Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped yet another assassination attempt last week. Other Afghans were not as lucky: They were killed when bombs exploded in the capital city of Kabul. The attacks are another reminder of the fragility of the peace in that country. Although the military is “mopping up” remnants of Taliban forces in the countryside, much more work is needed if Afghanistan is going to have a future. Concerned nations must follow up their pledges of support with money and personnel. To date, they have not.
Mr. Karzai survived an attack by a gunman on his motorcade outside the residence of the governor of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Mr. Karzai was unharmed, but the governor was slightly injured. A few hours earlier, a powerful car bomb killed at least 15 people in Kabul, and 150 others were wounded. The explosion was sophisticated: A small bomb went off to attract a crowd and then a larger car bomb went off.
These were not the first such assaults in Afghanistan. In addition to several smaller blasts, authorities in July found a car loaded with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and arrested an individual who allegedly confessed to planning to assassinate government officials, including Mr. Karzai. Other ministers were less fortunate: Vice President Abdul Haji Qadir was shot and killed in July, while in February, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Abdul Rahman was beaten to death at Kabul airport.
Afghan officials have blamed al-Qaeda for the attacks. Mr. Karzai’s bodyguards killed the man who attacked his motorcade; he was identified as a former soldier from an area that had been a stronghold of the Taliban. Efforts to capture the remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan have met with limited success, and there are credible reports that the individuals are regrouping. According to Maj. Gen. Akin Zorlu, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in the Afghan capital, “Taliban and al-Qaeda are looking for chances to commit acts of terrorism to destabilize the situation and prove that they are still active.”
Al-Qaeda is also suspected of involvement in other incidents around the world. Swedish authorities arrested a man with a loaded gun in his handbag last week when he tried to board a flight for London. The individual, a Swede of Tunisian origin, had taken flying lessons in the United States and is charged with attempted hijacking. The Dutch government has also arrested seven men suspected of links with al-Qaeda.
As Sept. 11 approaches, security experts around the world are warning of the possibility of new attacks. While some speculate that it takes longer than a year to plan a major operation, the sad truth is that it does not take a great deal of money or a lot of time to organize a terrorist act. Individuals and small groups can do extraordinary damage. Recent reports that al-Qaeda gold may have been transferred to Sudan from Afghanistan, when coupled with a United Nations report that highlights the inadequacies of the global campaign to cut terrorist financing, provide considerable grounds for concern. The international community must step up efforts to control the flow of funds.
Mr. Karzai denies Afghanistan’s stability is at stake; he is wrong. Restoring order to a country with such a long and divided history was never going to be easy. Afghanistan’s ethnic rivalries are the product of hundreds of years of conflict and there is no tradition of strong central authority. Add to the mix al-Qaeda and the inevitable resentments generated by the presence of a foreign power and the task becomes even more monumental.
The recent attacks target the credibility of the international community. Its commitment to a new order in Afghanistan is being tested. The response has been less than inspiring. There are 4,500 peacekeepers in Afghanistan, all of them in Kabul; Bosnia, which is a fraction of Afghanistan’s size, has 18,000. At the Afghan reconstruction conference held earlier this year in Tokyo, governments promised $1.8 billion in aid and assistance to Afghanistan. Less than a third of that sum has been delivered.
“Nation-building” is a troubling concept. For some, it smacks of imperialism and neocolonialism. To others, it is a fruitless attempt to stitch authority out of the air, a waste of valuable resources. When the process is done incorrectly, it is all those things. But as the history of modern Afghanistan shows, the failure to engage in nation-building, or the unwillingness to do it right, creates problems far worse. Nature and politics abhor a vacuum; al-Qaeda has proved more than willing to fill it.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.