Nine months after he became president, Hamid Karzai still has to extend
the writ of government authority across the country and find a political
formula to rein in the warlords outside the capital, who grow stronger and more
defiant of central authority by the day. He has been prevented from doing so,
not just by the continuing ethnic and tribal tensions in a country devastated
by 23 years of war, but the stark failure of the international community to
deliver on two key pledges it made last December at the signing of the Bonn
agreement, which set up the new government in Kabul.
The first was to mobilize an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to
stabilize Kabul and five other cities. The ISAF is currently present only in
Kabul. The U.S. had blocked its expansion to other cities, but has now agreed
that it should be expanded -- although the U.S. is not willing to donate
peacekeeping troops towards a larger force.
Even more dangerous has been the world's failure to deliver on reconstruction
funds to help rebuild the country -- which Karzai depends on to reduce
warlordism and provide jobs and economic revival. Of the U.S. $1 billion that
have been delivered so far, 90 percent of it has gone on humanitarian relief
rather than long-term reconstruction projects. As a result, not a single
housing or road building project has yet started.
In the five Central Asian republics whose leaders still hold Soviet-style
elections where the ruler is the only candidate -- and even then the vote is
heavily rigged -- the question of legitimacy has never been more pertinent.
Since last October, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have hosted Western
military forces for the war in Afghanistan, but they have used their newfound
importance for the West as a convenient excuse to step up repression of the
people and their political opponents.
For the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union a decade ago,
Central Asia's long dormant and largely underground secular political
opposition is galvanizing against dictatorship and in support of democracy.
Almost all the Central Asian leaders are now threatened by their first
significant public political movements and repeated demands for the leaders to
resign, in addition to the continuing threat of Islamic extremists who were
once supported by Al Qaeda. The economic meltdown and corruption in Central
Asia is only adding to young peoples' frustration with their leaders.
Leaders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan continue to reject demands
by opposition political forces and the international community to carry out
political and economic reforms. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- who host no
Western forces, but have provided facilities to them -- have not hesitated to
do the same.
The West has refused to intervene or use its newfound clout to persuade these
rulers to change their ways and carry out political and economic reforms. A
crisis is inevitable, and in the next 12 months several of these leaders may
find themselves toppled from power. With no succession process in place and no
institutions to hand over power peacefully, the danger of a longer-term
instability is unavoidable.
In Pakistan the domestic crisis is even more volatile, and is reaching the
boiling point, but it is conveniently ignored by Washington as long as military
ruler President Pervez Musharraf continues to support the war against
terrorism and provide military bases to the U.S.
Musharraf is coming to an end of his three-year military rule and has promised
elections on Oct. 10. Yet it is already clear that Musharraf is planning a
rigged election in which Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of the
two largest political parties, will be barred from taking part. In a
controversial and heavily rigged referendum in April, Musharraf appointed
himself president for the next five years. Now he is trying to subvert the
constitution to give the army a permanent role in the political system and
create a military-dominated national security council that will override any
future parliament or prime minister.
Musharraf is now totally isolated and faces a stream of criticism from all
political parties and civic groups. A crisis will erupt either just before the
election or right after when even the army's "selected parliament" is unlikely
to rubber stamp all the constitutional changes he wants. A crisis in Pakistan
will have overwhelming international and regional repercussions. With a
bellicose India at the gates, Al Qaeda cells firmly planted inside the country,
the breakdown of law and order as militant groups kill Westerners and Pakistani
Christians, along with acute economic recession and deep polarization between
secular democratic parties and the Islamic groups, the country's future is at
Next door, India has until now used the war against terrorism to continue its
repressive policies in Kashmir, actions which earlier this year prompted
Pakistan to step up support for militant Kashmiris, which in turn led to near
war between the two nuclear armed states.
U.S. diplomatic efforts have only gone as far as defusing the immediate crisis,
but Kashmir remains on the boil. India is determined to hold elections there in
September while Pakistan and the militants are determined to sabotage them.
Another round of heightened tensions is unavoidable. The beleaguered military
government in Pakistan and the increasingly extremist Hindu fundamentalist BJP,
which leads the ruling coalition government in New Delhi, are unlikely partners
to even start talks on Kashmir unless there is concerted international
Iran faces a paralyzing standoff
between the moderate government of President Mohammed Khatami and the hard-line
mullahs, which could erupt onto the streets with a single spark. The hardliners
are now determined to destabilize Khatami by backing all anti-Western Islamic
groups in the region, be they in Afghanistan, Central Asia or the Middle East,
while the U.S. has disengaged itself from trying to open a dialogue with
Catching the remaining Al Qaeda cells in the U.S. or Europe will require
patient intelligence and police work, but Al Qaeda or its extremist clones can
never hope to rebuild a command and support base in the West as they did in
Afghanistan. However, in the Central and South Asia region, instability,
unpredictable regime changes or mass movements in the streets could lead to
enormous opportunities for Al Qaeda to rebuild itself. An unstable Pakistan
torn apart by tensions between the army and politicians, or a war between India
and Pakistan that leads to Islamabad's defeat, could give the fundamentalists
the opportunity they want to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan. The
collapse of one or more Central Asian regimes, in the absence of democratic
alternatives and in the midst of a seething economic malaise, could give the
Islamic extremists the opportunity to set up new terrorism command and control
What is clearly needed is a hard focus by the West to persuade these regimes
that the war on terrorism must also mean that they have to change their ways
and their relationship with their own people. There is no substitute for
representative governments, which heal rather than further divide these
extremely polarized societies. The international community's strategy must also
include much greater economic support for the region as a whole. The ideas of
"nation building" or "a Marshall plan for the region" -- which are anathema in
Washington -- are essential if the West is to save the region from further
instability and catastrophe.
Such a strategy would be also profoundly beneficial for improving relations
between the West and the Muslim world. Angry Muslims will then have to face the
reality that the West does not only destroy terrorist governments like the
Taliban, but also helps in rebuilding countries and economies. However, none of
this is likely to happen if the U.S. pushes ahead with its desire to attack
Iraq without international support and while the Middle East is in flames. The
Arab and Muslim world will erupt in universal anger -- and terrorism may then
become the only political platform for many other groups to conduct a war
against the U.S.
The war against terrorism has entered a much more critical and complex phase,
which now involves helping rectify the gross political and economic imbalances
in the region. It is going to need even greater commitment by the international
community to meet this challenge, not less.
home + on the ground + assessing the campaign + with us or against us? + fighting on two fronts: a chronology
epilogue + discussion + interviews + links & readings + introduction + video + reporter's notebook
FRONTLINE + wgbh + pbsi
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