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NATO is widely believed to be completely losing control
NATO is widely believed to be completely losing control of the situation in Afghanistan to the Taliban. The recent summit in Bucharest did not dispel this opinion.

Now some details are becoming clear. It appears that at the summit, Germany ignored the U.S. appeal to the participants in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to send more troops to that country. Other major ISAF members, such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey did not show much enthusiasm, either.

The same is true of Washington's major allies in the anti-terrorist coalition - Canada and the United Kingdom. The NATO-led ISAF mission and the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition are operating in Afghanistan in parallel.

In this context, many Russian and Western observers are very pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan. They are calling into doubt both NATO's peacemaking potential, and its ability to cope with the Afghan reality. Some maintain that a bad situation is rapidly getting worse, and that NATO and Hamid Karzai's government control only Kabul, or a mere 10% of Afghan territory. Are these statements an exaggeration?

However, official Afghan sources - the defense, interior, and foreign ministers - describe the current situation in the country as promising, and maintain that the Taliban control only 10% of Afghan territory. Yet these statements contradict expert opinion.

Most experts assessing the situation in Afghanistan proceed from acts of terror in Kabul. These attacks, especially suicide attacks (which are not typical to the Afghan mentality), can hardly be considered a manifestation of an organized political, religious, or social movement. As a rule, acts of terror are committed by a handful of individuals, and this is why it is difficult to counter them.

There are other factors as well, for instance, massive artillery attacks on administrative centers in the provinces, which are also difficult to prevent, but for the opposite reason - unlike acts of terror, they are carried out by relatively numerous forces. In effect, they are contrary to acts of terror.

It appears that the last massive attack on Kabul was mounted in December 2003. But what about the massive artillery attacks on administrative centers in Afghanistan's northern provinces, such as Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif, or Baghlan, which were neither stable in times of peace, nor safe in times of trouble? Statistics is zero in this case, too, which is a tell-tale fact. And in general opinion, the situation in the north is relatively stable compared with the east and the south.

There, the Taliban, and Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar's Islamic Party of Afghanistan (IPA), another armed opponent of Kabul, hold traditionally strong positions, but not strong enough for a large-scale offensive. It would be natural to ask whether the Taliban's armed opposition to the current regime has a social base, and if so, how broad it is.

The presidential and parliamentary elections have shown that Karzai's course enjoys the support of the major part of the population, and that even more people welcome NATO's presence in the country as a guarantor of security and future stability. This suggests only a rump of support for the Taliban and other armed opposition groups.

In the past few months, leaders of the former Northern Alliance - ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and former Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim - have held talks with the Taliban and the IPA on the prospect of reconciliation between the rebels and the central government.

These talks represent a landmark. In effect, they are aimed at national reconciliation. This points to the central government's confidence in its powers, and part of the credit for this must certainly go to NATO.

Initially, ISAF was not only concerned with ensuring security in the regions, where a host of other international and national agencies were working to rehabilitate the economy, restoring schools, hospitals, and water supply systems, and clearing mines. It was also supposed to help Afghanistan create its own national army, police and auxiliary units. NATO has also been charged with the same tasks, and now Afghanistan has its own army and police. And they are working, if not perfectly.

In fact NATO's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan is probably one of the most successful, considering the magnitude of its tasks, the Afghan reality, and the divisions inside the alliance itself as to stepping up the bloc's presence in that country. But a crisis in NATO is one thing, and the crisis of NATO in Afghanistan is another.

NATO should reinforce its contingent in Afghanistan by all means possible, if only because this will considerably strengthen Kabul's hand at the talks with the armed opposition, all the more so now that a possibility of national reconciliation has emerged.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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