While much has improved since 2001, the government still needs foreign assistance to maintain security amid bombings and riots.

Is Afghanistan ripe for development or teetering on the edge of chaos? Sceptics argue that since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, the peace that was imposed by commitment of foreign troops and billions in aid has been a mirage.

Still, for many war-wary Afghans and resident foreigners, the security situation over the past 12 to 18 months appeared to be gradually improving. Until May, Westerners were beginning to relax, particularly in the capital Kabul, venturing out to restaurants and tentatively lowering their guard.

All that changed on May 7 when a suicide bomb at a Kabul internet café killed three, coming after a failed kidnap attempt on three World Bank officials. Since then Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni was abducted in Kabul and in the latest incident, 11 Afghan aid workers from the same agency were killed in two separate attacks in the south of the country. Anti-US riots have compounded an already tense situation.

Despite the upsurge in violence, Afghanistan has undergone a sea change since 2001. Presidential elections were successfully held; parliamentary elections are slated for September. Though chronically under-resourced and lacking capacity, government ministries are finalising policies and implementation plans. National budgets are in place and a medium-term expenditure framework agreed.

Reconstruction means Kabul is barely recognisable from the bombed-out, bullet-ridden ruin that it was just three and a half years ago.

Certainly, more rapid improvement would be preferable, but this should not overshadow just how far the country has come and how much further it could go with the right support.

Wedged between the expectations of its own people and the international community on one side, and the destabilising actions of anti-government elements on the other, the Afghan government has a narrow window of opportunity to put the country on a secure footing.

Given the extent to which foreign meddling in Afghan affairs has destabilised the country before, there is an even greater obligation now to redouble efforts to improve the effectiveness of assistance, let alone even think of cutting and running in the present climate of uncertainty.


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