Within hours of Tony Blair’s announcement of troop withdrawals from Iraq, defence minister Des Browne confirmed that an extra 1,400 British troops were to be deployed in Afghanistan.
The decision was welcomed by Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, who applauded the government for committing extra resources to the “winnable” campaign in Afghanistan.
Yet the occupation of Afghanistan is far from winnable. Rather, it is fast approaching “breaking point”, with a collapse in support for the US-backed government and growing backing for the insurgency.
These are the findings of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in a survey financed by USAID, an arm of the US government.
The report, entitled Breaking Point: Measuring Progress In Afghanistan 2007, is based on a wide ranging survey that includes thousands of interviews with ordinary Afghans and analysis of news stories and opinion polls.
It makes grim reading for those who claim that, unlike Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan has a chance of success. Every indicator shows not only that 2006 was a bad year for the occupation, but that the situation will get worse.
The latest report follows similar CSIS surveys, conducted over the last few years, which painted a glowing portrait of the occupation.
The new report warns that much of this optimism has evaporated. Since 2005 conditions in the country have led to the growing isolation of the US-backed government in Kabul. The report concludes that popular “expectations have not been met”.
Ordinary Afghans have lost faith in the government, security, social services, justice system and democracy. Even those who support the occupation now doubt it has a long term future.
The cause of this failure is the very institutions put in place after the US invasion in 2001.
The survey found that the legitimacy of the government has “deteriorated”, with Hamid Karzai, the president, running an administration riddled with nepotism and corruption. The CSIS report blames “abusive elements in the government, police and local commanders”.
Despite the much publicised building of new courts and police stations, the survey found that most ordinary people prefer justice to be dispensed by tribal authorities, as many cannot afford to bribe judges or pay court costs.
Even the Afghan army, on which the future stability of the occupation depends, is unable to retain new recruits. The insurgents are winning over disillusioned soldiers and pay four times the rate of the national army – despite it receiving billions of dollars of US military aid. The army “remains ineffective and held in low esteem”.
The vast majority of Afghans, who make their living in agriculture, are sinking deeper into poverty and are forced to grow opium poppies to survive. Even here money matters, as the poorest are unable to bribe local officials to save their crop from US?sponsored eradication programmes.
Five years into the occupation basic services remain nonexistent. The capital Kabul only gets two hours of electricity a day, while the rest of the country is left in darkness.
The most shocking finding for the supporters of the occupation – and those who want more troops to be sent there – is that the occupation is fuelling insurgency.
“Nato and the US’s ‘big army’ military operations and emphasis on foot soldier ‘kills’ are doing more damage than good,” the report warns. “The ensuing collateral damage in a culture that emphasises revenge has created ‘ten enemies out of one’ and has disillusioned most Afghans.”
These conclusions fly in the face of repeated press statements from Nato officials that overstate the number of insurgents they kill – and blame civilian deaths on the Taliban.
Although the bulk of the fighting is restricted to the south and east, insecurity is growing across the country, with Kabul becoming increasingly unstable.
Last week a rally of 25,000 in Kabul demanding an amnesty for those accused of war crimes rapidly turned into a protest against the occupation. Groups of demonstrators marched around the capital chanting, “Death to America,” and “Death to the enemies of Afghanistan.”
The report notes that while the Taliban forms the bulk of the resistance, it has grown to include many anti-occupation forces. Insurgents have become more sophisticated, adpating their tactics and fielding “battalion size forces”.
Seema Patel, one of the report’s authors, told a seminar in Washington on 23 February that the survey results are distorted by more “positive statements” in the media, government and aid agencies. Ordinary Afghans are more pessimistic, she said.
The departing US commander in Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry, told the US Congress earlier this month that “a point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people, and the goal of establishing a democratic, moderate, self-sustaining state could be lost forever.”
“We find his predictions are in line with our findings,” Patel admitted.
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