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AFGANISTAN Hardship lingers 1 year after US war

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Hardship lingers 1 year after US war

By Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, 11/17/2002

KABUL, Afghanistan - One year after US warplanes drove the Taliban from Kabul, few in Afghanistan's capital long for their return, but it's also hard to find anyone who thinks the world has kept its promise to help the Afghans.

The face of Kabul has changed since the Taliban retreated south. Traffic jams stretch for blocks. Women are in the streets, most still in burkas or hidden behind large shawls. But gone are the men with wooden sticks and steel cables who beat women for exposing their faces.

''Yes, things are much better for women. No one is beating them. There is no law to wear the burka. Girls are in school. But still there are a lot of problems,'' said Sima Samar, head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission.

For one, President Hamid Karzai's government is perceived as weak and its control is largely confined to the capital. Religious restrictions have crept back into the administration, with the establishment of a religious instructions department, television censorship, and criticism of schools for girls - some say with the approval of some in the government.

Warlords, who rule by virtue of their private armies, are stronger today than a year ago.

The search for fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban troops has strengthened the country's regional bullies, permitted the Defense Ministry to flout a UN-brokered agreement, and some say even sabotage attempts to build a national army.

''The problem now is because of the warlords. In some cases, they are an official threat,'' said Yusuf Pashtun, minister of housing and urban development.

''It is the weakness of the central government that is allowing these people to operate,'' he said in an interview Tuesday in Kabul.

But a former Afghan general said the first mistake was when the US-led coalition allowed Northern Alliance troops, their allies in the war on terror, to enter the capital on Nov. 13, 2001, when the Taliban fled. They began to rule by force and to discriminate according to their own ethnic alliances. Most of the Defense Ministry is Tajik, like Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim.

Another mistake was allowing the Northern Alliance to dominate the transitional Cabinet named in Bonn, Germany. At the same time, Fahim was allowed to flout the Bonn accord when he refused to withdraw his military from Kabul.

The UN-organized loya jirga, or grand council - which was supposed to bring in a broad-based government last June - gave unprecedented power to the warlords and allowed Fahim to retain the Defense Ministry.

As attempts to build a national army foundered, some in Kabul - including government officials who didn't want their names used - said the United States began to rethink its policy of complete support for the Defense Ministry. Washington wants a broad-based national army, to bring security to Afghanistan and ensure there is no resurgence of a Taliban-type movement that could allow Al Qaeda to flourish.

But so far, Western diplomats have said Fahim has been reluctant to help form a national army that would whittle away his control.

At the same time, Karzai has increasingly criticized the warlords, whose bickering threatens aid to some parts of the country.

Last month, he issued his first real threat, saying: ''If anyone thinks our flexibility, our compassion, humorous words, and admiration will last until doomsday, they are wrong. If they do not improve, I will sack them.''

This month he did just that, dismissing several commanders and two senior intelligence men. He recently said the dismissals would not be the last. ''There will be more,'' he said, refusing to elaborate.

No one expected it to be easy to rebuild Afghanistan, ravaged by 23 years of war and repression.

Still, Karzai says, some progress has been made in the last year.

''We are so much better off today than we were at this time last year because we are back together as one nation, one Afghanistan,'' he said.

But security remains elusive, despite the presence of international peacekeepers in Kabul, where in the last year two government ministers have been slain in broad daylight. Dozens of small bombs have exploded, and one car bomb killed 30 people.

For Karzai, the danger of trying to pull his nation together was evident earlier this year when a would-be assassin opened fire in the southern city of Kandahar.

''Security is the biggest problem,'' said Samar, the head of the Human Rights Commission. ''We thought by now there would have been progress disarming people, but there hasn't been.''

Pashtun, the minister of housing and development, complained the international community has been slow to invest in Afghanistan.

''We have not been able to create alternative employment for these tired fighters,'' he said.

Yet the world community has sent $1.8 billion to Afghanistan.

''When we heard this, it was a shock to everyone, to the government, the people, even the UN,'' said Pashtun. ''Where did that money go?''

Pashtun said the Afghan administration has seen only $80 million. The rest went to nongovernment organizations or was spent through the United Nations, much of it through the World Food Program. Pashtun said $650 million was spent by the UN agency, nearly half for transportation.

The global charity CARE International warned Afghans believe that the promises of the world community are empty.

CARE warned that time is running out. ''Without separate funding for both emergency needs and reconstruction, need will turn to resentment, which in turn will inflame security, making reconstruction increasingly difficult,'' a recent CARE report said.

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 11/17/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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