Afghanistan has been shunted down the agenda of the world’s media recently as the situation in Iraq has worsened, but it remains a key battlefield in the war on terror.
Since October 2001 coalition forces, led by America and the UK, have been trying to establish democracy in the lawless country. Five and a half years later, that goal looks as far away as ever.
Afghanistan was a major concern at this month’s NATO summit. The US is asking its allies to send more troops, and NATO’s secretary general agrees.
“More personnel and money will be put into training, more equipment will be donated to the Afghan national army and police. There will be more forces into NATO-ISAF, to create better conditions for reconstruction and development to take place”, says Jaap de Hoop Sheffer.
However most of the big European miltary powers are dragging their feet about sending more men. Only Britain, pulling out of Iraq, is beefing up its committment by 1400 soldiers, while the Italians are in the middle of a political battle over their forces staying.
NATO now runs the entire show after intially looking after the relatively safe capital, north, and west. The coming year presents an enormous challenge. 2006 was the bloodiest since the ousting of the Taliban, and the resurgent former rulers are flush with cash from a record opium crop.
The International Security and Assistance force or ISAF today has troops from 37 countries, with the most dangerous south and east in US and British hands, who also provide the bulk of the manpower.
More than 35 000 foreign troops are now in Afghanistan. Everyone seems to agree Afghanistan is worth fighting for, unlike Iraq, but that agreement until now has evaporated when it comes to putting troops in danger.
This hesitation may jeopardise the whole project, as the economic redevelopment that is democracy’s reward cannot happen until violence stops.
The longer Afghans have to wait, the more foreign, especially American troops are seen as the problem, and subject to attack.