Insecurity in Uruzgan as Dutch prepare to leave
The Afghan city, Tarin Kowt, has made progress during the Dutch four-year mission in the Uruzgan province.
Instead of being openly sold out in the street, opium is mainly available now under the counter in Tarin Kowt. The capital of the southern Afghan province, Uruzgan, has grown so much, houses are now practically on the doorstep of the Dutch military base, Kamp Holland. A multitude of stores carrying basic items such as vegetables, textile and kitchen equipment has opened for business.
Almost four years after the Dutch began their mission to Uruzgan, its capital has slowly sprung to life. The hustle and bustle in the town’s bazaar and the busy traffic in its street almost resemble that of a provincial city in any developing nation at peace. Calling the city safe would be a stretch, though. Foreigners are still unable to walk the streets alone. But this is no different in Kabul. Local hospital treats hundreds a day
The local hospital now treats some 300 to 400 patients a day, compared to the 25 it helped when it first opened two and a half years ago. Recently, dozens of women, most dressed in burqas, stood in line awaiting treatment at the clinic. Most were suffering from anaemia, or had infections to the urinary tract or uterus, said doctor Negara. "We can’t help everyone. We lack essential medicines," the doctor explained. Most progress has been basic. Undernourished children can now be saved, more and more babies are vaccinated and fewer women die during childbirth.
Since it became certain their mission will end on August 1,Dutch soldiers have been preparing a presentation to showcase their successes. They like to point out how many girls now attend school, that real estate prices have gone up in Tarin Kowt, and that the population tends to report the location of improvised explosive devices more often, a sign of growing confidence in both the Dutch and the Afghan military.
At the same time, there is a lot of uncertainty about who will take the Netherlands’ place after its soldiers leave. The mission itself is abuzz with rumours. The Nato mission, ISAF, could assign the lead role in Uruzgan to the United states. Australia is another possible candidate. The country already has 1,000 troops stationed in the province and therefore the second most intimate knowledge of the region after the Netherlands. The Australian government is the focus of increased diplomatic pressure, although it has already explicitly refused to take over as lead nation. A plan to have the Americans replace the UK in Helmand province and move the British forces to Uruzgan, Zabul and Kandahar, has not gone over well in London.
No lead nation?
A scenario without a ‘lead nation’ is also being considered, therefore, which would leave the province under direct authority of the Regional Command South in Kandahar. This would be in line with the strategy propagated by ISAF commander Stanley McCrysthal, which focuses on densely populated areas and considers provincial borders of less importance. It is not clear how this would fit with McCrysthal other stated goal of of reinforcing Afghan governance, which is undertaken mainly at the provincial level.
Over the last few months, Dutch soldiers have tried to involve the Australians in their dealings with the locals as much as possible. "At first they were more focused on confrontation," said Johan Verboom, second-in-command of the provincial reconstruction team, about the Australians. "But now they are starting to see many things the same way we do."
Abdul Rauf, a healthcare coordinator responsible for the Deh Rashan area north of Tarin Kowt, said many locals worried about who would take over in Uruzgan. "If the Americans replace the Dutch, security will suffer," he said. While some residents of Uruzgan do not distinguish between the different nationalities that make up the ISAF mission, others hold a much more positive view of the Dutch than of the Americans. "The Dutch cooperate with the community, while the Americans kill civilians and search houses," is how Rauf summed up the sentiment.
"Many people hate the Americans," he said. "But if they leave Afghanistan, as they announced they will, the Taliban will take over the entire country within days. This is why many people are already siding with the Taliban."
Many Afghans believe American president Barack Obama’s announcement that the US will begin withdrawing its troops in July of 2011 means they will once again be left to their own devices.
The local warlord Mohammed Nabi Khan has taken action against the Taliban in the past, but at the same time maintained relationships with them. The police does little for the local population, Rauf said. "They abuse people and accuse them of being Taliban so they can extort them."
Last week, four construction workers in Deh Rashan were killed in a hail of gunfire because they were said to be working for the government. Whenever Rauf needs to receive paperwork he does so secretly, because some of his fellow villagers suspect him of being an ISAF spy. Progress has yet to take hold in their town 12 kilometres from Tarin Kowt. "There will only be peace if we start talking with the Taliban and give them a place in the provincial government," Rauf said.