The value of an apology
Christian Science Monitor 07/12/2002 By Daniel Schorr
WASHINGTON - Before gearing up for the next war, against Iraq, the Bush administration had better make sure it doesn't lose the last war, in Afghanistan. A struggling Karzai regime in Kabul is in shaky condition, caught between friendly and unfriendly fire.
The assassination of Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir, the leading Pashtun in the coalition and the second Cabinet member to be killed, has sharpened the ethnic tensions that always threaten national unity. The American government can be of some assistance in beefing up security in Kabul and in helping in the hunt for the assassins by providing technical expertise.
There is not much America can do about Afghanistan's violent feuds. But what needs serious attention is how this superpower behaves about its own mistakes that hurt the people it is trying to befriend.
In the latest and most sanguinary in a series of accidental attacks on Afghan civilians, villagers in southern Afghanistan were devastated by what they charged was an air assault on a wedding party and nearby villages that left 48 persons dead and 117 wounded.
It took almost a week before Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, the allied commander, acknowledged that there were civilian casualties - no number mentioned - and that no ordnance was found in the area that would support the claim that U.S. planes were responding to antiaircraft fire. The American command eventually announced a full-scale investigation.
But what have we come to when some Afghan citizens no longer talk of America as liberator, but as an enemy? And when Gen. McNeill finds it necessary to say, "It is not a policy of this coalition to target innocents."
President Bush said he told Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the telephone, "Any time innocent life is lost, we're sad." Missing from the superpower lexicon of abstract regret is apology or acknowledgment of responsibility. Is the superpower too big to be accountable to peoples from less powerful nations?
A nonchalant attitude about the harm the U.S. sometimes does to its friends in the developing world can have its price. As the Bush administration gears up for military action against Iraq, we are forced to ask how much support the United States will have from the opponents of Saddam Hussein within Iraq.
The Kurds would be a natural ally; they operate an autonomous mini-state in northern Iraq. But John Burns of The New York Times, on a trip to the area, found Kurdish leaders disinclined to join a U.S.-led military campaign.
The Kurds have bitter memories of betrayal at the hands of the Americans. Once in the early 1970s, President Nixon had the CIA organize a Kurdish rebellion and then walked away from it for reasons of high policy, leaving hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee the wrath of the Iraqi government.
Then again in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, President Bush the elder called for rebellion in Iraq. The Kurds responded with an uprising, received no military support, and were slaughtered by the thousands at the hands of Hussein's forces.
Neither the Afghans nor the Kurds are central to America's strategic concerns. But occasionally America needs a friend among the peoples who live along the front lines of troubled regions, and we are fast running out of them.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.
Karzai presses on with assembly despite warlord fears
Reuters 07/12/2002 By Nick Macfie
Kabul - President Hamid Karzai is pushing Afghanistan's fractious politicians to choose a parliament quickly as international aid officials say the country could slide back under the control of warlords if it fails to get aid.
Karzai, who is keen to get all elements of government in place as a buffer against disaffected warlords jockeying for power, hustled delegates to last month's Loya Jirga grand assembly to complete unfinished business and set up a parliament.
Underscoring the difficulties Karzai is facing, Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir, a powerful warlord businessman, was assassinated as he drove away from his first day at work in the centre of Kabul last Saturday.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has accepted Karzai's invitation to help investigate the killing but it has kept its cards close to it chest on what it can do.
"Our main mission is to assist in maintaining security (in Kabul)," ISAF spokesman Colonel Samet Oz told a news briefing this week. "But if we get some request (to help in the investigation), we will provide more security on this issue."
A successful prosecution would be a huge boost for Karzai, especially after a bungled investigation into the killing of the tourism minister at Kabul Airport in February for which suspects were named, but no one ever brought to book.
Karzai has made the elimination of warlords one of his priorities before elections in 2004.
But his new cabinet has maintained the services of several, apparently in the belief it is safer to keep them on the inside than have them on the outside hatching plots against the government.
A top U.N. official told a meeting of aid donors in Geneva on Thursday that Afghanistan could slide back under the control of warlords if it failed to get the aid it urgently needs.
Kenzo Oshima, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said $777 million was needed to the end of this year to pay for food and shelter for returning refugees as well as costs such as police and army salaries.
Almost one-third of the country's population depends on emergency aid.
Karzai chased up Loya Jirga delegates on Thursday to choose a parliament to help bolster his government and steer the country out of 23 years of war.
Karzai set up a commission to decide on procedures for setting up a National Council, or parliament, after a row about how to choose MPs during the Loya Jirga grand assembly, with different representational proposals failing to find favour.
"In the Loya Jirga, we promised to set up a National Council. We must follow this up. It is a need," Karzai told the delegates at the presidential palace.
"It's up to you to choose the real representatives of the people...so that in future there will be no complaints. Government officials don't have the right of participation in this council," he said.
Karzai was chosen interim leader last December as the former ruling Taliban were being driven from power by opposition forces backed by U.S. air attacks.
The United States launched air strikes in October to flush out Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States, and punish his Taliban protectors.
U.S. Special Forces Base Attacked in Afghanistan
A compound being used by U.S. special forces in central Afghanistan was attacked with small arms, U.S. officials said on Friday.
There were no reported casualties from Thursday night's incident at the mud-walled compound in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province.
Colonel Roger King, a U.S. spokesman at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, said he did not believe attacks against Americans had increased.
"We are in the middle of a war -- people do get shot at," King said. "But I don't necessarily say there's been an increase or decrease of enemy activity over the short term."
U.S. forces are hunting for remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and for fighters from Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Some 40 American soldiers have been killed in combat and non-combat incidents and 341 wounded since the U.S. operation in Afghanistan began last year.
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