Cablegate: 2007 in Review

DE RUEHBUL #0071/01 0070826
O 070826Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) 2007 was a year of important progress, but also continued
challenge. The good news was on the battlefield, the economy, and
strengthened local and national institutions. The bad news was
increased terrorism, increased drug cultivation, and corruption.
Afghanistan already is seeing leaders position themselves for the
2009 elections.


2. (SBU) In response to U.S. urging, there was new emphasis on
effective local government to overcome lack of capacity, pervasive
corruption at all levels, and passivity. Control of governors
(appointed) shifted from the troubled Ministry of Interior to the
Presidency, under an able and honest director. We have seen better
appointments and better coordination in just a few months. We are
supporting this effort both in Kabul and through our PRTs and those
PRTs where there is a US presence.

3. (SBU) The Parliament passed more laws than ever before, including
some important and difficult legislation. Political rivalries,
election pre-positioning, and disagreement over the powers of the
branches became confrontational when the Parliament walked out in
protest of President Karzai's refusal to sack ministers who had lost
a no-confidence vote. Ethnic division surfaced as the northern,
Tajik dominated "United Front" emerged as a significant opposition
political force, leading the President to play more to his Pashtun
base. Preparations are underway to support parliamentary and
presidential elections in 2009/2010. We are already seeing tension
between good governance and raw politics as the Administration and
the opposition jockey for the support of sometimes questionable
leaders who control blocs of votes.


4. (SBU) 2007 saw a continued focus on spreading governance and
economic opportunity through the construction or refurbishment of
District Centers, roads and canals. The mix of traditional AID
assistance at the national level, and CERP/PRT assistance for quick
impact local projects is working well.

5. (SBU) We expect to increase power output to the southern part of
the country from the Kajaki dam from about 21MW to 33MW by the end
of 2008, with another 17MW the year after that. The rehabilitation
of the dam had been on hold for 18 months due to security concerns.
We also expect to install about 66MW of fuel-fed generating capacity
in the Kabul area by next winter, and another 33MW shortly
thereafter. Bids are out for generating capacity at the Shebergan
natural gas field and negotiations are underway for power purchase
agreements with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan's other northern

6. (SBU) We built over 650 km of roads in 2007, and project more in
2008. Roads remain the project most sought by Afghans.
Unfortunately, they also are prime targets for terrorism and
insurgency, and for police bribe-taking at illegal check-points.
Security of the roads is a high Embassy and ISAF priority. The ring
road connecting all major population and production centers of the
country is almost complete except for the Japanese portion in the
southwest and for a less important portion in the northwest between
Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

7. (SBU) Preparation of the Afghan National Development Strategy is
coming into the final stretch, prior to submission in March to the
World Bank. We expect detailed submissions for three sectors --
energy, roads, and health -- but the remaining five will be
submitted in outline form. Nevertheless, we expect the submissions
to provide the basis for international developmental assistance
planning and especially for pledges at an expected June meeting of
international donors. We are working hard to make the Kabul
planners pay sufficient attention to the locally generated
priorities that distinguish the ANDS process from more traditional
planning exercises.

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8. (SBU) Other 2007 assistance highlights include:

-- Elections assistance that will continue through 2009.

-- Very successful agricultural fairs that brought together large
numbers of producers and distributors in Kabul and other
agricultural centers.

-- Medical assistance that, inter alia, helped reduce infant
mortality by some 80,000 deaths per year.

-- $49.3 million in assistance to the UNHCR, the ICRC and NGOs to
provide returning Afghan refugees with humanitarian assistance,
shelter, water, education, health, and livelihoods.

-- Printing and distribution of over 11 million textbooks and
support for almost 6 million students in school.

-- Creation of over 62,000 jobs through support for 50,000 private
loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

-- Opening of the Afghanistan-Tajikistan "Friendship Bridge."

-- Planting of more than 2.5 million trees, both to stabilize the
environment and provide employment.


9. (SBU) The Taliban lost control of two major districts in Helmand
province in the south, Sangin and Musa Qala, while not gaining any
new districts under their control. Despite publicity-generating,
short-lived assaults on remote district centers, the Taliban were
forced out of these locations after losing a number of field
commanders and troops.

