Protecting democracy in Afghanistan is vital

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2007, 12:00am

Warnings that Afghanistan was in danger of going down the path of lawlessness that Iraq is mired in were heeded by foreign governments, but their efforts have so far been in vain. Kidnappings, suicide bombings and attacks on women and girls by the Taleban have multiplied despite increased troop numbers and patrols.

The latest outrage involves 23 South Korean aid workers who were taken hostage along with other victims. The situation is tense, but we hope those still being held will be released safely. The kidnapping of foreigners and threats to kill them is an identical strategy to that adopted by the al-Qaeda terrorist group in the early months of the Iraq conflict. Indeed, al-Qaeda's new commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa bin Yazid, has had combat experience in Iraq and is thought to be behind the Taleban's strategies.

The Taleban's ultimate objective is Kabul, the seat of government from which a US-led military coalition ousted it from power in December 2001. Although attacks are now taking place on all sides of the city in a clear strategy of encirclement, Nato will ensure - in the same way as the US and its allies in Iraq - that the government is safe.

So while President Hamid Karzai and his ministers will remain in charge of the capital, their influence elsewhere in the country will be limited. Just as in Iraq, the tug-of-war for control of the provinces will be bloody and perhaps a lengthy affair.

In such circumstances, there can be no pulling out of foreign troops. Nato and its allies have to ensure that the utmost is done to protect the democracy that Mr Karzai represents. For the sake of Afghanistan's people, the battle with the Taleban and al-Qaeda must continue.

More widely, though, peace in Afghanistan is also a matter for its neighbours, Pakistan and Iran and regional power with economic interests in the nation, India. Instability can easily spill across borders, just as is now happening in Pakistan, so a solution may lie in a summit of delegates from the region. If the kidnappings, attacks and discrimination are to stop, getting a regional summit under way while foreign troops remain engaged is essential.