- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

How long will American armed forces remain in Afghanistan? One might just as well ask how long is a piece of string.

Last February, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher said, "The President continues to believe the purpose of the military is to be used to fight and win wars, and not to engage in peacekeeping." Yet, the Defense Department has just announced the assignment of an elite U.S. force as bodyguards to protect Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai from possible assassination. The American troops will supplement a protection detail for Mr. Karzai provided by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

ISAF consists of 5,000 soldiers from 18 nations led by Turkey. It had been charged with the role of exclusive peacekeeper. Though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the security detail for American soldiers could last several months, and viewed the deployment as "a relatively short term matter," the action unquestionably deepens the commitment of the U.S. to the peacekeeping process.

The concerns for Mr. Karzai's personal security are well founded.

Afghanistan by any measure is a rough neighborhood. Military power is dispersed among rivalrous warlords. Last February, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Abdul Rahman was beaten to death near Kabul Airport, and recently Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir was shot dead while driving out of his ministry building on his first day of work. In April, the convoy of Defense Minister Mohammed Qassem Fahim was the target of a remotely detonated bomb planted on a Jalalabad roadside. Kabul driveby shooters have fired upon peacekeepers.

None of those deemed responsible have been even arrested let alone prosecuted. Violence in recent days has involved fierce shootouts between militants and peacekeeping forces, including U.S. Special Forces. There is also concern about virtually unstoppable attacks by al Qaeda members or Taliban remnants against international civilian or military targets.

The assassinations show the vulnerability of a fledgling government that is fighting to stay alive. One need not recount the years of brutal warfare, political instability and lawlessness that has cursed Afghanistan for the last 30 years since King Zahir Shah was deposed. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan's notorious production and export of opium reached daunting levels.

Interdicting the drug trade, maintaining security and restoring political stability may involve a number of conceivable approaches. We have already tried to marginalize warlords whom we consider to be outside the political process. The CIA even tried to "take out" one such leader by firing a missile at him from an unmanned drone.

The international community pledged last January $4.5 billion in reconstruction finance, payable over five years, but there are complaints the pace of funding has been delayed with most delivered assistance going for humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, urgently needed repairs to infrastructure, including roadbuilding, are left undone. There is, of course, the concern that reconstruction money remain in the country and not leave in the suitcases of tribal chieftains so funding bogs down in bureaucratic control procedures.

On the subject of human rights, the interim government says it is addressing this problem. There are reports of mass graves in the Bamian region, northwest of Kabul, where the Hazara tribe, Shi'ite Muslims of Asian origin, has been the major victim of local ethnic cleansing. Yet, to date no one has been charged with crimes against humanity, and there is little prospect that this will happen.

Factional fighting and banditry are major obstacles to rebuilding the country.

A key security issue for congressional leaders has been the expansion of the international peacekeeping force to the major cities outside of Kabul. But the Bush administration says the force is needed elsewhere to track down al Qaeda.

We appear to have staked our all on the Loya Jirga (Great Council) process for a new constitution and eventual elections, which will take at least two years to play out. Already, the process is under attack as the interim government is dominated by ethnic Tajik members of the Northern Alliance. Ethnic Pashtuns, claiming to comprise 60 percent to 70 percent of the population, feel particularly disenfranchised by the process and may well seek to undermine it.

As the International Crisis Group has observed in a recent paper, the success of the Loya Jirga will be "based much less on the fairness of the process than on the fairness of the outcome." And the outcome may not be apparent for some time to come. The mantra for the American objective remains security, security, security. But how do we create security without involving the American military in the very peacekeeping or nation building roles the president says he has ruled out?

If we have any exit strategy at all, it must involve expansion of the mandate and scope of ISAF from its current strength of roughly 5,000 to more than 30,000. In addition, the international community, notably Britain, Germany and the U.S., should step up its role in training and equipping a national police force and a national army. The peacekeeping force, moreover, should be expanded beyond Kabul to cover the main cities in the country, as well as arterial transport routes. A credible legal system, including vigorous investigation and prosecution of human-rights violations must also be key features of any effective program.

Afghanistan is a poor, remote multiethnic country that matters to all of us. On September 11, 2001, it constituted a threat well beyond its borders to our national security .This must never be permitted to happen again.

James D. Zirin is a partner in the New York office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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