10. (SBU) The Afghan army grew in size and capability. We expect it
to reach its currently projected end strength of 70,000 in about a
year, although a U.S. Army study is underway that may recommend a
larger Afghan army end-state. Although it cannot yet take the lead
from ISAF, the army is playing a steadily increasing role on the
battlefield and contributed to the successful 2007 fighting season.

11. (SBU) Perhaps as a result of its lack of success on the
battlefield, the Taliban placed greater emphasis on terrorism with
more landmines, suicide attacks, kidnappings, human rights abuses
and atrocities committed against the local population. Although the
Taliban's most frequent targets this year were Afghan security
forces, UN studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of
victims were civilians.

12. (SBU) The Taliban strategy appears to have shifted from trying
to win the loyalty of the people to trying to intimidate them.
Although Taliban terrorism is confined to only about ten percent of
the nation's districts, it is having a major impact: the people
feel more insecure due to terrorism, warlord and drug trafficking
criminality, and continued weakness in the police and military
forces. After a hiatus, security has become a serious issue of
concern in the minds of Afghans, including in the Kabul area.

13. (SBU) With a few notable exceptions, such as the Baghlan bombing
in November that killed prominent legislators, the north has
remained secure. The south remained very difficult due to the
presence both of insurgents and the drug trade. The west had its
most difficult recent year, resulting from the combination of
insurgency, Iranian influence, drug trafficking, tribal rivalries,
and restricted responses by some ISAF members. The east has seen an
overall improvement in security thanks to effective
counter-insurgency efforts by the U.S. Eastern Afghanistan also saw
numerous border incidents involving Taliban, Pakistani frontier
forces and, more rarely, Pakistani military forces. Recent
Pakistani efforts against extremist centers, however, have reduced
both incidents and insurgent infiltration into the east.

The Police

14. (SBU) The police continue to be weak, but improving. Pay and

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rank reform programs raised police salaries to rough parity with the
army and, in the process, vetted senior officers to remove or demote
unqualified or unsuitable incumbents. The Afghan government is very
enthusiastic about the new Focused District Development (FDD)
program, which will retrain and reequip entire police units
district-by-district. The first tranche of FDD training began on
December 26. The Interior Ministry and the police must still
overcome challenges of corruption, illegal check-points, and lack of
training, equipment and confidence in their own mission. Because of
the shortage of international police trainers and mentors, some
mentoring teams have had to shift away from working with the army,
where they are also critically needed, to support the police.


15. (SBU) Drug production grew by 34 percent in 2007 according to
the UN, accounting for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin.
Half the increase was due to increased cultivation and half to
higher yields resulting from an end to drought conditions. Although
most poppy cultivation was centered in the southern provinces,
Nangarhar, in the east, saw a 285% increase, in cultivation over
2006. Total eradication in 2007 was just under 20,000 hectares, up
from 15,300 hectares the year before. The number of poppy-free
provinces in Afghanistan more than doubled, from six to 13.

16. (SBU) The symbiotic nexus of insurgency, corruption, and drug
trafficking represents a huge challenge to our goals of peace,
democracy, development, and decency. The Afghans have rejected U.S.
recommendations to deploy aerial spray. The government has
increased cooperation in narcotics interdiction but to date no
high-level traffickers have been convicted on narcotics charges.
According to UNODC's December prognosis, 2008 cultivation patterns
continue the pattern of decreased cultivation in the more secure
northern and central provinces while cultivation stays high in the
insecure south and southwest. U.S. public and private insistence on
the dangers of illicit drug production, coupled with enhanced
incentives for reduction of cultivation, may reduce planting in a
few areas. But we expect overall acreage to go up again.

Rule of Law

17. (SBU) The Rome Rule of Law Conference secured substantial new
pledges for rule of law and demonstrated the international consensus
to support this sector. At the end of 2007 the Afghan Justice
Sector is better organized but suffers from a lack of trained
personnel, a crumbling physical infrastructure, ineffectual law
enforcement in the provinces, an inadequate legal framework, and
most of all, pervasive corruption. For most of the country,
institutional justice remains distant. One outcome of the Rome
conference was renewed emphasis on provincial and rural justice
systems. Better community policing, better local governance and
closer cooperation with some of the traditional systems of justice
offer some short-term answers. Also, for more specialized law
enforcement threats, we need better police for border security,
customs, counter-narcotics, and defense of towns and districts under
insurgent pressure. We have not yet found an optimal division of
labor among the internationals between short-term solutions and the
long-term ideal of a fully institutionalized justice system.


