National Geographic : 2003 Nov
FOREIG N EX C H A N G E A welcome sight to many war-weary Afghans, a Dutch soldier patrols near Kabul. Such peacekeepers in the International Security Assistance Force face danger, with several killed in sporadic attacks or by mines this year. Artifacts of an earlier foreign military presence-grim, Soviet-style apartment blocks (right) ironically have attained high-rent status in a city where intact modern housing is rare. terrorizing the countryside-robbing, detain ing, and raping Afghan citizens without penalty -and creating a climate of fear. The rift dividing Kabul from the rest of Afghan istan represents one of the most pressing chal lenges Karzai faces as he struggles to forge a cohesive society: How to develop an admin istration capable of working with highly diverse peoples and factions while asserting its author ity and maintaining peace. How diverse? Afghanistan is made up of half a dozen major ethnic groups. Karzai's govern ment and security forces are largely dominated by the northern ethnic Tajiks, including the so called Panjshairi mafia. The winner-takes-all atti tude of many northerners has led to alienation among the more numerous Pashtuns, who have traditionally ruled the country. So far Karzai's efforts to broaden his power beyond Kabul have made little headway, especially in the Pashtun dominated southern provinces where the Tali ban had its strongest backing. (Karzai himself is a Pashtun from the southern city of Kandahar but is seen by many Pashtuns as on the side of the Americans and the northerners.) 40 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * NOVEMBER 2003 The economy is a worry too. Without the pool of money created by aid, peacekeeping, and illegal trafficking in opium and other com modities, reconstruction would grind to a halt. The influx during the past year of offices, hotels, and restaurants-mainly in Kabul-stems largely from spending by the foreign community. Economists stress the need for more viable trade as soon as possible, both to provide Afghans with a proper livelihood and to provide the central government with a legitimate source of revenue from taxes. Otherwise, they warn, Afghanistan could collapse once more into turmoil. The Karzai government hopes the new Afghan constitution will help stabilize and unify the country. But it is by no means clear whether the constitution will succeed in protecting the rights of ordinary Afghans, especially women. Liber als fear that conservative-minded Islamist Afghans will succeed in imposing restrictions not unlike those of the Taliban. Moreover, there is always the threat from outsiders opposed to a democratic Afghanistan, such as Pakistani fun damentalists, who have been infiltrating rural areas, inciting violence.