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Secure Afghan elections

THE NATO SUMMIT President Bush attends Monday in Istanbul cannot focus exclusively on debates about the training of Iraqi security forces. NATO will also be asked to do more to provide security for parliamentary elections scheduled for September in Afghanistan. On this topic there should be no unbridgeable differences, since NATO members, including France and Germany, have already committed themselves to helping Afghanistan achieve stability.

If the NATO allies ignore a request for help from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and warnings from Human Rights Watch and other independent human rights organizations, their shirking of responsibility will cast a dark shadow not only over Afghanistan but also over the Atlantic alliance.

There are now 6,400 peacekeepers in Afghanistan from NATO's International Security Assistance Force. Of these 6,200 are in the capital, Kabul, many of them protecting embassies of western nations. Another 200 German troops are deployed in the relatively safe northern city of Kunduz. These are too few forces to alter a balance of power that permits provincial warlords and their militias to defy the central government. US forces, about 20,000, are principally engaged in hunting Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

Karzai's government and the United Nations have said that at least another 5,000 peacekeepers are needed. If candidates, voters, and voting stations are to be protected from Taliban guerrillas seeking to thwart the September election, NATO troops will have to venture out to those southern and eastern sectors of Afghanistan where the Taliban zealots conduct most of their operations.

"If the elections don't take place because of insecurity, or if they are conducted but are not free or fair, the blame will rest squarely on the heads of the US and its NATO allies," the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division said Wednesday. While blunt, this statement does exactly what a human rights organization ought to: It asks powerful states to stand up to their responsibilities.

The alarm sounded by Human Rights Watch reflects a dangerous situation on the ground in Afghanistan as well as the anxiety of Afghans subjected to the power of the warlords and the violent raids of the Taliban. Ideally, Karzai and his team would like to postpone the September parliamentary elections until there is sufficient security. But since Bush wants an Afghan election he can cite as a success in his own electoral campaign, he and the other NATO leaders owe it to the Afghan people to provide security for the vote all across Afghanistan, to disarm the warlords' militias, and to disrupt the narcotics trade that finances the warlords.

An alliance that cannot spare the peacekeepers or the money to safeguard Afghanistan cannot have much of a future. 

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.



RAHA- World Independent Writers' Home, Afghanistan Center, In Exile

KP/26/June/ /2004

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