Monday, May 24, 2004

Provincialism in Afghanistan

The Washington Post had this article about how pressures to conform to national policies in Afghanistan are causing resentment within the provinces.

By most standards, Wardak province should be a model for the rest of Afghanistan. It is the only place in the country where militia disarmament, poppy eradication and voter registration -- three efforts backed by the United Nations and Western governments -- are taking place simultaneously.

But some residents say they feel this ruggedly beautiful, impoverished province is less a showcase than a victim. They complain that it has been singled out for unpopular projects demanded by international powers because it is close to Kabul, economically vulnerable and without a dominant leader to resist the pressure.

Some local officials and U.N. officers said the simultaneous launching of the anti-poppy and disarmament programs could sharpen anti-government sentiment. It also could undermine provincial support for national elections in September, they said, which to succeed will require accelerated voter registration in rural areas by July.

"We are getting increasingly concerned about Wardak, because everything is taking place there at once, and it's putting a lot of pressure on people," said one U.N. officer in the capital. "People see the international process as one thing, whether it's disarmament, poppy eradication or voter registration. If they get upset enough to boycott the elections, it could hurt everything." ...

The province has been largely free of Islamic terrorism, and its small armed factions have been far more willing to disarm than more powerful militia bosses elsewhere. Mohammed Musa Hotak, a local commander and Islamic cleric, volunteered to turn in his weapons and demobilize 100 fighters last month, earning high-level official praise.

Nevertheless, the simultaneous start of the disarmament and anti-poppy programs has aroused resentment in a region where poor farmers and ex-militia fighters are often one and the same, and where ethnic Pashtuns are suspicious of being abused by ethnic Tajik factions in the transitional government set up by the United Nations in 2001.

In most models for dealing with particularism the resistance of the provinces is often ascribed to cultural isolation. But pressure can also come from the modernizing mission of the state, especially as it is applied unevenly throughout the territories.


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