The euphoria that accompanied the liberation from the Taliban regime has also been enjoyed by the drug barons and the local bosses. They are able to grow poppies with no fear of the brutal harassment that was inflicted on them by the Taliban, who banned this crop. According to a United Nations report, Afghanistan produced 3,400 tons of opium last year.
The satisfaction at the considerable improvement in the status of women in that country is also likely to fade when the U.N. presents its report on the subject, which is due out today. According to the report, the education system for women was expanded in only one city -- Kabul, the capital. But in the rural areas and in the other cities, women's rights remain a dead letter. Women are afraid to take jobs and hardly any girls' schools have been opened, and those that have opened are being attended by men. Similarly, the personal safety and security of women in Afghanistan is at a nadir.
In short, the situation in Afghanistan, according to media reports and human rights organizations, is rapidly reverting to what it was during the period of Taliban rule. For example, the "Islamic Morality Police," who operate on the streets of Kabul, are seizing men and women who do not behave according to the rules of Islam. A judge who was appointed by Karzai ruled this week that cable television must be prohibited because it is contrary to the Islamic faith. The lopping off of organs -- which has again become a form of punishment in the provinces -- along with public flogging by policemen and torture of prisoners no longer draw public attention.
Afghanistan is supposed to serve as a model of the democratization and nation-building process that the U.S. adopted when it went to war against the al-Qaeda bases in the country. Phrases such as "the liberation of Afghanistan," "the creation of representative national institutions," "human rights" and "women's rights" embellished the speeches of senior American officials, who thought that a campaign against al-Qaeda bases was not a sufficient cause to prosecute a war against Afghanistan.
We are now hearing the same phrases, this time in connection with the looming war against Iraq. The 16 months that have gone by since the change of regime in Afghanistan are not a sufficient period to gauge in-depth processes in the local society. Still, there are a number of important indexes that can be of use in an attempt to evaluate what we can expect to see in Iraq if the U.S. administration seeks to implement its Afghanistan policy there as well.
Karzai paid a visit to Washington about a month ago, meeting with President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The real reason for the visit was to ask for additional aid and security for his country. At a joint press conference with Bush, not one question was directed to Karzai.
It is difficult to find substantive proof for Bush's words of praise for Karzai's activity or for the American efforts to assist him. The draft foreign aid budget submitted by the administration to Congress contains not so much as one dollar for Afghanistan. In an unusual move, it was Congress itself that initiated aid of $300 million for Kabul. When an official of the State Department, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, was asked why the administration was not asking for aid for Afghanistan, he replied that when the budget was drawn up, it was unclear how much money would be needed. The reply drew guffaws from the committee members. Karzai explained to members of Congress that he needs $1.5 billion this year for development purposes and another $500 million for routine administrative expenses.
The presence of about 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan is also starting to cause difficulties. Shooting at American targets as well as the planting of bombs and the mining of patrol roads are becoming daily occurrences. In the three weeks between Jan. 16 and Feb. 5, 30 incidents were recorded, involving shooting, abductions of civilians and other attacks. Posters attacking the presence of the American forces are put up in mosques overnight.
If the presence of 10,000 American soldiers is generating a resistance movement in Afghanistan, one can conjecture what the presence of more than 250,000 soldiers will do in Iraq. The pressure that the American troops are facing comes not only from the tough missions, the terrible weather and the rugged terrain. "There is no way of knowing who is for you and who is against you here," an American soldier wrote home in a letter that was published in the United States. "Everyone is a suspect."
In December 2001, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld declared that the American armed forces would not remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. In the meantime, it is difficult to see when the U.S. troops will be able to leave the country, as every day more reports come in about the regrouping of Taliban forces and al-Qaeda activists.
The same comment might soon become valid in the case of Iraq. It too has factions, tribes and local bosses, and in Iraq, too, the American export of democratization is liable to end up being isolated inside army barracks.
This article first appeared in Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily.