Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
2014: Mark it in your diary
It was with scarcely disguised sarcasm that a foreign colleague murmured ‘2014’, referring to the year, when I told him earlier last week of first reports of the United Nations Secretary-General and his NATO counterpart having to divert landing at Kabul airport to a nearby military base after a Taliban rocket attack on the Afghan capital.
He was referring to a speech made earlier at a major international conference in Kabul, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that 2014 was the target for Afghan forces to take over security responsibility in all areas of the country from the NATO-led foreign army.
The Danish foreign minister who was supposed to have come to Kabul for the event also couldn’t make it because of the attack and diverted to central Asia. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt who was traveling with the U.N. boss, wrote in his blog that “the rocket attack was not much more than a serious attack on our sleep”.
Bildt and the U.N. chief may have lost only their sleep, but many Afghans believe they lost more with a conference on which millions was spent to discuss issues that had already been agreed or offered little new hope. Promises of better governance, fighting corruption, improving security and the lives of Afghans, and coordination with foreign forces have all been made before.
The conference threw up the tightest security Afghanistan has ever experienced. Kabul’s airport was shut for Monday and Tuesday and both days were declared public holidays. All roads leading to within several kilometers of the site of the conference and the airport were closed to all traffic and even for pedestrians. With no customers, most shops closed. Anyone needing emergency medical treatment was also in trouble as most key hospitals were in the area closed to the public, or key staff couldn’t reach them.
As foreign bigwigs and Afghans officials were discussing the 2014 timetable on Tuesday, an Afghan soldier shot dead two of his U.S. trainers in an area of the secure north, away from the Taliban bastion of support. The incident was the second in a week of an Afghan soldier “going renegade” in a year in which at least 12 foreign troops have been killed by rouge local forces.
They can be a stark reminder of the perhaps the degree of lack of trust and dislike among the Afghan security forces for the foreign troops and the possible problems for an eventual transition and hand over of security responsibility in 2014.
Given the increase of violence and spread of Taliban’s attacks in recent years, it was totally understandable to see security heightened for the conference. The Taliban tried to disrupt the last big Kabul event, in June, when a major government sponsored gathering was held to discuss ways to make peace with the militants, who responded with a rocket attack and raid by commandos with suicide vests. The security lapse resulted to the departure of the interior minister and the country’s top spy boss.
The conference wasn’t all bad news for Kabulites, however. In a bid to put the capital’s best face forward, authorities repaired several roads leading from the airport to the conference venue. Potholes were filled in and lane divided mushroomed overnight .
It also prompted a spate of black humour. A friend who lives near the airport and couldn’t even leave his house offered to cook me a special Afghan dish and deliver it to me — knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to carry out his generous offer.
Summing up the conference, Karzai appeared with the U.N. chief for a joint news conference where he said his talk of Afghanistan seeking to take security responsibility in 2014 was not new.