Afghanistan emerging socio-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic scenarios: A Critical Analysis


Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

Afghanistan the land of mountains and militias is passing through a difficult time of its history. Afghanistan the epicenter of war lord garrisons and guerrillas has fed-up with the ongoing war in its country. Moreover, Afghanistan stands for its renowned onward struggle, rebellious national character, and unending resistance towards aggressors/invaders throughout history now has reached to another flashpoint of its proud history and seems to be ready for reconciliation, conflict resolution, dialogue and diplomacy. Holding of different meetings behind the scene, surge in diplomatic efforts, conducting of regional and international conferences and above all active role of all the main power brokers in the region i.e. Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Russia, China and the international players like allied forces, NATO, the US, UK and the EU are doing their levels best to initiate meaningful policy measures to bring peace in Afghanistan.

London Conference

Co-sponsored by Britain, Afghanistan and the UN, the London Conference aimed to launch a political track to accompany the military strategy announced last month by President Barack Obama. It was the sixth international conference since the military intervention of 2001 and took place against the backdrop of three strategy reviews by the Obama administration. It was the start of political means, dialogue and diplomacy instead of military surge in troubled Afghanistan.

The message was crystal clear that the allied forces/countries were fed up with the war. They also showed great concerns about the governance and security patterns of the Karzai regime. It seemed that they were desperately in search of a way out.

Main Purpose

The main purpose was to discuss and come to some agreement on how the international community would support the non-military aspects of Afghanistan’s counterinsurgency and reconstruction efforts. The conference was intended to offer more than simply an opportunity for participants to pledge new troops and money, but rather to serve as a forum for substantive discussions of a political strategy. The conference opened an opportunity for the international community to commit to a coherent civilian strategy.

(a) The international community has renewed their mutual commitment towards helping Afghanistan emerge as a secure, prosperous, and democratic nation.
(b) Appointment of an independent office to crack down on rampant corruption. It will have an international monitoring group of experts. The Afghan government would now be provided with full assistance in combating corruption, nepotism and favouritism
(c) Security transition in Afghanistan to take place as quickly as possible. The Afghan security forces with the gradual transfer of responsibility to begin this year. However, the Afghan forces will not have any control over provinces with active presence of militants for the time being and will only be given control of ‘soft’ provinces.
(d) Financial assistance of $500 million to start rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan
(e) Resumption of talks with good/soft/ disenchanted brothers the Afghan Taliban.

The above diagram shows that the allied forces and especially the Western participants were not thinking about reconciliation with the main Taliban leadership, but only the induction of a number of good/mild Taliban.

The outcome or joint statement of London Conference has some serious contradictions too which are discussed below as:

Contradictions

West

The allied forces/countries were seeking to wind down their military engagement in Afghanistan

Increase in military troops

UK perception to be succeeded in next five year to win the war

Military surge

Afghanistan

Open message to the Taliban leaders that allied forces and the NATO were not about to abandon the fight

Gradual transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in the days to come

Afghan’ s president Karzai’s pronouncement that this could take 15 years

Political reconciliation.

The above table clearly indicates that London conference was unable to resolve many geo-political and geo-strategic issues enlisted in the following below as:

(a) Elements of uncertainty on different important issues (good governance, people participation, security issues, resumption of talks)
(b) Paramount strategic differences among the allied countries (Afghanistan, NATO, US, EU and even Pakistan)
(c) Policy differences even within the US administration itself
(d) No consensus achieved on the issue of pursuing a dialogue with Taliban
(e) NATO allies did no agree about the timing and modalities of talking to the senior commanders of the Taliban
(f) Different views about the expected geo-political and geo-strategic roles of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

Outcome of NATO Brussels meeting

The military heads of from NATO, Russia and Pakistan gathered in Brussels and gave unanimous backing to the new international strategy in Afghanistan approved in London recently. Russian chief of staff Nikolai Makarov and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had underlined that NATO’s success in defeating the insurgency would have important repercussions for their nations. Kayani also spoke of the same comprehensive approach to the problem of the north-west tribal area,” where Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have rear bases across the border in Pakistan.

US Budget Proposals

Under the title, ‘High-priority performance goals,’ the White House Office of Management and Budget stressed that strengthening Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s capacity to effectively provide services to citizens” was one of the administration’s main goals for the next fiscal year. The goal includes “enhancing the long-term sustainability of development efforts” in these two countries by increasing the number of local implementers — both in government and private sectors that “can achieve a clean audit to clear them to manage civilian assistance funds”. In its $3.8 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2011, the Obama administration is seeking a total of $3.1 billion for Pakistan. The request includes $1.9 billion of civilian and $1.2 billion of military aid.

