WASHINGTON – As the world spotlight remains on postwar reconstruction in Iraq, renewed Taliban violence in Afghanistan demonstrates that rebuilding efforts there are far from over.
Experts say the successes and failures in Afghanistan hold lessons for the coalition as it turns its hopes toward democracy in the newly liberated Iraq.
But much to the concern of the U.S. government, reconstruction in Afghanistan is not going as quickly or smoothly as some had hoped. International peacekeepers and humanitarian aid groups in recent weeks have seen a visible resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in tribal areas of Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan.
"In the past month, the level of anti-government violence has increased," said David Isby, a defense analyst with Jane’s Information Group. "It has hindered the reconstruction process."
Rockets have been fired at U.S. military outposts in Afghanistan, including a March 30 attack on the international peacekeeping force compound in Kabul. On March 27, an aid worker for the International Red Cross was pulled from his vehicle and brutally murdered in the Uruzgan province. Two U.S. soldiers were killed on March 29 when their vehicle was attacked on a reconnaissance patrol near a town in the southern province of Helmand.
Over the weekend, a car filled with remote-controlled land mines and explosives blew up near a military airfield in southeastern Afghanistan, killing four terrorists, including a former Taliban officer. Reports said the men were checking the remote control systems for the explosives when they detonated accidentally.
"The crisis there has just started," charged Otilie English, who had worked until recently as a lobbyist for the Afghan Embassy in the United States. "I think over the summer you are going to see more attacks on our U.S. troops."
The International Red Cross has resumed most of its operations in the country after a two-week suspension, but tensions are still running high, according to aid workers who are attempting to bring millions of dollars worth of critical food, health care and reconstruction supplies to the country.
"Other than Kabul, the security situation throughout the country remains unstable and it does hamper our work and the work of other aid agencies out there," said Bruce Rasmussen, an operations director for Save the Children USA.
Though the Pakistani leadership has been credited for assisting the United States in the war on terror, large pockets of Islamic fundamentalists still operate in Pakistan and have been blamed for reinvigorating terror missions in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, the reason the Taliban are coalescing and regrouping is they have received sanctuary in Pakistan,” said Jim Phillips, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Phillips warns that the same could happen if Arab resentment against the United States is stirred in Iraqi border countries like Syria, already blamed by the Bush administration for harboring fugitives from Saddam Hussein’s regime and sending terrorists into Iraq to kill U.S. troops.
“I think that is one reason why the Bush administration is warning Syria now, is it does not want it to become a sanctuary and a training ground for radical Islamicists who are flocking to Iraq to battle the crusader,” said Phillips.
While experts point out that Afghanistan and Iraq are vastly different in that the former has had virtually no central government, is largely illiterate and has been at war for the last 23 years, all agree that similar efforts at self-governance should be encouraged in order for democracy to take root.
On Tuesday, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner opened the first session of the Iraqi Interim Authority. Iraq's often-quarrelsome factions, including Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as several Iraqi exiles, met in the first public democratic forum in decades.
Similar meetings were held before the Afghans chose their interim government through its traditional Grand Council, Loya Jirga, in June 2002. But peace in Afghanistan remains elusive and only time will tell if the new government will sustain itself, experts say.
Iraqis at the meeting complained that they don't want any U.S. governing authority and prefer to move immediately to an interim Iraqi government led by Iraqis. Trying to comply, the coalition has ordered the national conference to select the interim administration to convene within weeks. Iraqi officials could have complete control within three to six months.
As for tribal violence in Afghanistan, some experts suggest that the international peacekeeping force now led by the Germans and Dutch, known as the International Security Assistance Force, should move outside the capital of Kabul to quell conflict.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement April 1 clarifying that the United States was creating Provincial Reconstruction Teams at locations throughout Afghanistan to "engage in reconstruction activities while enhancing security and stability in the provinces."
Phillips does not agree that foreign troops should be actively involved with maintaining order in Afghanistan.
“It’s a lighting rod for terrorists — Afghans are historically xenophobic and the Taliban will be able to whip up support against the foreign troops,” he said, adding that international peacekeeping efforts are important, but should be kept “low-key.”
As for Iraq, with its chaotic looting and internecine strife, Isby said to expect U.S. military forces to act as peacekeepers for some time.
"The U.S. military is going to have to remain there until an Iraqi military is formed and that is going to be some years," he said.