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Afghan Government Struggles with Taliban Threat

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

SUSAN STAMBERG:

And I'm Susan Stamberg

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kabul today, at a time of increasingly tense relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western supporters. Karzai is being criticized for not being able to extend his political power beyond Kabul. There's been a resurgence of Taliban attacks and more than a thousand citizens have killed so far this year.

Karzai has complained that the international community isn't doing enough to root out terrorism outside of Afghanistan. And he pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan. Secretary Rice was there yesterday.

Joining us now, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. Mr. Rashid, you're recently back from Afghanistan. Tell us how bad the tensions are these days between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Any sense that they can cooperate in this war on terrorism?

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist): Well, the relations are very bad. President Karzai accuses Pakistan of harboring the Taliban and not doing enough to capture them, arrest them. And that they are crossing the border, that they're using Pakistan as a logistics base. Pakistan denies this and has very roundly criticized Karzai for being ineffective and incapable of governing properly.

I mean, President Musharraf has very sharply criticized Karzai. Now, Rice is here partly to try and resolve this problem. But more emphatically, there's a great deal of international disillusionment with Karzai. The Europeans, NATO, the United Nations they have all become very critical of him for being indecisive, for having a very incompetent group of people around him, appointing corrupt governors and police chiefs, and not doing enough about the drug thing.

Now, all this is I think fairly fair criticism, but Karzai has shot back and said that the international community has never given me sufficient resources or troops on the ground to do the job properly, and that is also true.

STAMBERG: So what are people saying Secretary Rice might be able to do in order to improve the situation?

Mr. RASHID: Well, to be frank, people are extremely cynical about the Americans. The Americans have always shortchanged Afghanistan. Instead of stabilizing and rebuilding the country, they went on to do the war in Iraq. The aid community, the NGO's, the aid workers are very, very cynical. Now, I think even now the assumption is that Rice has come basically because there's a G-8 Summit happening and the Russians and Chinese are already very critical of American failure, what they see as American failure in Afghanistan, and Rice is desperately trying to show up something, so that before the G-8 Summit starts with President Bush they're not faced with a deluge of criticism that the Americans have failed both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

And of course the Congressional elections are coming up in the U.S. and there's a lot of awareness in Afghanistan that with Iraq looking so bad if Afghanistan also looks so bad the Republicans are going to have a very tough time.

STAMBERG: Yeah. What about sort of internal politics in that part of the world? President Karzai in Afghanistan, Musharraf in Pakistan, are both of them weakened by this surge in Taliban violence?

Mr. RASHID: They are very much so. You know, the Taliban insurgency is now huge. They've got about between five to seven thousand fighters taking on NATO and American forces. They seem to be very well supplied. And now there seems to be growing public sympathy, I wouldn't say support, but sympathy for the Taliban.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. Ahmed Rashid is author of Taliban Militant Islam: Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. He joined up this morning from Lahore, Pakistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.