Are We Losing the Peace?

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CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

Abdul Malik grieves for family members slain during his engagement party

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Many of the south's majority Pashtun believe that Karzai's government is dominated by Panjshiri Tajiks who fought in the Northern Alliance alongside the Americans — though Karzai is Pashtun. About 1.1 million Afghan refugees have flooded back into the country since the beginning of the year — many more than aid agencies had predicted — but according to unhcr registries, less than a third of them have resettled in the Pashtun provinces, suggesting most Pashtun exiles are staying away.

The murder of Qadir, a Pashtun leader, will do nothing to soothe those fears. In a statement after his death, the U.S. State Department called him a "key leader in efforts to promote national reconciliation." American officials are anxious to avoid giving the impression that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating beyond repair, though a State Department official concedes, "Overall, it's still dangerous."

Beyond that, officials in Kabul affiliated with the U.N. and other aid organizations are now worried that America's obsession with the dangers of Afghanistan and its single-minded pursuit of military objectives may even be making things worse. A few wells have been dug, some schools and health clinics have been repaired, but outside Kabul the expected flows of aid have not yet improved the lives of ordinary Afghans. Most remember that the Soviets enjoyed a honeymoon after they invaded the country in 1979. Soon enough, the locals turned against them.

"The window wasn't open for long," says an expatriate, back in Afghanistan for the first time since the 1980s, as he sits in a Kabul cafe. "And the Russians hadn't bombed wedding parties."

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