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Imperiled Towers: The Tenuous American Position in Afghanistan 

In late November, the World Monuments Fund included the fabled minarets of the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan, on its biannual list of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. Over 80 feet high and elaborately decorated in raised brick with floral and geometric patterns, the two honey-colored towers seem to gather all of the waning light as they stand tall and massive in the blue twilight. Yet the Fund's alert about their condition indicate that this solidity is largely an illusion and that there are forces at work undermining it. Escalating events and violence across the entire southern part of the country dramatically illustrate that these towers are not the only things that are imperiled in Afghanistan.

From the inception of the American-led international intervention in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it has been a given that fighting terror and rebuilding the country are the twin partners of this venture, and the mainstays of a profoundly symbiotic relationship. It is common knowledge that only the rapid and systematic reconstruction of the nation's war-ravaged infrastructure and economy can generate the popular support necessary for sustaining operations against and warding off the influence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Only by overawing terrorists can the US create the conditions that will allow this desperately needed rehabilitation to proceed. Furthermore, all operations military and civil must be undertaken with a high sensitivity to the cultural norms of the Afghans, who possess a fierce sense of both personal and national dignity. However, the extremely low amount of funds allocated by the Bush administration in its reconstruction efforts, compiled with its heavy-handed conduct during its war on terror, have created a vicious cycle of disillusionment and violence that are undermining any positive outcome of the US intervention in Afghanistan.

AS GOES GHAZNI GOES KABUL
The historically strategic province of Ghazni is located southwest of Kabul - Afghanistan's capital and political center - and is on the way to Kandahar. It is largely populated by ethnic Pashtuns, the founding and traditionally dominant people of Afghanistan from whom the Taliban drew their main support. It is said, 'as goes Ghazni goes Kabul.' Indeed, the storming of the citadel of Ghazni city in July, 1839, by the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War preceded England's occupation of Kabul, which went down without a fight. The recent publication of a biography of an American adventurer who witnessed their entry, The Man Who Would Be King, by Ben McIntyre, has led to a number of comparisons between that age of imperial force and our own.

According to McIntyre, adventurer and future Civil War colonel Josiah Harlan wrote in his unpublished memoir of 1842, "To subdue and crush the masses of a nation by military force is to attempt the imprisonment of a whole people: all such projects must be temporary and transient, and terminate in a catastrophe that force has ever to dread from the...vengeance of a nation outraged, oppressed, and insulted, and desperate with the blind fury of a determined and unanimous will."

Although matters have not yet reached such a critical mass as they eventually did for the British during their occupation, specific areas of concern are increasingly revealing a reality gap between the image of success the Bush administration tries to project about Afghanistan and the actual situation on the ground. Among them a stalled reconstruction effort; unnecessary civilian casualties during American military operations; a rising tide of criminal violence; and allegations of the abuse of prisoners in American hands. These have contributed to the growing perception that a misdirected use of force is the defining aspect of the United States' engagement in Afghanistan.

For two years now the reconstruction effort has proceeded at a treadmill pace. At the beginning of April, the Berlin conference on financial assistance for Afghanistan held under US auspices proved a repeat of its predecessor in Tokyo in early 2002. Far less aid was pledged than even the most conservative official estimates said would be needed. While a UN-sponsored study, "Securing Afghanistan's Future," called for a commitment of $28 billion over the next seven years, the Berlin donors offered only $8.2 billion over the next three. Hard experience during the initial phase of the international engagement following the fall of the Taliban has shown that even what is pledged is not effectively disbursed. The $4.5 billion committed at Tokyo did not fully materialize in practical application in the field as a result of inefficiency, delays, and security concerns. All of which have severely limited programs undertaken where they matter most: the countryside in which the overwhelming majority of Afghans live.

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