precariously close. The international community is blatantly out of touch with realities on the ground, while ordinary Afghans increasingly regard NATO troops as the new occupiers, not unlike the Soviets of the 1980s. For many, Afghanistan is no longer theirs, but a land run by outsiders.
The US-led engagement following the collapse of the Talib regime in
late 2001 was billed to Afghans as a commitment to help Afghanistan
achieve stability and recovery.
Today, however, a mixed and often futile agenda of military counter insurgency and narcotics operations is absorbing the bulk of western investment. At the same time, holed up in their heavily fortified compounds, the US and other international missions are finding themselves increasingly cutoff from both the country and its people.
Incidents such as the Coalition bombing in early September in Kunduz
with its high civilian casualties have only deepened Afghan
resentment. Civilians complain bitterly about the foreign troops,
including mercenaries, who halt traffic at the end of a gun, fire on
vehicles, or enter homes and clinics without apology.
me: "They have no manners and treat us like dogs. It is time for them
The growing militarization of operations in Afghanistan mean that even
long-standing humanitarian activities have become suspect in the eyes
of Afghans. With nearly three-quarters of the country now considered
"no go" zones" by the United Nations, recent years have witnessed a
rise in insurgent attacks against aid workers.
The internationals have developed a siege mentality, partly encouraged by the private security companies benefiting from a lucrative business that now accounts for up to one quarter of operational budgets. Most American, British and other international mission staff are not allowed out of their heavily barricaded compounds, often for months on end. Only the chosen few can leave, and then usually only accompanied by armed guards, which hardly encourages interaction with local Afghans.
their way of persuading Afghans that they are here for their own good.
For the humanitarians, this will only undermine their integrity and
make it even more hazardous to work. They also fear that European
donors will fall in line with Washington by making their funding
contingent on collaborating with the military.
During a recent return visit to Afghanistan, I probed scores of
Afghans, international aid workers and mission representatives with
longtime experience in the country over how to put the recovery
process back on track. All stressed the deepening isolation of the
international community as the main reason for the crumbling recovery effort.
Some described the western effort as "completely out of control" with
funds poorly spent and little effective coordination. As one seasoned
British NGO coordinator maintained, the military refuse to recognize
how much they are hated, no matter how they dress it up, while the way aid is dispersed is "disastrous."
"There're a lot of people in complete denial about what is being achieved," he said.
International representatives, including senior NATO officers, admit
that such bunkering severely compromises their ability to stay
informed. As one senior adviser with US special envoy Richard
Holbrooke admitted, remaining in touch with what's happening on the
outside of the sprawling US embassy compound in Kabul is their
Experienced players warn that the corrosive lack of knowledge about
Afghanistan among Western 'experts' is another crippling factor. There is a lot of comment being made by people who have no idea what they are talking about, and yet are the ones in charge of shaping Western policy in Afghanistan, they maintain.
Although considerable strides have been made in health and education, uncontrolled corruption threatens even these gains. American and other foreign companies are regularly granted major contracts despite vaulting overheads and high salaries with as little as five percent reaching Afghanistan itself. Hundreds of millions of dollars vanish yearly into the pockets of corrupt Afghan officials.
International now ranks Afghanistan as the fifth most corrupt country
in the world, just behind Haiti.