war on terror” and the current heightened counter-insurgency operations, it says.

“Right from 2001, the US-led international community’s priorities for Afghanistan were not in line with those of the Afghan population,” said Reinert. “It is a classic military error: they did not properly identify the enemy.”

The report says military expenditure outpaces development and reconstruction spending by 900% – US$82.5 billion has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan since 2002 compared with just $7.3 billion on development.

The large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths have also fueled resentment and mistrust of the international military presence, the report says. There were 104 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the month of July alone.

Faced with the return of the Taliban, the US and the international community must immediately reassess the entire approach in Afghanistan, the report says.

“Emergency poverty relief must now be the top priority,” said Reinert. “Only then can we talk of nation-building and reconstruction.”

The rise of the Taliban is rapid, he said. “You cannot make peace with the real command of the Taliban. We have to attack the root cause of the growing power of the Taliban, which is poverty [and] the counter-narcotics policy. We have to cut the Taliban from their base so that they will become what they were five years ago, a very small group of isolated terrorists. That’s not the case anymore. Now they are a large part of the population because of the failure of the development policy.”

Reinert said: “In a year we will have a situation where the legitimacy of the Kabul government will be weakened to a point where [it] will not be able to [keep] the country together.”

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