18. (SBU) In spite of trade and other impediments, the IMF reports
the legitimate real economy is growing at 13 percent annually, the
highest rate in South Asia. The Ministry of Finance is on track to
meet its revenue target of $715 million for this year. Per capita
income has doubled since 2002 from a very low base to around $300.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan remains a very poor country, even by
African standards. Prices for household staples have risen across
Afghanistan, driven primarily by worldwide increases in prices of
key commodities. Higher prices for the basic food basket are
reducing satisfaction with the government, leading it to increased
interference in the economy. Cabinet and Parliament have discussed
instituting price controls and reviving state-owned enterprises to
provide food at fixed, subsidized prices, a source of concern for us
and the IMF.

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19. (SBU) Increasing education and the free flow of ideas through
the media are transforming Afghanistan. Kabul-based radio and
television reach much of the country, and their sophistication is
growing. Recent discussion programs have addressed institutional
corruption, the dynamic between the executive and legislative
branches, the effectiveness of President Karzai, and a range of
social issues. Much of the programming is critical of the
government, which on occasion has drawn a troubling response. In
recent months journalists have been detained for short periods
without explanation.

20. (SBU) The Government's communications capability is improving.
A new Director of Communications in the Presidency has improved the
effort, and helped coordinate messages with the international
community on difficult questions like civilian casualties resulting
from military actions. We expect a new Government Media Center
(GMC), planned as a government-wide communications clearinghouse, to
be fully functioning by February 2008.

The Borders

21. (SBU) Over the last year the government has incrementally
improved the management of Afghanistan's borders. The Afghan Border
Police (ABP) has received advanced training and equipment necessary
to assume a new, proactive role in border security activities. At
the two major Afghan border crossings - Torkham and Islam Qalah -
U.S. mentor teams serve as a liaison between the Afghan Customs and
ABP management, provide management advice and specialized training
to both customs and ABP officers. At the Ministry of Finance, the
Border Management Task Force initiated a mentor relationship with
ministry staff to enhance productivity and revenue collection
accounting. The U.S.-financed Afghan-Tajik Bridge that Commerce
Secretary Gutierrez dedicated in August 2007 has proven a great

success in promoting cross border trade. In its first month of
limited operations, Afghan government customs revenue nearly doubled
from $80,000 to $150,000.


22. (SBU) Afghanistan continues to be high on the international
agenda. Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are
prominent among those who do not contribute troops but have an
intense interest in developments here. In 2007 literally dozens of
heads of government, foreign ministers, and defense ministers came
to visit their troops, observe development activities, and exchange
views with President Karzai.

23. (SBU) Relations with Pakistan moved forward with several
summits, the successful August bilateral peace jirga in Kabul, and
President Karzai's successful visit to Islamabad in late December.
Our primary goals are better cooperation against extremists and
terrorists along the border, easier flow of goods and services
between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the voluntary return of the
2.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Although developments have
been delayed by political events in Pakistan, Afghanistan hopes to
renew these initiatives after national elections there.

24. (SBU) Relations with Iran took a step backward as a result of
forced repatriation of more than 360,000 unregistered Afghans from
Iran, opposition to hydro projects along the border, evidence of
Iranian provision of weapons, technology, and training to the
Taliban, and Iranian support for the United Front opposition
movement (northern, non-Pashtun). But Iran also provided extensive
development and cultural assistance, is playing an increasingly
dominant role in western Afghanistan, and is ready to cooperate on
counter-narcotics. We are expecting a new ambassador to replace the
relatively moderate former ambassador, who departed more than a
month ago.

25. (SBU) Relations with the northern neighbors -- Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan - remained cordial and continued
incremental practical improvement. The new bridge to Tajikistan

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could be a gateway to Central Asia if the Tajiks, Afghans, and
Pakistanis would put their shoulders behind it. Talks are also
progressing in fits and starts on arrangements for Afghanistan to
purchase power from the three, with Uzbekistan closest to fruition.
Afghanistan and its three northern neighbors share the view that
energy resources and production should be kept in the public sector,
with private firms providing some electricity but without ownership
of the basic infrastructure.


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