Afghan backing a must to defeat Taliban
NATO chiefs in Afghanistan are convinced of this and local analysts share the same view. It is necessary to press ahead with real reconstruction of the country, which would have an impact on infrastructure and on the social fabric, otherwise the population may cede to extremist propaganda. The bloody Taliban offensive weighs heavy in the minds of ordinary people, who do not feel protected by the state and international forces. The parish priest of Kabul: anyone who knows Afghanistan is aware that the reconstruction journey is still an uphill one.
Kabul (AsiaNews) Reconstruction could prove fundamental in Afghanistan within the next six months to win the support of the people against the Taliban insurgency. General David Richards, commander of NATO-led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops, is convinced of this. Local experts contacted by AsiaNews agree with him: "Defeating the extremists depends on the backing given by the Afghan people to operations of the government and the international force." The people are becoming ever more "skeptical" of the effectiveness of foreign troops as suicide bombings, attacks and intimidation increase. Today, two suicide bombers attacked a soldiers' convoy led by the US and a group of Israeli troops in Khost, a southeast province of Afghanistan. Sixteen people were injured.
General Richards, in Pakistan for "exchange" of information, said yesterday that if there were no changes on the security level in the coming six months, 70% of the Afghan people could well take the side of the Taliban. The commander made it clear that once we have shown our military capacity, we must concentrate on the country's real reconstruction and development, to guarantee a better future to the people.
The Afghan government has realized the importance of showing the results of its efforts to the people. Recently it set up Afghan Development Zones (ADZ): a zone still under Taliban control is identified and attacked, the Taliban defeated and then the zone is occupied by Afghan military forces supported by ISAF, to pave the way for reconstruction. Before the strategy was to send the Taliban away but to withdraw the army from the territory shortly afterwards too.
From the heart of the country, AsiaNews sources say the people are becoming increasingly "intolerant" of the presence of the military that has not guaranteed hoped-for security. The sources said: "In Afghanistan, public opinion is asking two questions: will the government and the international community manage to prevent the return of the Taliban? Why has their commitment failed, despite the enormous quantity of forces deployed?"
Given these elements, there is a high risk that Taliban propaganda will stick. An analyst there said: "The Afghan psychology is permeated by the Muslim religion: whatever a mullah says is dogma, even if those talking are extremist religious leaders who mix politics and religion."
Fr Joseph Moretti is parish priest of the only church in Afghanistan inside the Italian embassy. He said: "Saying nothing is being done about reconstruction is a lie, but calling the results extraordinary would be an exaggeration.... The entire country must be subject to reconstruction that is qualitative first, then quantitative. So there is a need to reconstruct the social fabric, the leadership, schools and hospitals." These are precisely the targets of the guerrillas: it is believed hundreds of schools have been burned down, especially in the south, and as a consequence thousands of children cannot go to class. "The military can work for security and at the same time implement projects that give the people concrete proof of the realization of promises made about the country's rebirth, which they trusted," continued the priest, who has been in the country for years.
Fr Moretti said those who knew the place would be aware that "the path of reconstruction is akin to the morphological structure of Afghanistan: high mountains, impervious areas, cold, and a shortage of roads." To these must be added rampant corruption, enormous interests linked to drug trafficking and the continued reinforcement of men and means between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghan generals maintain that if foreign troops should withdraw, the Taliban would occupy the country within a few weeks. "They cannot stay here forever," warned Fr Moretti. "Otherwise the people would surely start to get the impression that they are under occupation, but right now, the military presence, quite apart from the struggle against the Taliban, is indispensable to give strength and security to reconstruction projects."