British PM's Afghan visit highlights West's concerns

August 31, 2009 - 0:0

KABUL (AFP) -– A flying visit to Kabul by the British prime minister highlights the urgency among Western backers to shore up home support for their huge military and financial commitment to Afghanistan, analysts said.

Afghanistan's status as one of the world's most corrupt countries -- number five, according to watchdog Transparency International -- has been reinforced with allegations that the August 20 elections were riddled with fraud.
Along with rising troop deaths, Western public concern is mounting that the cost of engagement in Afghanistan is worth neither the tragic returns in young bodies nor the billions in aid money that appears to be going nowhere.
Analysts in Afghanistan said Brown's visit Saturday would add pressure on the dueling presidential candidates to accept the election results and move forward in a spirit of political maturity.
“The main objective of the Western powers is defeating terrorism, not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan also,” Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, told AFP.
“So Gordon Brown's visit is aimed at convincing the British people that the West cannot remain removed from the current political crisis here because the West is involved, too -- every day their soldiers are being killed.”
The latest election results released on Saturday showed President Hamid Karzai widening his lead over his nearest rival Abdullah Abdullah, as he moved towards the prospect of outright victory.
Officials have now announced results from 35 percent of polling stations used in the second ever direct presidential vote in a country dogged by a Taliban insurgency at record levels, eight years after the US-led invasion.
More results will be announced today, with the final tally not due until September 17.
Abdullah has alleged extensive fraud by his opponent, and the Election Complaints Commission is dealing with more than 2,000 complaints, 450 of which it said could influence the eventual outcome.
Fears are growing that Abdullah's threat, in an interview on Saturday with a British newspaper, not to accept an election result he believes is fraudulent could lead to violence.
Mir said Brown's visit “sends a very strong message to Karzai and the other candidates, including Abdullah, that as soon as the final result of the election is declared, they must reach a peaceful political solution.”
The fraud allegations have dismayed foreign powers which together have more than 100,000 troops in the country fighting a resurgent Taliban and have poured in what a UN official put near 20 billion dollars since 2002.
With more boots on the ground, the counterinsurgency effort is meeting greater resistance from the Taliban, leading to record deaths of international troops.
Independent website says 302 foreign soldiers have died this year, up from 294 for all of 2008.
Brown used his visit to pledge accelerated training of Afghan security forces in order to battle the insurgency and eventually draw down international troops.
“I think we could get another 50,000 Afghan army personnel trained over the next year,” Brown told the BBC from southern Helmand province, base for most of Britain's 9,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“Stepping that up means that the Afghans take more responsibility for their own affairs,” he said, adding: “That, working with a big lift in the Afghan forces, is going to be the next stage of the post-election effort in Afghanistan.”
Western military leaders in Afghanistan have said training the Afghan army to tackle Taliban without foreign back-up will need more foreign troops -- and probably more deaths -- in the short term.