By Steve Hynd
David Pratt, the Foreign Editor at the Scottish Herald, is a veteran of Afghanistan reporting, having worked there for Reuters, Agence France Presse and the BBC over the decades as well has his present employer. He may not be as well known to American readers as reporters for their own newspapers, but his experience is worth listening to. He fears a new civil war in Afghanistan, mainly promulgated by those the coalition has sheltered and enabled.
Four things in my view are currently conspiring to potentially drive Afghanistan into another internal conflict.
The first is a widespread dislike, and in some cases outright hatred, of President Hamid Karzai and his regime. The second is a rapid resurgence of ethnic divisions that are beginning to manifest themselves at the moment when the third factor, the withdrawal of coalition forces, gains pace. Then of course there is the fourth and perhaps most controversial factor, certainly when viewed from this side of the world: the way in which our presence in Afghanistan has helped create powerful and wealthy individuals who would fight to defend the privilege and profit they have accumulated from our military presence.
During recent visits most ordinary Afghans I�ve spoken to can�t understand why the international community continues to do business with Mr Karzai and those like him, such is the alleged corruption with which they are associated. The answer is simple enough and was illustrated by reaction to the assassination of his younger half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai.
That the so-called strongman of Kandahar province was involved in a complex patronage network inextricably linked to the lucrative illegal drugs trade and burgeoning security apparatus was generally accepted by coalition officials, who readily turned a blind eye to such misdemeanours. What, after all, do such trifling things matter provided he does our bidding in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda?
...Time and again warlords like these have shown that ethnic and tribal loyalties or simply an allegiance to profit or power for its own sake is what matters over any concern for Afghanistan as a whole.
Just a few weeks ago a few of these same warlords who helped the US and Britain topple the Taliban regime in 2001 launched a political alliance against Mr Karzai�s rule. This opposition group, the first to comprise leaders from across Afghanistan�s Uzbek, Hazara and Tajik communities, say they are concerned that Karzai � himself an ethnic Pashtun � will try to consolidate greater power without the check of the international community in place as coalition troops begin to withdraw.
It�s their way of saying how determined they are to ensure they have a piece of the power-brokering action in Afghanistan�s future as the influence of the international community wanes. How spookily reminiscent this is of that terrible time in the 1990s when under their respective ethnic banners much the same men tore Kabul apart in their battle for dominance.
Back then General Dostum was one of those who played a key role. Today his prominence again among the ranks of the leaders in the new opposition alliance stands as a depressing and troubling reminder of how little the political scene has changed for the good in Afghanistan over the last two decades.
If, as many of my long-term Afghan friends and associates fear, the country is heading towards another civil war, we should not be surprised. Should such a nightmare occur it will involve not only the likes of the Taliban but those we have cosied up to while ignoring their violent and predatory behaviour in pursuit of our own short-term foreign policy interests.
Yesterday, a new UN report confirmed the first six months of 2011 were the deadliest for civilians in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. After more than 10 years of war that statistic stands as an awful indictment of how our mission in Afghanistan has failed. The biggest fear now is that worse may come and not only at the hands of the Taliban, but from mercenary, power-hungry individuals who have pretended to be out friends.
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