The NATO forces pulled out of Sangin district in Helmand almost a month ago. Last week, after a fierce attack launched by 800 to a 1000 heavily armed Taliban fighters that lasted for five days, the Taliban were able to overrun the ANSF, the Afghan National Security Forces, and claim control of the district.
‘At least 21 Afghan forces have been killed and more than 40 wounded during five days of clashes in four districts’, said Omar Zwak, the spokesperson for the Helmand governor. (Source)
But this was not a first; last month, the Crisis Group published a report in which it made a detailed analysis of insurgencies in four provinces in Afghanistan – Faryab, Kunar, Paktia and Kandahar, from where the NATO forces systematically withdrew in 2012 and handed over their control to the ANSF. The report finds a sharp escalation of insurgent attacks and active battle in Faryab and Kandahar and also intense activity in Kunar, while it found a decrease in insurgent attacks in Paktia.
The report says, ‘They are blocking roads, capturing rural territory and trying to overwhelm district administration centers… For the first time, the insurgents inflicted almost as many casualties on Afghan security forces in 2013 as they suffered themselves, and several accounts of battles in remote districts suggested the sides were nearly matched in strength’.
It further says, ‘the relatively successful April 2014 election is no guarantee of future stability, with the Taliban rejecting the process and its outcome as a US – engineered sham…’ The reasons of the insurgencies are explained as, ‘…tribal rivalries in Kandahar seem poised to continue fuelling rising violence, as the insurgency exploits the grievances of a rural population that increasingly complains of abuse, torture and extrajudicial killings by security forces’.
Surely, this type of reporting paints a picture of Afghanistan’s future not different from what we are seeing in Iraq. If not Balkanized at the end, Afghanistan still faces an ongoing crises of violence, conflict and civil war – in a country divided into factions, with no rule of law from any center that could bind the people together. The stalemate between the election of Ashraf Ghanai and Abdullah Abdullah, which has already taken 46 lives, and where allegations of massive fraud have marred the legitimacy of an election that was conducted in a country dashed by numerous war-zones. The democratic process hangs at the cross between non-participation of the majority and the subsequent nondemocratic refusal of opponents to accept the results of the ballots.
The magic ball of fortune-telling hence shows us in our presence, an Afghanistan filled with – power-ravening warlords, a ceremonial center with no writ, and a barrage of international stakeholders, each trying to maximize their interests under the sober slogans of helping the human state of the Afghan people. The list published by the Afghanistan Analyst gives a fair idea of so many countries trying to contribute in Afghanistan. How will any external aid help a body that is sick from the inside? How will a progressive harmony be brought inside when several external stakeholders have their interests tied to opposing forces? It is also hard to estimate what extent of the aid really reaches the common Afghan, when there is no independent media in the country; an Iron Curtain between Afghanistan and the rest of the world keeps the rest of the world fully unaware of the ground realities of Afghanistan. The only images we receive are the ones from pro-occupation foreign channels, and there are no means to double check the images that show progressive changes in terms of education, health and infrastructure.
What is clear is the amount of money spent on the war – Afghanistan’s internal budget is almost $1.7 billion and it spends $6-7 billion on maintaining the military and the police. Much of this has also been delegated to the training and maintenance of the ANSF, a force that has a higher number of desertions compared to any other army and a force that has utterly failed to stand grounds on its own. It is expected that this force may be reduced from 345,000 back to 228,500 after the withdrawal as aid-givers will also be declining from then. Though most of the international community is urging the US that the withdrawal should be delayed and Afghanistan should not be left alone on itself, for the fear of a complete collapse of the country, but when it comes to giving a road-map to a progressive, democratic and self-defending Afghanistan, the world community seems to have no other answer but that it is the responsibility of the Afghans themselves; which is true – but which is impossible until Afghanistan is left on its own – which makes an aid-built-Afghanistan an oxymoron. Why? Because the interests derived in exchange of humanitarian aid and assistance are of a much, much bigger proportion.
For instance, according to a report by Gareth Price, India claims to have spent 1 billion in humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, but on the other hand, India plans a $6.6 billion investment on the single project of the Hajigak iron ore mine. According to the report, the iron ore and finished steel would be moved to India via Chabahar via a road or a railway track if Pakistan does not agree to become a part of this business. The report says:
‘To put the project into context, six million tonnes of steel would be worth around $3.3 billion, and Afghanistan’s GDP in 2011, according to the World Bank and bloated by the presence of large numbers of ISAF troops, was $20 billion. In 2001, Afghanistan’s GDP stood at $2.7 billion. The Hajigak mine is estimated to hold two billion tonnes of iron ore deposits’.
