Long shot for Afghan peace

By

Afghanistan may be remembered as the place where we liked the war and hated the peace.

The military campaign has gone remarkably well. US armed forces vanquished a ragtag bunch of fanatics with precision bombing and surrogate ground forces. Even though victory can't be declared yet, the terrorists' organization has been dismembered with minimal losses to friendly forces.

The peace will not go as well. The UN Security Council has authorized an International Security Assistance Force of 5,000. But while the peacekeepers are being put in place, the conditions for keeping the peace are not. The force will have capable troops drawn from Europe, but their mandate allows them to be little more than well-armed security guards for Kabul's interim government. Unless mission creep is an unspoken assumption, they will have no impact outside the capital.

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Three more factors will hinder peace: intentions of former combatants, the country's lack of resources, and its neighbors. When the fighting stops, it will be because the US imposed peace. The ex-combatants aren't going to subordinate their individual quests for power merely for the common good.

A country's resources can also help prevent peace if all they do is provide something to fight over and a means to purchase more weapons. Some of the conflicts in Africa, like the ones in Angola and Sierra Leone, are fueled by diamonds. Afghanistan's major export was opium. It produced 75 percent of the world's supply only two years ago. When the Taliban decided to ban it, production fell from 3,000 tons a year to 200.

The interim government will be hard put to exercise similar control. Opium poppy cultivation has resumed as quickly as the Taliban's grip has slackened. While the interim government has ordered it stopped, it may not want to succeed. Faced with the challenges of political and economic reconstruction, it may have higher priorities than denying opium producers their cash crop.

Also, it may not be able to stop the drug trade. After meeting with interim government chairman Hamid Karzai, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that "his authority is in charge." But after only a month in power, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Karzai can project that authority beyond Kabul.

Lastly, neighboring states have a history of intervening in Afghanistan's affairs. Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, and others will still back Afghan factions that serve their interests, whether or not peace is served.

Who will be around to see that the various factions do not open the window to chaos and corruption? Not an international force limited to Kabul. And certainly not the United States. Great minds like Henry Kissinger warn that we should ensure terrorism does not reappear in Afghanistan, but not be drawn into its civil strife.

The Bush administration apparently agrees. While the president has stopped saying "we don't do nation-building," Washington seems to believe this can be accomplished by throwing money at the problem. Powell assured Karzai the US would help reconstruct Afghanistan and he pledged nearly $300 million in assistance for the coming year. But when asked whether US aid would include troops for the security force, Powell has said he didn't see the need for US troops on the ground once Operation Enduring Freedom is over.

So once we declare victory, our war fighters will be off to more manly pursuits than peacekeeping. Afghanistan will be left with a government in Kabul and who knows what outside the capital. The warlords, the opium growers, and neighboring states will determine that. Meanwhile, Washington will send hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and hope peace endures, even if freedom doesn't, at least until the next election.

• Dennis Jett is dean of the International Center at the University of Florida and author of 'Why Peacekeeping Fails' (St. Martin's Press).

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