Ballots versus bullets in Afghanistan

opinion April 04, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Voters heading to the polls face an uncertain future; the world cannot afford to abandon this fledgling democracy to the Taleban wolves

The people of Afghanistan go to the polls tomorrow to vote for a new president to replace Hamid Karzai, who came to power after the fall of the Taleban in 2001.
The past 13 years has seen tens of thousands killed in a bitter conflict with insurgents. The international community has poured in billions of dollars in a bid to develop a country whose people, when not fighting outside forces, have been at each other’s throats for much of their modern history. 
In spite of the billions spent and countless lives lost, Afghanistan is still very much in the danger zone. According to a recently released report, “What Next for Afghanistan?” by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), headed by former UK foreign secretary David Miliband, the country is in grave danger of sliding back into chaos if abandoned by the world again.
Miliband urged the world community not to use the impending withdrawal of foreign troops as an excuse to cut ties with the country. Indeed, humanitarian and development aid must continue if the world wants to help Afghanistan move on from its status as a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists. 
“Conflict has torn at the fabric of Afghanistan for generations and a great deal of blood and treasure has been spent in the last decade,” Miliband said. “Despite real security concerns, the international community must not turn its back on the Afghan people. The end of international military operations is the time to redouble humanitarian efforts, not scale them back.”
Although the figure spent on Afghanistan by the international community is enormous, only a very small portion of it goes to humanitarian causes. The vast majority is pumped into military operations. 
One-third of the country’s 31.3 million people live in poverty and only 61 per cent have access to clean water, the World Bank reports.
Afghanistan’s most lucrative export is still opium, accounting for 90 per cent of the world supply last year. Its major roles in exporting opium and Islamist terrorism are the main reasons why the world community must remain involved in Afghanistan’s development. 
Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, but the fragile political and security situation means they have yet to be properly exploited. Though the country has made some gains in recent years, “donor fatigue” on the part of the international community threatens its continued progress. 
The world has focused too much attention on security in the narrowest sense of the world. We need to broaden our view to encompass human security and the humanitarian fallout from the conflict, and divert the money flow away from the military towards improving the livelihood of the people. 
Tomorrow’s election is a crucial test. Candidates owe it to voters to ensure that the gains of the past decade are not snatched away by the Taleban and other remnants of past tyranny. The Taleban has vowed violence at the ballot box, declaring that anyone who comes out to cast their vote is a target.
The fall of the Taleban brought the role of women in Afghan society under scrutiny. Slowly but surely, women’s status has risen to the point where some are now even vying for political office. Needless to say, they will be among the first targeted should Western aid run dry and the extremists return to power. If Afghanistan is left to slide back into isolation, the huge investment of resources over the past decade will have been for nothing. The world can’t afford to let that happen.