TCS Daily

After the Taliban, Look East

By Jason Miks - June 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Recent weeks have seen some of the worst violence in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, with over 900 people being killed this year. With NATO set to take over in the south of the country, I spoke to Afghanistan's Ambassador to Japan, H.E. Haron Amin, to hear his thoughts on how the country can best move forward.

Jason Miks: Why is Taliban resistance proving so persistent in Afghanistan and what will be the biggest challenges facing NATO as they try to tackle them?

Ambassador Amin: You have to understand that part of the reason for the sudden upsurge in violence is that there has been a shift from the American-led coalition to NATO. The Taliban, therefore, want to show that they are still active and still kicking. What is significant is that we know that they will not be able to sustain these activities unless there is support from the 'no man's land' on the other side of the border. One important factor now is that the NATO forces will be working under a single command and that gradually they will be able to co-ordinate better with the Afghan national army.

I would therefore say that the current intensification comes down to four factors: 1) The shift from the American led forces to NATO. 2) The Taliban had promised that they would strike hard during this summer. 3) The border with Pakistan is still porous and there are still a lot of resources provided from the other side to these militias. 4) It is just a matter of the fact that people today, because they were promised better lives and higher salaries, have been disappointed. And there is an acceptance almost that there will be insecurity.

But we know that we will reverse the situation and we know that the international community is determined to tackle the current instability. We have to be vigilant.

Miks: Last month saw what appeared to be anti-US protests after an accident in which several civilians were killed by a US convoy. Do you think anti-Americanism is widespread in Afghanistan?

Amin: Overall I can guarantee there is not a strong anti-American sentiment. I think these protests were purely situational -- a situational frustration. Generally, Afghan support in polls and surveys that I have been seeing show that over three quarters of Afghans support the US-led coalition. They see the Americans not as invaders but rather as liberators of Afghanistan as they do with the other countries involved. I think that there is frustration over the economic progress which has been slow. But that frustration shouldn't be taken as anti-Americanism.

Miks: What do you think Afghanistan needs to do to move forward?

Amin: We need to be looking to the east for our model of development. One reason is that it will provide a closer technological model. Countries like the United States, those in Europe or Japan are way too advanced. We need to be looking to the east. For example, we can look at healthcare in Sri Lanka. On infant mortality rates we can learn from Vietnam. Counter narcotics from Thailand. Tourism from Sri Lanka and Cambodia. These are things I am trying to preach to my government.

Miks: How much success have you had in persuading your government of these notions?

Amin: I think there has been plenty of success with this because I have been able to pass on this message to a lot of government officials. They have accepted the idea and they are looking for example at micro credit in the east -- at countries like Bangladesh. I have been quite successful so far. People need to be better enlightened. One way would be to be hiring of consultants from these areas. More important, seeing is believing.

Miks: Japan announced recently that it will provide about $2.3 for policing in Afghanistan. How do you expect this money to be spent and do you feel the international community is doing enough?

Amin: Japan has provided vehicles, worked on police headquarters and is also trying to train the police and trying to build capacity. Capacity building has taken an enormous amount of money and resources. I hope that in the future we can find more affordable ways of maintaining capacity.

In the context of whether the international community is doing enough, I think what is really missing from the international community is due diligence and quality control. We have been witness to schools collapsing, hospital sinks and toilets not functioning after a month or so, we have seen streets and pavements which have broken up or cracked in less than a few months and we have also heard of bridges given to local contractors which have collapsed into rivers. Due diligence must be given to quality.

Secondly, when it comes to per capita amount of money, of all of the post conflict countries Afghanistan has received the least. This is not the way to develop the country. We have also spent an enormous amount of money renting or buying capacity. This is one of the reasons why I feel it is time for Afghanistan to start looking to the east for development lessons. I think Afghanistan can start buying more capacity that is technologically closer and that is - from a geographical and cultural perspective - closer to our own.

Otherwise the optimism that we had after liberation will gradually move to pessimism. Today, as we have seen, there has been increasing frustration on the part of the Afghan population. It is therefore particularly important that we engage in rural development, that we put farmers back on the farms and that we also create jobs and markets and also the roads leading to those markets.

Miks: Are you optimistic about Afghanistan's future?

I would like to strike a cautiously optimistic note. We have got to be optimistic because otherwise our pessimism will only make Osama bin Laden the winner. But I think much more needs to be done, including better co-ordination, and I think we need to develop a vision of quality. I would hope that the international community will see that the progress made so far is not satisfactory and that they will, in partnership with the Afghan government, work towards a comprehensive rebuilding of the country.

Jason Miks is a Tokyo-based writer and Assistant Editor at the Center for International Relations.


TCS Daily Archives