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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 16:25 GMT
Afghanistan struggles to rebuild
A destroyed bridge in Afghanistan
The task of rebuilding Afghanistan is huge

Here is a parlour game.

Put these countries in order of priority from the post-conflict country which was given most per head by the international community down to the least - Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda, Afghanistan.

And that is actually the order.

If it is ignorance which leads men to war, then bread for education may be as good a use of aid money as any

Afghanistan is at the bottom of the pile, receiving just $75 per person per year, against an average of $250 for the other four.

But this was the first regime change of George Bush's new order, the place where he would "work in the best traditions of George Marshall", whose spending renewed the economies of Europe after World War II.

And it gets worse.

According to Care Afghanistan, who researched these figures, only 40% of the aid which is coming in is going to long-term development.

The rest is for short-term feeding programmes; although in demanding reconstruction funds at the Tokyo conference in January, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan specifically said that the new money pledged should be "separate from and additional to" short-term humanitarian assistance.

Put simply, Afghanistan is getting too little of the right kind of aid.

There is another big argument about the aid, too - over how much should go to the government.

Government make-up

The centre of Kabul is now awash with gleaming white Toyotas, and the only real reconstruction has involved the refurbishment of the best buildings in town for the usual international acronym soup which follows a peace deal, WFP, FAO, Unicef, Unama, and so on.

President Hamid Karzai
Karzai has called for help
All of these agencies do fine work, of course, and many are employing Afghans to head up key departments.

But the government is asking for more of the funds to go through official government channels, which sounds like sense until you look at the people making up the government.

President Hamid Karzai has done little to shake off the widespread view that he is just a convenient figurehead, a Pashtun puppet imposed by the Americans to placate Afghanistan's biggest tribe, which backed the Taleban.

It is outside Kabul that the situation still looks most difficult

Beneath him is an administration where Tajiks from the north-east hold all the key positions.

Some were directly involved in the murderous tussle for power in Kabul in the early 90s. There has been suspicion that the Defence Minister, General Fahim, has been given a specific warning by the Americans after widespread suspicion that he was involved in the assassination of a prominent politician.

I suggested to a diplomat that General Fahim was just biding his time, strengthening his forces with international training before going to war again to take it all for himself.

The diplomat said icily: "I think you are out of date on that."

Lack of confidence

The obvious implication was that the international community believe that General Fahim has now come into line, and does not represent a threat to the established order.

It is hardly a situation which inspires confidence, especially in view of the large numbers of civil servants - one estimate is 340,000 - who expect to remain in their posts.

ICRC aid being distributed in Afghanistan
Too much aid is short-term
But it is outside Kabul that the situation still looks most difficult.

General Dostam's forces have continued fighting with Atta Mohammed's in the north, and the restoration of the regime of Ismail Khan in the west has even incurred a special report by Human Rights Watch.

In the Taleban's spiritual capital, Kandahar, the governor who has replaced the Taleban is a symbol of the past, not the future.

He was last in power here in the days of banditry, corruption and feuding mujahideen which provoked the rise of the Taleban in the first place.

Britain, America and their allies have sent far fewer troops here than to Bosnia or Kosovo after the conflicts there, and most of the Americans have been far too busy chasing the shadows of the remnants of al-Qaeda to do much nation-building.

I watched at Kandahar airport as Chinooks and Apache helicopters continued their operations in the mountains, but on the ground their control does not extend beyond the gates of the camp.

I travelled with British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short, who is keen to send in more troops.

She revealed that American and British forces will soon extend their reach beyond the capital, to train troops and help stabilise the regions.


But it will not be a major increase in troop numbers.

And as Afghanistan looks towards the anniversary of the fall of the Taleban later this month, its people tighten their belts for another winter, hoping that the fragile peace can hold for long enough for roads and hospitals and schools to have time to grow.

The Taleban fighters in Afghanistan
Banditry and corruption are still widespread
I watched children in a school in one of the poorest parts of Kabul, reduced to rubble by warlords in fighting in the early 90s.

They get a piece of bread from the World Food Programme if they come to school, and to them enough peace to guarantee the continued supply of free bread is peace enough.

If it is ignorance which leads men to war, then bread for education may be as good a use of aid money as any, so that these boys do not follow every Afghan man for almost quarter of a century into war.

But it will take much more than that to secure the long term stability of Afghanistan.


Political uncertainty






See also:

07 Oct 02 | South Asia
06 Oct 02 | South Asian Debates
27 Sep 02 | Business
25 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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