The good luck of traumatised Afghanistan - Guardian, UK
- The good luck of traumatised Afghanistan
Friday February 25, 2005
One woman dies from pregnancy-related causes
approximately every 30 minutes. One in five children
dies before the age of five from diseases that are 80%
An estimated one-third of the population suffers from
anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress. Annual
per capita income is $190 (£100). Average life
expectancy is 44.5 years. Its education system is now
"the worst in the world".
These are just a few of the findings contained in a
United Nations Development Programme report on
Afghanistan published this week.
More than three years after the US and Britain
declared victory in Kabul and promised to rebuild the
country, it paints a disturbing portrait of "a fragile
nation still at odds if no longer at war with itself
that could easily slip back into chaos and abject
Not all is gloom. The report says Afghanistan's
economy has expanded significantly since 2001. Nearly
55% of primary-age children are now in school.
About 2.4 million refugees have returned from Pakistan
and Iran. The new constitution guarantees equal rights
for women. And a democratically elected president
holds office, although "factional elements" with their
own militias still control much of the country.
Afghanistan's woes long predate the US war against the
Taliban, stretching back to the 1979 Soviet invasion.
But this present-day audit dramatically demonstrates
the daunting scale of the reconstruction effort to
which the west has pledged itself.
In one respect, Afghanistan is fortunate. Despite
problems over merging US and Nato forces, the
deployment of "provincial reconstruction teams",
squandered aid and a booming heroin trade, a
reasonably coherent and agreed long-term international
strategy for Afghanistan does actually exist.
This is not usually the case elsewhere. For the UN's
findings also indirectly illustrate a more fundamental
dilemma facing other so-called transitional states
such as Iraq, Palestine, East Timor, Kosovo and Haiti
as well as less extreme cases like Ukraine.
While the international community's appetite for
transformational nation-building, stimulated by
President George Bush's crusade for global freedom,
shows no sign of satiation, it habitually bites off
more than it can chew.
Now the growing institutional rivalry between the US
and Europe, not dispelled by this week's Brussels
summitry, is in danger of further undermining
The minimalist Nato agreement on military and police
training in Iraq, with France grudgingly agreeing to
contribute one mid-level headquarters officer, gave
the lie to claims that Euro-Atlantic war wounds have
healed. Five leading EU countries still refuse point
blank to let their soldiers set foot in Iraq.
The EU decision to launch a civilian training mission
in Baghdad only served as a reminder of Europe's
rising ambition to act as an independent international
Europe's use of trade incentives with Iran and Syria,
on which the US has imposed trade sanctions, and its
attempts to engage North Korea also exemplify this
diverging diplomatic and philosophical approach.
It is these structural problems that Gerhard Schröder
addressed in his recent speech on facilitating the
Euro-Atlantic dialogue. The German chancellor's call
for "a strong European pillar" with equal
responsibilities was interpreted as widening the
In fact his speech was a timely if clumsy attempt to
close the gap by building more coherent joint
platforms for managing the growing list of
nation-building and aid projects which, if Mr Bush has
his way, could one day include Zimbabwe, Sudan, North
Korea, Burma and Belarus.
The US and Europe must work together more effectively,
Mr Schröder said. "We should focus with determination
on adapting our cooperation structures to changed
conditions and challenges.
"We need a strong multilateral system which provides a
reliable framework for solidarity and guarantees good
global governance." If that upset existing hierarchies
such as Nato, he seemed to say, well, tough.
His reform proposals have been met with shrugs in
Britain and the US, although not in France. But Mr
Schröder put his finger on a problem that will have to
be addressed sooner or later. The children of
Afghanistan would say sooner.
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