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Afghanistan: New Report Sets the Record Straight

To: Interested Parties
From: Robert O. Boorstin, Senior Vice President for National Security

The Bush administration is celebrating its recent contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan and crowing about what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called “a big success story.” A closer look shows, however, that the White House is once again taking its bows long before the curtain falls.

To be clear: the overthrow of the Taliban government after Sept. 11, 2001, was undoubtedly the most effective strike to date in the administration’s efforts to undermine al Qaeda and its supporters. But the administration’s failure to follow up with a real commitment to establishing stability and reconstructing the country threatens to turn back the clock. Taliban attacks are on the rise, security is virtually non-existent outside Kabul, the latest opium harvest is one of the largest on record, and elections have been postponed.

Last week’s pledges at the international donor conference were a step forward, but far from enough. For in-depth analysis, I recommend that you consult “Building a New Afghanistan: The Value of Success, the Cost of Failure,” a report just issued by NYU’s Center on International Cooperation in concert with CARE. The report outlines significant threats, including:

  • Taliban resurgence. Taliban attacks “since early spring of last year, reached their highest levels since the collapse of the Taliban government,” according to Senate testimony from the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in late February. The terrorists are not “gone,” as administration officials have claimed, but remain active and deadly.
  • Skyrocketing opium production. In 2003, Afghanistan produced three quarters of the world’s illicit opium, and cultivation levels registered close to the highest ever recorded. Unfortunately, “the opium sector is poised for yet more explosive growth” this year. The opium-based economy makes it easier for warlords to dominate the provinces and for the Taliban and others to fund terrorist activities.
  • Insecure environment. The security situation in the country is dire outside of Kabul. Eleven aid workers were killed in a three-week period from February to March, a number “nearly equal to the total of such fatalities in Afghanistan for all of 2003.” Moreover, “attacks show no sign of abating” this year.
  • Underfunded reconstruction. Of the $7 billion pledged to Afghanistan by donors between January 2002 and February 2004, only $2.9 billion has been disbursed. Of that amount, “at least one third has gone for emergency relief rather than reconstruction.” The $2.9 billion is “less than two thirds of the income Afghans earned from the [illicit] drug industry” over the same two-year period.
  • Delayed political transition. Parliamentary and presidential elections originally scheduled for June have been officially postponed until September, due to security concerns and the registration of less than 15 percent of eligible voters. But even delaying the elections by three months may not be adequate. In fact, “it will probably be impossible to hold parliamentary elections this year, given their complex political, administrative, and security requirements.”
  • A potential quagmire. Afghanistan needs at least $27.5 billion in aid over the next seven years to be “on the road to sustainable security.” If the international community fails to increase assistance, the central government will remain largely impotent. Security will be unsustainable over time and “coalition forces are likely to confront a situation from which they cannot withdraw.”

See two short American Progress papers for more details.

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