Ailing Afghanistan Still Not Recovering: Change the Doctor

If you are an ailing patient, you take any medication the doctor prescribes without much questioning, hoping for the best. But if, after a few days, you are still sick, you return to the doctor’s office and usually he, while asking you to be patient, changes your medication and tries to find something more adequate. But if it is still not working, then you, the patient, start doubting of your doctor’s ability and wisely seek the advice of another one and even replace him. This is exactly where Afghanistan stands today. Afghans have had to deal with an incompetent medical team for almost three years now and there is a drastic need to look for a new direction, for an efficient remedy, that would put the country back on its feet.

Mr. Karzai and his cabinet (in effect The Cabinet of Dr. Khalilzad) have mostly been incompetent in healing Afghanistan’s wounds and putting it back on the path to recovery. Part of the problem is that Mr. Karzai and his cabinet are twice impotent: one reason is that the real control is in the hands of the United-States and Ambassador Khalilzad pulls the strings; the other reason is that the interim Government has not been able to extend its control even an inch beyond… let’s say Kabul, to be charitable, in three years of power!

Suffice is to state the evidence of an alarming situation: security keeps deteriorating, drug production is in sharp increase and, not unrelated to these two previous points, regional warlordism is striving and taking root. So what did the US-backed Karzai government achieve since its inception? It is sad to say that the results are beyond meager. So little was done in three year of time that one has to very plainly state that the Bush Administration’s prophylaxis for Afghanistan’s recovery is a failure. After three years of hope and efforts by the international community – not discounting the efforts made by the Afghans themselves -, there is no serious countrywide reconstruction (apart from what individual entrepreneurship may have achieved on its own merit), no real security and no responsible, accountable political institutions are in sight in Afghanistan. In the absence of all the previous premises, it is difficult to imagine how a real democracy – not just an insipid ersatz good enough to compliment a 15 seconds advertisement spot for the Bush reelection campaign, but one that would benefit the Afghans – can come to being? Afghans deserve better than that, starting with respecting their sovereignty as a Nation, as a State, as a People.

United Nations’ Failure Too

The United Nations holds its share of responsibility in the present failure in Afghanistan too. As an organization that has been mandated by its members to bring back peace through a normalization process and to assist, through its many agencies, the country’s recovery, we can say that it has largely failed to do a decent job. Through the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, the UN has compromised too many times and done a poor job by setting the standards very low, from Bonn throughout the different steps of the process until the current electoral undertaking.

The United Nations’s lack of judgment can currently be witnessed in the repatriation process in which it is involved through the UNHCR (in association with the IOM [1]) where it is helping Tehran and Islamabad press Afghans to return to their homes; including, in the case of Iran, in agreeing to silently participate in a forced repatriation campaign irrespective of human rights. The repatriation is happening while tens of thousands of Afghans who have returned from Pakistan and Iran since the first days following the fall of the Taliban still live in the direst conditions in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan! After three years, these refugees still live in precarious slums while Mr. Karzai’s friends and cabinet members are building multi-million dollar compounds for themselves and while billions of dollars from donor countries stream in for Afghanistan’s “reconstruction”. It would be an ethical methodology for the UNHCR and other agencies involved (IOM)* to elevate the standards of their action by entering into the equation a minimum of planning as to what happens to these refugees once they’ve returned volens –” nolens to their homeland. I do not think the UNHCR or the IOM can consider their mission accomplished by simply providing the retuning families with some petty cash, a mining awareness leaflet and some food to survive a few days.

The road to Afghanistan’s overall recovery and normalization passes through the understanding that higher standard and accountability ought to be requested from all the major players involved in Afghanistan at this time: this includes Afghanistan’s political and militia leaders, the United States and allied countries involved in “Enduring Freedom”, the United Nations and, why not, the NGOs. Without higher standards and the demand for accountability, the wounded, weakened, immunodeficient Afghanistan will not recover and might catch another Taliban/Al-Qaeda type of transmissible virus that would be deadly to all.


[1]. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is not a UN agency but works in collaboration with on these issues.