|THE SECURITY CHALLENGE|
Afghanistan is embarking on a myriad of reforms: political, economic, educational and legal, among others. But analysts aid workers and government officials all say none of the reforms will help Afghanistan without countrywide security.
By most accounts, the security situation in battle-scarred Afghanistan pervades every level of governmental and is one of the most pivotal issues facing the transitional government, headed by President Hamid Karzai.
The international peacekeeping presence in the country, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and headed by NATO since Aug. 11, provides patrols and security only within the capital city of Kabul.
The interim authority has expressed hope that this force will expand outside of the capital's gates as the central administration attempts to exert authority over provincial areas long ruled by warlords or independent governors.
"Security is a big problem, not only in the city, but in the countryside. It's a big problem because of warlords. And so they have the power, and anything they want to do it, they can do it," Habiba Sarabi, the Afghan minister of women's affairs, said.
Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah commented at a ceremony marking the NATO takeover of peacekeeping operations that an expansion outside of the capital is needed to "ensure stability and security throughout the country," according to an account in the Canadian press.
NATO officials have maintained that their mandate is well defined to the security of Kabul alone.
"It is not just a matter of drawing bigger and bigger lines around Kabul and filling them with soldiers," NATO Commander Jack Deverell said in an interview posted on the organization's Web site.
"I believe that security is just in Kabul. Kabul is not Afghanistan," Sara Amiryar, a delegate to the Afghan grand council or loya jirga, told the NewsHour in an August interview.
"In the other provinces, there is no safety, there's no security and I believe that if they want really peace to come to Afghanistan and democracy, the central government, President Karzai's government, should have power -- actually should actually rule the provinces," Amiryar said.
"There is no security," an Afghan villager in Khwaja Angur named Hakeem told the Christian Science Monitor. "If the government people come under attack, where is the security for us? It is possible tomorrow they can come to my house and attack me?"
Meanwhile, a U.S.-led coalition force of some 12,000 soldiers continues to pursue remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist network still suspected to be operating in the country.
Some 90 Afghans have died during spates of violence in August, attributed in large part to a recent rise in attacks from alleged Taliban guerillas.
Humanitarian workers have also suffered from the tenuous security situation. Two aid workers from the Afghan Red Crescent Society and a driver for a U.S. aid agency, Mercy Corps, were killed in attacks in mid-August.
The southern and southeastern regions of the country appear to prevent the largest security challenge with most reports of suspected Taliban infiltration occurring in those areas. A United Nations spokesman noted in early August that elements in the south "seem bent on destabilizing the government [and] are not aligned to any particular faction as you have in the north."
"Insecurity is out there and it is affecting aid operations to the detriment of the Afghan people," the U.N.'s David Singh said. "It is an issue that the U.N. is concerned with and it is one that we would like to see improved."
The security situation has also prompted concerns as to whether democratic elections, planned for June 2004, have a chance for success in the face of spotty lawlessness and regional rule.
"We are faced with increasing security problems, [and] the government lacks funds and resources for holding elections," a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Christian Science Monitor in July.
"It is better to delay it for a few months, rather than holding elections which may result into further disintegration of the law and order situation," the official said.
Observers within the United States, such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Human Rights Watch, have recently issued critical reports on the security situation, often calling for more involvement by U.S. and international forces.
A recent CFR report entitled, "Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace?", called "inadequate security" a major factor in the "painfully slow progress in reconstruction" in Afghanistan.
"It's very important that we as the United States send an unmistakable signal that the time is right for the Karzai government to succeed, to extend its authority, to make the necessary political deals but with strong American backing," Frank Wisner, co-chairman of the Council's task force on Afghanistan, told the NewsHour.
The training and reform of an Afghan-led army and police force, as well as the reorganization of an authoritative justice system, may ultimately prove some of the most critical steps toward improving Afghanistan's security situation. International groups have estimated the training of the Afghan army will take three to four years.
"Reformation of the army and police, and rebuilding the country are preconditions for restoration of security and peace," U.N. special representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi noted in a speech.
An ambitious nationwide disarmament program, organized by the Afghan government and the United Nations, is planned to encourage an estimated 100,000 former combatants to turn in their weapons in exchange for benefits or other incentives aimed at reintegrating the fighters into civil society.
Other small-scale voluntary disarmament programs have met limited success in some parts of the country.
"Individuals also came forward and submitted 130 light private weapons for registration," United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters in Kabul of a disarmament exercise in northern Afghanistan. "A decree signed on 13 August by the three factional leaders stated that while all personal weapons could be retained by their owners they must be registered or else would be considered illegal."
There have been reports of some increased influence in outer provinces in recent weeks. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported in mid-August that Karzai announced a change of governors in the Zabol and Kandahar regions that local leaders accepted.
The outgoing governor of Zabol told the BBC that the transfer was a good sign.
--By Maureen Hoch, Online NewsHour