War in Afghanistan

Plight of Afghanistan cannot be ignored

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2007, 12:00am

Whether US Vice-President Dick Cheney was the target of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan yesterday is a moot point given that there seems little likelihood that he could have been harmed in light of the top-level security around him. That was not the case for those killed, of course, or for the vast majority of Afghans who have increasingly become vulnerable to such attacks in the past year.

The reality is that Afghanistan, promised a new beginning when the Taleban regime was overthrown by US-led troops a little over five years ago, is no closer to the promised peace and security. Such is sadly also the case for Iraq.

There is a major difference, though; the talk among American leaders centres on Iraq, where there are more than 130,000 American soldiers and a further 21,000 gradually being deployed under plans announced last month by President George W. Bush. Afghanistan, a nation bigger in area and population, hosts 27,000 US soldiers among the 34,000 foreign troops under the transatlantic security alliance Nato based there.

Yet, as the attack near the air base where Mr Cheney was staying showed, the scale of violence can be as severe in Afghanistan as Iraq. Over the past year, the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan has risen fivefold. The Taleban has made significant gains in winning back territory it lost and reimposing its extremist Islamist views on the population.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has voiced his concern time and again that the world is not watching his country as closely as it should be to usher in the peace it promised. The billions of dollars in aid promised at donors' meetings have trickled in. Some of the hospitals, schools and roads that have been built have been destroyed by the Taleban.

The US has not taken its eye from the country. Mr Bush made a surprise visit there last March and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was there three months later. Mr Cheney's trip further cemented the US' involvement.

As high-profile as the visits are, though, they lack the substance of a genuine commitment to bringing stability to Afghanistan so that infrastructure can be put in place and reconstruction begin in earnest. Without security, there will be no investment, essential if the nation is to move forward. That will only come about with a sizeable increase in foreign troop numbers. This has been realised by Britain, which has announced an increase in troop presence. The US and other Nato nations would do well to follow suit.

Iraq is the focus of international interest, but the plight of Afghans is as great. Efforts must be taken to correct the imbalance.

Mr Cheney's ordeal may have unwittingly gone some way to achieving this. The increased awareness of Afghanistan's problems that has resulted must continue.