Monday, March 26, 2012

Afghans fear for future when NATO forces leave

KABUL: The shattered shell of Kabul's Darul Aman palace bears witness to Afghanistan's years of brutal civil war, a history many Afghans fear will be renewed when foreign troops leave in 2014.

Designed by French and German architects in the 1920s as part of a new government quarter, the building's lion-headed buttresses are broken, its colonnades pockmarked by bullets, the metal sheets of its roof crumpled.

Like tens of thousands of people in the capital, the palace fell victim to the carnage of the early 1990s as rival mujahideen groups fought for power following the fall of a Soviet-backed regime after Moscow withdrew its troops.

With the end of the NATO mission looming in turn, analysts warn that without a sustainable peace deal, Afghanistan could disintegrate into yet another virulent civil war.

Some Afghans are similarly pessimistic.

"Every time I look at this building I'm too upset, I can't say anything," said Mohammed Gul, 52, who sells drinks and snacks -- along with the occasional toy gun -- from a stall by the palace.

"If this country became good everybody could live in peace. After the Americans go there will be too much fighting," he said. "Again the wars, again the fighting."

He had no confidence in the ability of Kabul's security forces to maintain peace. "The Afghan police, the army, if there is an explosion or a suicide attack they can't do anything."

The central premise of Washington's strategy is to leave behind a nation stable enough to secure itself and thwart an Al-Qaeda renaissance, supported by only a small US presence, subject to agreeing a strategic pact with Kabul.

It is proving a difficult road, with a series of major setbacks this year -- a video showing Americans urinating on Taliban corpses, copies of the Koran being burnt on a US military base and a rampage by a US soldier that left 17 civilians dead -- plunging the countries' relationship to new lows.

After the massacre, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for international troops to be withdrawn from villages -- the frontlines of NATO's anti-Taliban war -- and an accelerated handover of security.

The US commander on the ground, General John Allen, told Congress last week that he thought a future 230,000-strong Afghan force, scaled down from a planned 352,000, was "the right target given what we think will be the potential enemy scenario for 2017".

But a security consultant with 10 years' experience in the country said of the Afghan army and police: "When you see them operating on the ground, their capabilities are pretty dire to be honest."

Even in two years' time, he said on condition of anonymity: "It's pretty unlikely they are going to be able to take care of security operations."

In a report released Monday, the International Crisis Group think tank said "desperate and dangerous moves" by Karzai's government to bring the Taliban and other insurgent leaders to negotiations were unlikely to lead to lasting peace.

The Taliban say they have suspended putative moves towards talks following the US soldier's shootings in Kandahar, and some fear the insurgents are biding their time until NATO leaves.

"The negotiating agenda has been dominated by Washington's desire to obtain a decent interval between the planned US troop drawdown and the possibility of another bloody chapter in the conflict," said the ICG report.

US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall denied this, saying the US would "continue our strategy of defeating Al-Qaeda and strengthening the Afghan state so that terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda can never find a home there again".

The pact -- still subject to thorny negotiations -- would "provide a long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation in the areas of security, economic and social development, and institution building", he added.

Across the road from the palace, a new parliament building has only recently started construction after years of delays, symbolising Afghanistan's slow struggle to achieve any semblance of democratic stability.

Standing by the ruins of the palace -- whose name can mean "home of Amanullah", the king who built it, or "abode of safety" -- 30-year-old doctor Cena Durrani is exactly the kind of young professional that Afghanistan needs.

But he said he would look to leave when foreign forces do: "I am full of hopelessness.

"If the Americans leave Afghanistan we will be like in 1990 and 1991," he added, referring to the very worst of the country's civil war.

"If I were the president of Afghanistan I would contract with them to stay for 1,000 years."

View the original article here

Source From Channel News Asia

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