Karzai’s peace proposal and the US

The president Karzai did seek the help of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistan to reach with the leadership of the insurgents. The proposal was not supported and even appreciated by the USA. USA taught that Taliban first say goodbye to al Qaeda, renounce violence and follow the Afghan Constitution. Afterwards, the official Taliban response to the one-day conference was negative and termed it as a waste of time. They dam cared about the economic incentives that would not lead the religious insurgents to give up their cause.

According to the latest data of UN 2009 was the deadliest year for civilians and military personnel since international forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001. The 2,412 civilian deaths recorded last year were 14% higher than in 2008. The NATO reports 520 military coalition deaths last year, 76% more than in 2008 and more than three times the number of soldiers killed in Iraq in 2009. So, increase in the deaths of allied forces forced to change the status-que.

Change in Taliban’s strategic stance

It was promised that $500 million to be used to seek the help of good Taliban in order to convince them on to the paths of peace and reconciliation The rigorous study of the geo-political and geo-strategic emerging scenarios in and around the region strongly indicated that the Taliban were now keen to hold talks, though not with the US or Karzai at this stage, but with the special UN representative for Afghanistan. It seems that the US is also willingness to induct some of the Taliban in the government or power game. The continued surge in foreign troops in Afghanistan as Generals Petraeus and McChrystal perceived not for prolonging the ongoing unwinnable war, but to help the US negotiate peace from a position of strength. Generally speaking, Taliban and the US have changed their strategic stances on Afghanistan and war against militias. Iran’s absence from the London conference was a clear-cut signal that it would keep the pot boiling in Northern Afghanistan if the US pressure is not released on Tehran.

In the past three years Taliban have been built an impressive insurgency based on opposition to foreign occupation, corrupt and incompetent government, and perceived non-Pashtun danger. Missteps by the West and the government of President Hamid Karzai have been as important in the rise of the insurgency as the adeptness of the Taliban. Furthermore, the engagement of the highly functional Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) blends with development projects and The District Development Assemblies (DDAs) and Community Development Councils (CDCs) are supposed to be right joint and giant step towards gross-root people’s participation in Afghanistan.

Again, the removal of the five senior Taliban figures from the sanctions list may well be the key that unlocks a number of doors. All five have in the past been significant players and together they could form the nucleus of ‘Team Taliban’ – tasked with the talking while the fighting continues.

Expected outcome of proposed economic incentives

In international power chessboard money or finances do play very important role and same is true in case of Afghanistan and Taliban. But in case of Afghanistan it seems that distribution of money among the soft Taliban could create strategic imbalances among the different ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hazaras. It would also be hard hit on the Northern Alliance. So, again the soil of Afghanistan would be War Theater for the ethnic rift in the days to come.

Pakistan’s concerns

The government of Pakistan considers that an early troop strategic withdrawal of the allied forces from Afghanistan would mean Afghanistan becoming a wider war theater for different countries to promote their own national agenda. So, the withdrawal has to be gradual. Any vacuum, created by a sudden US departure, would be disastrous for the region as well as the US short and long terms geo-political and geo-strategic interests in the region. Pakistan does not want any role of India in the upcoming days.

USA

It wants to reach out to second- and third-tier Taliban and, in doing so, exert pressure on the top Taliban leaders to seek reconciliation.

It has the idea to have autonomous controlling authority for southeastern and southwestern Afghanistan the Pashtun-majority areas

More rigorous usage of drone attacks other than frontier tribes

Pakistan

It preferred to establish direct contact Mullah Omar and his appointed representatives

The government and military established refused the idea which may restart great ethnic conflict in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is reluctant on its common and frequent use within its soil

The above table clearly indicated the strategic differences between the US and Pakistan on the critical issues of peace, war against terrorism and security in Afghanistan.

Ineffective US counter-insurgency warfare

It seems that US counter-insurgency warfare is not paying its dividends in Afghanistan. Only military might, surge in troops, and increase in military budget/assistance to Afghanistan and allied forces could not bring peace in Afghanistan. There should be holistic approach needed to be followed.

