03/31/2009, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Education, health care and social assistance to fight terrorism

Another international conference is underway to discuss ways to stabilise Afghanistan and fight terrorism. Expectations are high because Iran is represented. Experts tell AsiaNews that what is needed is more money to fight indigence and poverty, not more money to build up the military.
Kabul (AsiaNews) – Key issues need to be dealt with in order to build a new Afghanistan, issues like democracy, but also education, health care, social assistance, creating a new political leadership, rather than focusing on militarily defeating the Taliban, this according to experts who spoke to AsiaNews about the country’s difficult situation as a another conference on Afghanistan gets underway today in The Hague, Netherlands.

Of 73 countries invited, only one, Uzbekistan, declined to participate to discuss how to stabilise Afghanistan’s lawless regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Those who did come are eager to see how the new US strategy laid out by US President Barack Obama will unfold.

As part of this strategy the US president urged better relations with Iran and moderate Taliban. He also ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle violence, and a further 4,000 to help train the Afghan army and police as well as hundreds of civilians to work on development issues.

US representative to the conference Richard Holbrooke said the fact that so many nations agreed to attend made the meeting a success even before talks started. Others however believe that it might simply mean that no one expects immediate results.

Local sources told AsiaNews that if Afghanistan and Pakistan are terrorism central, why large scale troop deployment has failed so far to defeat it.

“Conferences have taken place over the years in Bonn, London, Madrid, a few days ago in Moscow, as well as elsewhere,” said a local expert. “But the real issues of democracy must be dealt with, issues like school, health, and social assistance. Local school principals have to cope with local mullahs who do not want girls to go to school. This is happening in villages near Kabul. There is a lack of local health care facilities. In the 1990s there was a doctor for 200,000. I don’t have accurate up-to-date figures but I think that now it is 1 per 50,000. Diseases are spreading and people are dying even from dysentery. Infant and childbirth mortality are very high. People must buy treatment and medicines but they are poor.”

By contrast, the war on terrorism comes with a hefty price tag. NATO sources report costs running at around US$ 42 billion per year, not to mention the human cost, about 1,100 foreign soldiers killed between 2001 and now.

Another sources agrees that “Kabul should be mapped, much needed schools built, and teachers trained. Each district should have adequate health care facilities. Workers ought to be protected. Today there are neither trade unions nor pensions. Wages are low compared to the rising cost of living. Terrorism is fought creating the bases in which democracy can take root. At that point the population will turn against terrorism. But if people do not see any improvement in their daily life after years of foreign intervention, they become sceptical and lose confidence. Widespread poverty fuels terrorism. Help cannot just be welfare handouts but must entail the establishment of institutions that can work with local forces.”

“Rather than 4,000 instructors to train police and army,” according to Obama’s plan, “we need people who can build civilian infrastructures. We must train a new political leadership and fight the cancer of corruption as Holbrooke said.”

Similarly, for locals the decision to involve Iran in the conference “goes without saying.”

“Iran has a border with Afghanistan that runs for hundreds of miles. Iran has accepted thousands of Afghan refugees. Shias on both sides of the border have long-established relations. It is unthinkable for Tehran to be kept out of what is happening in Afghanistan.”

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