Widely portrayed as the 'success of the war on terror', Afghanistan is now in crisis. Increasingly detached from the people it is meant to serve, and unable to manage the massive amounts of aid that it has sought, the administration in Kabul struggles to govern even the diminishing areas of the country over which it has some sway. Whatever political progress that has been possible now takes place against a backdrop of mounting casualties among innocent Afghan civilians and NATO troops. Many Afghans feel themselves to be trapped, hostage between two forces, both of which claim to be their liberators. Perceived by some to be part of a wider struggle that extends to Iraq and Palestine, NATO's campaign in the south seems 'unwinnable'. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand Afghanistan and examine the recent experience of international engagement, and the myths and half-truths that abound. Drawing on long experience of living and working in Afghanistan, Chris Johnson and Jolyon Leslie examine what the changes of recent years have meant in terms of Afghans' sense of their own identity and hopes for the future. They argue that lasting peace and stability will only be brought about through a form of engagement that respects the rights of Afghans to determine their own political future, while delivering on the responsibilities that come with military intervention.
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This absorbing book is written by two people who between them have worked for 20 years in aid agencies in Afghanistan. They criticise the post-war policies imposed by the US state. Even the UN Secretary-General decries `premature elections¿ and `cosmetic democracies¿. Security in Afghanistan is now worse than for years. Opposition to the US/UN occupation is growing. The US-dominated World Bank insisted that all Afghanistan¿s pre-1979 debts be paid. The Bank says privatisation is the answer to government inefficiency and corruption, so they privatised the inefficiency and corruption! They even privatised the health service, despite the universal failures of health markets. Privatisation means governments spending our money to prop up private companies. Across the world, the evidence proves that privatisation grows private fortunes, not public services or economies, and that market liberalisation destroys societies and states. Nor is foreign aid the answer. In 2003, the US state allocated $1.6 billion for rebuilding Afghanistan, but most went to outside, mostly US, `consultants¿. Only 10% resulted in finished projects. 83% of a $150 million Asian Development Bank loan for roads, power and gas went to foreign contractors. By 2002, 350 Non-Governmental Organisations, up from 46 in 1999, were competing for foreign aid funds. The authors rightly describe as `hopelessly idealistic¿ their own proposal that ¿the various international players [ugh!] have to leave their own agendas behind and start concentrating on Afghanistan.¿ The UN¿s failures in Kosovo, East Timor and now Afghanistan prove that the failures are systemic: UN intervention is part of the problem. The authors¿ contradictory ideal of `participatory intervention¿ mirrors Blair¿s imperial claim of `humanitarian intervention¿. The authors are right to say, ¿Fundamentally it is not donor money that Afghanistan needs but a working economy.¿ But how? Not through the `new form of international engagement¿ that they suggest. The Afghan people need to get the foreign occupiers out so that they can freely decide their own future. But the authors, good little empire-building missionaries that they are, argue that withdrawal would be premature, always premature. Countries need sovereignty, not foreign patronage, democracy not foreign despotism.