| Soldiers raise a portrait of Ahmed Shah Masood, assassinated a year ago, in Kabul. (Reuters)
Kabul, Sept. 8: While millions of dollars were spent in ousting the Taliban, today hardly any aid is flowing into Afghanistan. It has been eight months since an interim administration was put in place in Kabul, but not a single labour-intensive project has started in Afghanistan as yet.
“We were expecting that in the first year, about 60,000 refugees would return to Afghanistan. Already more than 1.5 million have come back. What will they do back home' How can we help them when the process of reconstruction has not even begun'” asks Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of the transitional government.
He says the donor countries claim that there is no capacity in Afghanistan to absorb foreign aid. “But my question is — how will we even begin to build that capacity if we do not start receiving any aid'” Abdullah asks.
The international community, he says, has invested a lot in Afghanistan and, therefore, he feels that the aid for reconstruction must not get tied up with bureaucratic procedures.
“Afghanistan is a test case for the international community and its credibility. After all, this country was being ruled by al Qaida. Today, it is no longer a centre of terrorism and it is no longer a threat to world peace or stability. But it needs to remain so,” he says. Without a robust process of reconstruction, stability would not return to the country, he feels.
However, stability also depends crucially on ensuring internal peace, according to Abdullah. The greatest barrier to that is the constant undercurrent of power tussle between the different ethnic groups. The dominant ethnic group is the Pushtuns, who inhabit the southern parts of the country. Kandahar, the former Taliban capital, is in the heart of the Pushtun belt. The Pushtun areas almost go around in an arc circling the Hazaras who live in the central part of Afghanistan. To the north are found the Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Turkoman, who have ethnic affiliations with populations across the Amu Darya (Oxus) in Central Asia. Each ethnic group has its own warlords. In the wake of the rout of the Taliban and al Qaida, they have come only to a tenuous power sharing arrangement.
Today, the Tajiks really rule Kabul while Hamid Karzai is the US attempt to give a Pushtun face to the government to appease the dominant ethnic group. However, the regional governors have scant or no regard for the writ of the Karzai government. That is perhaps why Abdullah feels that the Central government in Kabul had to be helped to increase its capacity to govern and “integrate its authority in the regions”.
The International Security Force (ISAF) set up to help bring about order is limited to Kabul alone and is reluctant to include the regions into its ambit. “Although ISAF’s presence in Kabul has a salutary effect in the rest of the country, what we need is to build capacity to deal with our security problems,” Abdullah said. The Kabul government has no standing army which can extend its authority to the provinces. Now an army with an upper limit on its strength of 18,000 is being created.
When asked about the need to start a political process going beyond the present “arrangement” to govern, Abdullah said the political process started with the Bonn Agreement. “Now we have to see that all of us get our share in governance and no one is discriminated against. The political process also got a fillip when a pact came into being between the people of Afghanistan and the government through the Loya Jirga. Now we have to formulate a Constitution under which elections could be held. But if you ask me is the process good enough, then a judgement would have to be made,” he said.
About Indo-Afghan relations, Abdullah said: “India supported us against the Taliban. Of course, it was only political support and the speculation that we received military help is incorrect. Our relations are very good with India and it continues to help us in the reconstruction of our country.”