- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan. — The pictures of the anti-U.S. riots last week in Kabul show the immense contradictions of Afghanistan. Monday’s riot, triggered by a traffic accident involving an American military truck, was the worst since the fall of the Taliban. The next day, however, was absolutely calm, illustrating how impossible it is to predict anything that will happen in Afghanistan. Hikmet Cetin, NATO’s senior civilian representative, says the riots did not accurately express either the level of anti-American sentiment or the people’s attitude toward foreign influences.

“There were different elements in that demonstration,” Mr. Cetin said in an interview. “They were angry against their government, too.” He said it is clear to him that the Taliban knows it is militarily overmatched by the NATO forces preparing to take control in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban [leaders] understand they cannot fight with our military face to face, so they started to use roadside bombs, IEDs and suicide bombers,” Mr. Cetin said. “They are trying to give the impression that there are two powers in this country: the government and the Taliban. They are sending [a] message [to NATO]: don’t come, we will kill you.”

A native of Turkey, the only Muslim country in NATO, his service in Afghanistan is crucial. Afghans remember the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey, and Emanullah Han, and how Ataturk helped them build numerous Afghan state institutions. Dr. Rifki Kamil Urga, who Ataturk sent to Afghanistan, built the first medical school.

Mr. Cetin’s personality is also crucial. He’s a Muslim representing NATO, but to preserve relations he needs to appeal to the Afghan people. He’s not only an official; he is also very popular even among ordinary Afghanis. On days of upheaval like Monday, people ask him what to do, and they learn from him the lessons of how to govern their country.

What’s more, when a former warlord told Mr. Cetin that his community needed a mosque, he replied, “No, you need schools.” He is exactly right to try to show Afghanis what their priorities should be as they learn how to navigate governing and their established religious institutions. Alas, the literacy rate in this country is less than 40 percent — needless to say that the female literacy rate is around 14 percent.

The day after the riot, Mr. Cetin hosted a dinner at his residence for more than a dozen members of the Afghan Parliament. “The day two Canadians were killed in Kandahar, [Canada’s] Parliament decided to extend its stay for another two years,” he told the assembled group of parliamentarians on Tuesday. He noted that Canadian, Dutch and British forces will be doubling the number of troops in the Taliban’s stronghold in the south. The move will change the rules of engagement for NATO forces. And it also proves, Mr. Cetin says, “[w]hen NATO commits itself, it acts decisively.”

Mr. Cetin says he is sure that NATO will defeat the Taliban. But he believes it requires more than military effort. The world should help Afghanistan to stand on its own as a sovereign, independent country, he says.

Some at the dinner raised some thought-provoking points. M. Daoud Sultanzoy, the head of a parliamentary committee on the economy, said that because the West had defeated the Soviet Union, Western powers should be well-versed in valuable psychological warfare tactics, and he questioned why that knowledge is not being employed against the Taliban. Obviously, the answer is not an easy one until security conditions have been improved and economy driven infrastructure and industries start to show a presence in the country.

“Any country could have problems. Any country may lack some institutions. And they may take steps to correct it,” Mr. Cetin told me during the interview. “But in Afghanistan, in the beginning of 2001, there were no state institutions. There was no government, no governance, no military, no police, no public administration.” Because that infrastructure is only beginning to be conceived, much less implemented, “NATO can not fail in Afghanistan,” he said. “That will be the end of NATO. Then we can’t succeed anywhere.” He also reminded the group of what NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said: “If we don’t go to Afghanistan, Afghanistan will come to us — as a terror, as a drug trafficker.”

Even with the monumental challenges, everyone accepts that Afghanistan has changed remarkably for the good since 2001. “It reminds me the place where I grow up,” said Mr. Cetin, referring to his birthplace of Lice, Turkey — an area where the Kurdish citizens make up the majority and little infrastructure or mechanisms for governing exist.

He acknowledges that putting together the institutions of government and statehood, along with educating the people, will take a long time. But he refused to compare Afghanistan and Iraq. “There is no deep ethnic and religous division in Afghanistan like there is in Iraq,” he said.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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