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  Un Afghan report


The international community should take note of Afghanistan's "fragile" structure as pointed out in a UN report. Released on Monday, the first-ever Afghanistan Human Development Report paints a gloomy picture of the country and warns that it could "easily tumble back into chaos". 

Unless the world took a broad and long-term view of its needs, Afghanistan could "collapse into an insecure state." This will, it said, constitute a threat to its people and to the international community. 

The focus of the report is on the state of human resources in Afghanistan - literacy, life expectancy, the condition of women and children, and unemployment. 

Almost 50 per cent of Afghans are unemployed, only 29 per cent over 15 years of age were literate, life expectancy is 45 years, and the education system was the "worst in the world" with 80 per cent of schools destroyed during the war. 

Realistically, the report takes note of the acute security situation, and says that the war on terror and drugs does not mean that human security should take a back seat. 

Since the fall of the Taliban regime more than three years ago, Afghanistan has taken a number of steps towards representative government. Chosen the head of state by the Loya Jirga in June 2002, Mr Hamid Karzai was elected president last October by a popular vote. 

During these three years his government has many achievements to its credit. These include the re-creation of a bureaucratic structure destroyed by war, the improvement in security environs in Kabul, the restoration of communications, the repair of roads and bridges, and the return of a large number of Afghan refugees. 

However, much more remains to be done, especially in terms of taming the rebellious warlords, who are a law unto themselves. They maintain well-armed militias, defy the Karzai government and have turned the provinces into their fiefdoms. 

Disciplining them is not easy, because the Afghan national army has not reached the stage where it can take on these elements. More unfortunately, the 8,000-strong Nato-led International Security Assistance Force has restricted itself to Kabul and Kunduz. 

At a recent Nato meeting, the alliance decided to increase the number of troops by an unspecified number, but a marginal increase would hardly meet the challenging task it faces. 

The truth is that in addition to the warlords' militias, there are thousands of well-armed mercenaries without any loyalties. The Taliban have been weakened, but they still retain the ability to carry out hit-and-run attacks. 

The current lull in their activity is attributed to Afghanistan's harsh winter, and observers expect a new wave of attacks by the Taliban in spring. There are also brigands and freebooters who operate with impunity in the countryside and loot and harass people. For these reasons, many doubt whether the Karzai government will be able to hold the parliamentary election due in April. 

If the international community wants to help Afghanistan it must enable the Karzai government to improve the security situation. The pace of reconstruction, painfully slow at the moment, cannot be quickened because relief workers are abducted or murdered. 

This has also reduced the Karzai government's ability to absorb the aid pledged by donors. Without a perceptible improvement in the security situation, relief agencies and the government itself cannot undertake the projects urgently needed for providing succour to the people. A continuation of the status quo could only add to chaos, strengthen the warlords and bandits and prolong the misery of the Afghan people.