(Washington, DC -- June 16, 2003) The current situation in Afghanistan is "worse than it was a year ago," according to Radio Free Afghanistan Director Andres Ilves. Ilves made the comment during a recent briefing presentation at RFE/RL's Washington office, where he shared insights on challenges to the country's security, reconstruction and terrorism.
One year after the emergency Loya Jirga that elected Hamid Karzai as Transitional Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Ilves has seen a stifling of progress toward the establishment of order and security in the country. "Afghanistan has come to occupy an extremely important strategic position in the world," according to Ilves, due to its geographical location and potential for future development and democracy. Despite this, Ilves said that it will be a logistical and security challenge to properly execute the democratic parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in 2004 -- a goal Ilves said is still worth trying to meet.
Ilves said that outside of Kabul, even as basic an improvement in infrastructure as repairing the main highway linking Kabul and Kandahar has proven difficult, due to a lack of safety. "We continue to have violence and lawlessness" in Afghanistan, Ilves said, noting that 84% of U.S. aid money is still directed toward eradicating remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda cells in the country.
The persistent presence of largely independent regional leaders, often referred to as "warlords," also remains an obstacle to establishing peace and safety in Afghanistan. Although the transitional government has established control over Kabul, Ilves cautioned that life in some provinces where these leaders maintain power is dangerous, noting that "Kabul is not Afghanistan." For example, Ilves said that members of an unarmed United Nations team working to remove some of the ten million land mines planted across Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation became the target of snipers. As a result, the United Nations was forced to cease de-mining operations in some particularly hostile areas.
Ilves also raised concerns about the change in the types of targets attacked by those terrorists remaining in Afghanistan. Instead of attacking military targets as they have in the past, terrorists are now going after "soft targets" such as tourists and humanitarian workers. Ilves condemned these actions, blaming them for discouraging business and investment in Afghanistan. The attacks "are helping to sow chaos in the country. All of Afghanistan continues to be a very dangerous place to operate," says Ilves.
Ilves noted that the past year had brought some positive progress in the lives of the Afghan people, including the return of both boys and girls to school and of millions of refugees to their homes. However, reflecting on the country's hardships over the past quarter century -- from famine to drought and from Soviet occupation to the Taliban regime -- Ilves said, "Nothing related to Afghanistan seems to be able to go easily."
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