- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

President Hamid Karzai’s eight-day visit to the U.S heralds a new chapter in Afghan-American relations. After he attended the G8 Summit in Sea Island, Ga., Mr. Karzai addressed Chicago and California business leaders.

Today and tomorrow, Mr. Karzai meets with President Bush, key U.S. Cabinet officials and leaders of the U.S. House and Senate. In all these meetings, Mr. Karzai will report on Afghanistan’s emergence from 30 years of war and terrorism.

Since President Karzai’s last U.S. visit 9 months ago, he has led Afghanistan’s remarkable transformation to democracy.

This past winter, the people of Afghanistan adopted a new Constitution, one of the region’s most enlightened and progressive. It guarantees freedom of speech, religion and association, and equal rights and protection for all Afghans. The Constitution guarantees women at least 25 percent of the seats in Afghanistan’s future parliament. Moreover, it envisions a democratic government, with separate executive, legislative and judicial branches, and a free market economy.

In carrying out the Constitution, Afghanistan has adopted laws enabling elections and formation of political parties. As Afghans prepare for their first free elections next September, voter registration continues in every city, every district and hundreds of villages. More than 3 million people have registered to vote; and more than 30 percent of these are women.

A law establishing a free and open media is another major step toward democracy, opening the door for dozens of independent newspapers, magazines and radio stations. Press freedom is noticeable nationwide.

New banking and investment laws promote private-sector growth and encourage foreign investment. Afghanistan’s economy grew more than 25 percent last year. An Asian Development Bank survey sees continued strong expansion, a remarkable development for a post-conflict nation.

Afghanistan’s successes have been many, but numerous challenges remain. Both nationwide internal security and the scourge of narcotics trafficking threaten the new democracy.

The security gap is a major challenge for the Afghan government, with lethal remnants of Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists defying the rule of law. Most of their attacks are launched from the porous Pakistani border region.

Private militias under regional commanders remain active over much of the country. They terrorize ordinary citizens and rob and government revenues and loot historical artifacts and natural resources that belong to the Afghan people.

Narcotics is another major challenge. Cultivation of poppies continues spreading despite government efforts to eradicate it. Drug profits of $2.3 billion fund private militias and terrorists, and undermine development of a legitimate national economy.

The narcotics trade is heavily demand-driven. It won’t stop unless forced eradication of poppies is coupled with moving farmers toward alternative, high-value cash crops and, eventually, a drop in heavy Western demand.

Efforts to rid Afghanistan of the transnational narcotics trade require substantial law enforcement capability and funding the Afghan government does yet not have. Lack of international coordination renders ineffective current eradication efforts.

The Afghan government plans to provide security for its citizens and to cleanse the country of narcotics, but it needs sustainable international assistance to do so.

Security can be addressed by greater investment in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the National Police. Over the last two years, the national army has trained an estimated 10,000 troops. But far more are needed. Private militias around the country are estimated to have 10 times as many fighters.

To disarm the private militias, the Afghan government, with the help of the international community, has designed the Demilitarization, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program. DDR aims to disarm the militias and reintegrate their fighters into jobs or into the ANA. But so far, the DDR program has been disappointing. Many militia commanders — some in key government posts — openly decline to cooperate with the DDR process, refusing to turn over their heavy weapons or decommission their fighters. A carrot-and-stick approach is needed to disarm these private militias. Both carrots and sticks would need come from the U.S. and international community.

Unless Afghanistan’s security and narcotics challenges are addressed, its emerging but fragile democracy is in peril. Without greater U.S. and international support and engagement, these problems will not be solved. Unless Afghanistan’s security institutions are built up and the private militias disarmed, anarchy and instability will remain a threat.

The world remembers what happened when it last ignored Afghanistan. Terrorists rushed to fill the power vacuum. Neither the world nor Afghanistan can afford another failure.

Enayatullah Qasimi is Afghanistan’s minister adviser on legal and international affairs.

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