In Afghanistan, It's Too Early to Hail Democracy

The Bush administration has long held up Afghanistan as a democratic success story in the Middle East. But many who are familiar with conditions on the ground in Afghanistan say that the Taliban, far from defeated, has entered a new stage in the insurgency.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been keeping close track of events in Iraq, but he's also been reading and thinking about the other major conflict the U.S. has faced, the war in Afghanistan.

DANIEL SCHORR: President Bush likes to talk up Afghanistan of one of the great victories of his policy of spreading democracy. We liberated 25 million people from the clutches of one of the most barbaric regimes known to the history of man, he said last month in Charlotte, North Carolina. And on a visit to Kabul in March, he said to President Hamid Karzai that as democracy takes hold you're inspiring others.

But the self-congratulation seems to be a little premature. On a tour of Southern Afghanistan, Carlotta Gall of the New York Times found that the Taliban, far from being defeated, has entered a new stage in the insurgency with suicide bombings and assassinations in the knowledge that American troops are leaving and handing over their assignment to NATO.

A shopkeeper is quoted as telling Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry that the people, police, and Afghan army are with the government by day, but with the Taliban and al-Qaida by night, and support them with a system of Muslim tithing.

This is not the way things were supposed to be in a land where America landed troops after the 9/11 attacks and ousted the fundamentalist Taliban making way for a moderate regime headed by President Karzai. Milton Viorst, in his newly released book Storm from the East, writes that the Bush administration became distracted by its designs on Iraq and failed to give Afghanistan its full attention.

The state it established to replace the Taliban, although Democratic, was never secure, Viorst writes. While it tottered dangerously, the Taliban regrouped and the chance to seize Bin Laden was lost. If the Bush Administration hadn't much to crow about in Iraq, it thought that at least it had the liberation of Afghanistan, but it seems that there, too, mission accomplished may be a little early.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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