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Red Cross official expresses concern about Afghanistan

By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times –

KABUL, Afghanistan — The departing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan warned Monday that the country’s civilians live in more peril today than when he started his job seven years earlier.

“Since I arrived here in 2005, local armed groups have proliferated, civilians have been caught between not just one but multiple front lines, and it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Afghans to obtain health care,” Reto Stocker said in a statement released by the organization. “Hardship arising from the economic situation, or from severe weather or natural disaster, has become more widespread, and hope for the future has been steadily declining.”

Stocker painted an alarming portrait of Afghanistan’s future, in sharp contrast to the usually more upbeat pronouncements of U.S. officials that the country is edging toward stability after the massive troop surge early in the Obama administration.

Stocker noted the Red Cross had made progress in making sides aware of civilians’ rights after decades of strife in Afghanistan. He highlighted the receptivity by the Afghan government to addressing poor conditions in detention centers, but he worried this would prove fleeting with the departure of international forces, scheduled for late 2014.

“We are concerned that as international forces pull back, and funding available to the Afghan government is reduced, it could become more difficult to maintain acceptable conditions in the prisons,” Stocker said.

The blunt remarks by the Red Cross chief came on the same day a new report from the International Crisis Group think tank was released, warning that Afghanistan’s current political order could unravel after 2014 if scheduled presidential elections are perceived as unfair.

The report, titled “Afghanistan: the Long, Hard Road to the 2014 transition,” said the elections were on a course to be plagued by massive fraud. It warned of the consequences if the country failed to ensure the rule of law during the coming balloting and power transition.

“If they fail at this, that crucial period will at best result in deep divisions and conflicts within the ruling elite that the Afghan insurgency will exploit,” the report stated. “At best, it could trigger extensive unrest, fragmentation of the security services and perhaps even a much wider civil war.”

In other news, a minibus exploded outside the gate of a security station in Helmand province, killing two guards for Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, according to the province’s police spokesman Farid Ahmad Farhang.

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