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The Unfinished Wars

How can the West lead a responsible crisis management policy?

October 9, 2002

How can the West lead a responsible crisis management policy?

But beware: What initially seems to be part of an easy solution often turns into a major problem for the entire region soon after.

In the fall of 1998, the situation in Kosovo was heading towards its climax. Realizing the impotence of its European allies, the United States came up with a simple but ingenious strategy.

It encouraged the mobilization of Albanian-armed opposition. The Kosovo Liberation Army was expected to do the "dirty work" on the ground in the event of any NATO military involvement.

The ensuing military campaign, elegantly carried out from a distance of 30,000 feet above the ground, cost the allied forces fewer casualties than a routine military exercise.

The same tactic was recently used in Afghanistan by engaging the Northern Alliance. Afghan warlords, armed by the United States and supported by them from the air, broke the Taliban's resistance within a few weeks. Now the Kurds in Iraq are ready to repeat the same scenario in order to topple Saddam Hussein.

This apparent stroke of genius has only one small hitch: The West never pays too much attention to the follow-up of the story. For most of the democratic world, the war ends at the moment the nasty regime is gone. But for the Kosovo Albanians, Afghan Tajiks or Iraqi Kurds, that is only a brief intermezzo in their continuous struggle for power.

Under cover of the momentary enthusiasm spawned by liberation, it took only a few weeks for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to transform itself into a Mafia-like structure with indisputable links to the Kosovo's new political leadership. Millions of dollars — a significant share of any foreign aid — went directly into the pockets of these "officials."

In fact, within days of the "end" of the conflict, the latest models of Mercedes and Volvos — stolen and smuggled in from all over Europe — appeared on Kosovo's dusty roads.

International forces, challenged by rising crime and Albanian revenge against their former masters, the Serbs, soon became too busy to ensure even their own security.

The original goal of the NATO intervention — the reinstatement of a multi-ethnic Kosovo — remained but an empty phrase on paper.

Worse, organized crime from Kosovo (and Albania) did not limit its activities only to the Balkans. A mere year after liberation, Albanian-speaking Mafia was described by the director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, as the second-best organized criminal structure in Europe.

Dominating European drug traffic and forced prostitution, it upstaged the Italian Mafia on its own territory — and forced it to take up more sophisticated methods of organized crime.

The international community is facing the same problem now in tribally divided Afghanistan — which has never experienced any effective form of central government.

As soon as the heavy fighting was over, many local warlords simply re-emerged in public in order to claim their share of the victory that they helped to achieve.

Aside from foreign aid, the population of the devastated country has only a few sources of income: smuggling, fighting or the drug business.

Temporarily suppressed by the Taliban, Afghanistan re-emerged from the war again as the world's main supplier of heroin — with about 70% share of the global market.

The new government of Hamid Kharzai offered to pay a $350 reimbursement for each acre of poppies destroyed. But farmers in the country where an average salary is $600 a year argue that they can make $3,500 an acre by producing opium sap!

The international community is failing to follow through with nation-building in Afghanistan. Instead of first finishing up one job, the Bush Administration has now switched theaters and is preparing for a final showdown with another dictator. A huge military operation against Saddam Hussein would inevitably involve the Kurdish guerillas and Shiite opposition.

There is nothing that keeps the West from being engaged in several of these conflicts — provided, however, it stays engaged in a serious manner even after the "caravan" has moved on.

Otherwise, it risks being viewed as selfish, short-sighted or cynical — or rather all of the above. The Kurds are another frustrated people without their own state which was promised by the then-superpowers as far back as the end of WWI.

An old map from that time shows the would-be Kurdistan extending across the territories of today's Turkey, Iraq and Iran — as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Syria.

The Kurds are especially problematic for Turkey, a NATO member and the only Moslem democracy in the region. The Turkish parliament only recently, in August 2002, finally lifted the ban on using Kurdish language in public, allowing its use in education and broadcasting.

This concession was made under intense pressure from the European Union in which Turkey is eagerly seeking membership. But the 12-million strong Kurdish population is still perceived as a major threat to the unity of the country. The situation is complicated by the unprecedented economic and political crisis.

Aside from many aspects of military involvement in Iraq currently being discussed, no one has yet openly addressed the solution of the Kurdish problem.

As with any other people, the Kurds deserve to have a place they can call home. But is this the most appropriate moment to further antagonize the troubled region by giving them false hopes?

Today Kurdish leaders might pledge that they have already given up the idea of independence if there is victory in Iraq. They can promise that they will be satisfied with autonomy.

But will they, once the war against Saddam is over? Might we unleash yet another genie from the bottle? And will the West simply forget — once it has moved on to the next spot?

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