Iraq

Win the sympathies of Sunni insurgency. They faced a dismal strategic position in fighting the quantitatively superior Shi’ite militias. The US supported them with limitless resources. Moreover, al-Qaeda alienated local Sunni tribes, encouraging them to turn on the foreign fighters. The counter-insurgency was a partial success in Iraq.

Afghanistan

The US failed to convince or win the hearts of the Pashtun insurgents as it did with the Iraqi Sunnis. Pashtun did not like the predominance of the Northern alliance/ provinces. They have friendly ties with the most of the local warlords. Closed axis between the al-Qaeda fighters and their local mujahideen fighters

Previously, it was believed that financial resources and military might of the allied forces/countries could make for an effective counter-insurgency, as previous wars in Malaysia and Algeria suggest but continued insurgency incidents in Afghanistan and paramount strategic gain of Taliban in some parts of Afghanistan verifies that their collective war wisdom and military strategies are not paying the dividends. Time has reached when they should think out of the box solution.

Pakistan Armed Forces and Afghanistan

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), has reiterated that Pakistan wants a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan. “We cannot wish for Afghanistan anything that we do not wish for Pakistan”. “Our operation in 2009 has helped in improving Afghan situation squeezing spaces with better control of areas and continuous logistic flow. In recent visit to Brussels and talking to NATO Commanders Army chief said Pakistan had no interest in “controlling” Afghanistan, launching a robust defence of its policy across the border and fight against extremists.

He further elaborated that Pakistan has suffered maximum human and economic loss in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, but the losses have not affected the resolve of the nation and its armed forces to eliminate the terrorism, He said that he has conveyed the concerns, challenges, contributions and constraints of Pakistan in fight against terrorists. He said that he had highlighted the key issues of the conflict that needed to be fully understood and addressed.

He drew the attention of the forum towards the huge sacrifices made by the people of Pakistan and its armed forces due to the effects of ongoing war against terrorism. He identified five fundamentals that helped in turning the tide and must not be lost sight of during future operations.

He further stressed that for the way forward the fundamentals should remain strong and intact, short and long-term interests be reconciled, strategic direction should be maintained and co-ordination be effect-based.

He shared with the NATO commanders that our strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised. He said we are the second largest Muslim nation in the World located in a strategic region defined by competing interests and civilisation cross roads, with a prolonged history of conflict.

He informed that we have three million Afghan refugees. At present, our operations are in a transitory phase from hold to build, we must consolidate our gains and fully stabilise the areas secured, lest it falls back to terrorists. He said that constraints of capability to absorb and operate, limited cutting edge counter intelligence/counter terrorism capability and limited budgetary space should be factored in”.

General Kayani said that Pakistan has contributed a lot to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. “We have the will and resolve to overcome the menace of terrorism in our country and we have the public support.

India’s strategic displeasure

India does not like the outcome of London Conference. It does not like the emerging West sympathies and spirits of accommodation with the Taliban and the last not the least allied forces plan for an orderly exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s insistence that only “immediate neighbours” should be included in resolving Afghanistan issue has also badly hurt India diplomacy and foreign policy objectives. Even Turkey agreed not to include India from the regional meeting it hosted; this development would also have left Delhi deeply worried.

But it seems from the emerging regional and global diversified but integrated diplomatic efforts that the US badly wishes that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India should cooperate one and other to end the “war on terror” and bring some sort of stability to the South Asian region. The US Af-Pak special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates while visiting to India did stress the important role of New Delhi to win war against terror in Afghanistan. The restart of bilateral negotiations between Pakistan and India in London seems to be directed by the US.

Many military experts’ political pundits sitting in India think that India-Pakistan thaw key to Afghan peace. India wants to have a say in Afghanistan, a role that Pakistan has kept for itself until now, with the backing of some Muslim countries. It is predicted that Indian involvement in Afghanistan would open numerous trade opportunities Central Asian countries. It imports the bulk of its gas from Qatar and has been looking at sourcing energy resources from Iran and even from Central Asian Region. It has also been looking at the prospects of an undersea pipeline from Qatar, which could loop through Iran at some future date. Given the security and transit issues that India has with Pakistan, particularly through volatile Balochistan province, Afghanistan could prove to be a transit point for India’s energy sources as well as somewhere it can limit the influence of Islamabad.
Turkish initiatives

Istanbul stressed to need to support reconciliation and reintegration activities in Afghanistan. Turkey hosted a tri-lateral meeting on Afghanistan recently. The main idea was to bring closer the two neighbouring countries i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, the conference in Turkey was to search the means and ways to bring political stability, socio-economic harmony/development and above all geo-strategic harmony in the region.

