Tuesday, March 2, 2010

First steps for stability in Marjah?

Mr Khalili (c) looks on as a US marine gave medical treatment to an Afghan mine victim in Marjan

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Marjah, Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Vice-President, Abdul Karim Khalili, has visited the town of Marjah in Helmand Province, days after the national flag was raised over the former Taliban stronghold.

Nothing too surprising about that, you might think.

After all, Marjah has been the main focus of Operation Moshtarak, the largest military operation carried out by Nato and its Afghan allies since 2001.

But Mr Khalili's fleeting visit - accompanied by Nato commander, Gen Stanley McChrystal and senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill - draws attention to one of the most critical issues in this entire campaign.

Can the Afghan government, the central government in Kabul, actually deliver on its promises?

After stepping off a Nato helicopter, Mr Khalili certainly sought to reassure a crowd of local men gathered in a field on the edge of town.

'Only the beginning'

"We will bring peace and stability," he said.

"It is not going to be like the past. We will stay, and we will build and we will defend you.

"This," he said, "is only the beginning."

But do they believe him? Should they believe him?

There is no question that people have been badly let down before.

Mr Khalili's audience was polite but subdued. There were complaints about family members who were killed in the military operation, and about property which had been damaged or destroyed.

There is clearly a long way to go to establish trust. But Nato commanders hope something positive is beginning to happen.

Having a senior politician from Kabul visiting an area where the Taliban had held sway for so long in the absence of any government presence is a good first step.

"He came down to see Marjah and to represent the president," Gen McChrystal said as he watched from the sidelines, "[…] and, particularly in a difficult security environment, to get direct feedback from the people is really key".

For the full report click here for BBC Online

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