Main Reasons

(a) It seemed that the government of Turkey was worried about its Turkish extremists’ elements currently fighting in Waziristan and even in Afghanistan.
(b) It badly needs stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan because its own country is serious hurting with the increase extremist activities
(c) Resumption of NATO command of Turkey in the region forced it do meaningful measures to bring peace in Afghanistan.

It seems that Turkish sincere and serious efforts on the issue of Afghanistan could not bring the desired goals because of the entire allied operations are considered as technically flawed and unwarranted by the regional stakeholders, such as Pakistan. Generally speaking, Turkish initiatives on Afghanistan can only make a difference provided all regional power brokers and stakeholders are taken on board before holding any such moots.

Possible Regional geo-political and geo-strategic solutions

Main power brokers and stakeholders in the region and around the globe are trying their levels best to put an end to ongoing war in Afghanistan. In this regard, Uzbekistan and Pakistan have already floated regional solutions to bring peace in Afghanistan. There are serious problems of human, and drug trafficking and the last not the least terrorism associated with Afghanistan from where militants can easily spill over its borders. So, all the regional countries are worried about the deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan.

Years Agendas
2001 It was held in Bonn to form an interim government and discussed internal political arrangements
2004 It was took place in Berlin. It produced the Berlin Declaration. It set out the international community’s vision for the political future of Afghanistan and their pledges for over $8 billion to support it.
January 2006 It was held in London which produced the Afghanistan Compact, a statement of principles for international cooperation for and with Afghanistan, plus benchmarks and timelines through 2010 for efforts in security, governance, and development. Afterwards, Afghanistan released its Interim National Development Strategy and set up a Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, co-chaired by one of its own officials and the UN representative.
June 2008 It was held in Paris. In the meeting the final, five-year Afghan National Development Strategy.
January 2010 Turkey is hosting two regional summits for Afghanistan’s neighbors, part of a series of smaller meetings it has been participating in with several Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries to try to improve regional cooperation

(a) 6+3 Contact Group

President of Uzbekistan underscored that the establishment of the “6+3” Contact Group under UN auspices, comprising the duly authorized representatives of states bordering Afghanistan, as well as the representatives of Russia, USA and NATO would serve for the soonest solution of the Afghan problem and would be an important consultative and diplomatic body on whose basis it would be possible to secure accord both inside and around Afghanistan.

(b) Six plus two formula

A trilateral summit was held in Istanbul and Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan actively participated in the summit. The government of Pakistan initiated the new formula i.e. six plus two formula in the summit. Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, all immediate neighbours of Afghanistan may be consulted to bring peace in Afghanistan. Russia and the US would also be part of six plus two formula. Pakistan should be happy that the Indians were marginalised in Afghanistan despite the West’s intentions to the contrary. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Afghanistan’s six immediate neighbours, as well as China and Russia, felt no need for a “greater Indian role” in Afghanistan.

It seems that road towards peace in Afghanistan is not full of roses. It would be complicated and complex in its nature. The appropriate way may be true belief in negotiation, dialogue, diplomacy, reconciliation, conflict resolution and above all spirits of accommodation among the major regional stakeholders and put an end to blame game and widespread/wandering conspiracy theories.

Concluding Remarks

Every country has its own unique traits of civilization which can not be compared to any other country. Throughout history Afghanistan has had been labeled as undefeatable entity. To bring peace in Afghanistan is a complicated issue which needs complete overhauling in our collective war hysteria and expansionary designs. War and destruction bring more massacres and miseries because in war no one is winner but all losers (financially, economically). Political means, dialogue, diplomacy and deterrence would be ideal to resolve any conflicting realties. Terrorism is an anti-human tool and attack on independent country sovereignty is again anti-international laws.

By all means Pakistan would be important to bring peace in Afghanistan. The government of Pakistan and armed forces are doing their levels best to support the West and especially the US to curb the terrorist incidents but first they must understand that mantra of do more and more achieve nothing but may be loss of a trustworthy strategic friend. The successful military operations in the tribal areas by Pakistan’s armed forces speak louder than words and show our commitment to fight against terrorism. The human losses, financial damages and socio-economic alienation from the onslaught of war against terrorism all reflect that the government and armed forces are faithful to universal causes i.e. respect for humanity, interfaith harmony, tolerance, peace and above all brotherhood. Now the ball is in the court of the West.

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