So how does an iron ore worth approximately 1000 billion compare to an aid of 1 billion – when none of this ore will be used for the construction and welfare of Afghanistan itself!
Similarly, China Metallurgical Group (MCC) has secured the rights to mine copper in Aynak, with an estimated $88billion worth copper; the Trans Afghan Pipeline (TAP or TAPI) will be having 46.5% shares of UNACAL and 15% of Delta Oil along with other partners. Overall, the US Department of Defense Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) has identified 27 major extraction points in Afghanistan and an estimate of up to $3trillion worth of extractable resources. (Source)
So why did the US and its NATO allies occupy Afghanistan in the first place? Would the reasons simply be to deliver the Afghans a democracy that comes with self-determination, and an inside-out progressive policy centered on the welfare of own people? Or was there the same policy of finding a yet unexploited land and converting it into a corporate haven, where the rule of law is the most undesirable thing to have, as it obstructs the free-market spirit?
As for Pakistan, in spite of all shortcomings, it has shown a non-hegemonic approach towards Afghanistan as yet. The duo between the two countries has been more of a defensive nature rather than an exploitative one. Though mutual trade along ancient tracks has been strengthened over the years, and the person to person trade between the Pashtun across the Durand Line has never ceased, but the advent of land has rarely been from the south to the north, in history. Whenever Afghanistan was not a strong empire, the kings of the subcontinent would assume the Afghan land as a buffer state between themselves and northern and western occupiers. Ironically, Pakistan’s policy for Afghanistan has also been like that, for about half of Pakistan’s age, Afghanistan has been a victim of occupation, and Pakistan has tried to curb the menace of occupation from its neighbor state like one would curb it from one’s own province. But for all its involvement in the everyday political situation of Afghanistan, Pakistan does stand as a bidder of its extractable resources.
Yet, it is interesting to note that Pakistan has announced change in its policy towards Afghanistan in the recent years. Its ‘strategic shift’ has been from a Taliban-favored future of Afghanistan to an inclusive reconciliation, where all factions of the Afghan people should share the decision making of their state, and come out of their brute warlord phenomenon to a democratic patience of accepting the vote of the majority. This is a reality the world community is forced to face at the end of a decade long occupation that has failed to squash the Taliban phenomenon from the Pushtun of the south; a reality that tells us that if all the people of the world come together to cleanse a nation from their own kind – they would fail – unless the people themselves offer to be enslaved or subjugated – which the Pushtun have refused to.
Pakistan’s insistence that the future of Afghanistan should be ‘truly Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ is only just fair. In today’s scenario, the main actors in the future of Afghanistan are the Afghans including the Taliban, the US and Pakistan; any solution without the consent of all these is unlikely to stand the test of time. From Pakistan’s perspective, India and all other stakeholders can stay in Afghanistan, but as businessmen not as policy makers and security providers.
Pakistan’s interest in backing the Taliban phenomenon has to end. The reason for this is the extremely undesired spinoffs that may be harbored in some dark shadow areas where non-state actors can find homage along with the outlaws of the state – a bitter experience that has jeopardized the civilian life of Pakistan. Unless the command of Afghanistan is central and all of Afghanistan is under the writ of law, neither can there be stability in the region, nor any industrialization can be possible, nor will any progress envisioned by international sympathizers have any meaning in the eyes of the real Afghan common people. International stakeholders can have their bids, but only in an Afghanistan that is aware of the worth of its natural resources and can ensure that the best part is consumed by its own people, and that all the wealth of their land can actually make the country wealthy – not exploited.
Nevertheless, the Taliban cannot be forsaken without good reason either. The US double-policy with Pakistan over Afghan issues gives us an idea why. At the time of the Russian invasion, the US delegated the CIA to work hand in hand with the ISI to make the ousting of Russia from Afghanistan possible; at that time, the Taliban were the key mujahedeen, and were backed with funds, arms and training. But once Russia went away and the Taliban got the chance to make a government in their country, the US started portraying them as villains. After the US occupation, the Taliban were ditched for good – as slaughterers of humanity and terrorists – and in their stead, the Northern Alliances was brought into power, which was traditionally tilted towards Iran. At this, Pakistan was alarmed at the possible restructuring of the regional power play. But above that, the US did another vice; it brought India into Afghanistan, with multibillion projects, NGOs and armed personnel. These factors forced Pakistan’s policy makers to change their outlook upon Afghan matters and change their stance from a protecting brethren across the border to an advocate of real democratic revamping of the Afghan politics, so that Afghanistan is stronger from within – independent and sovereign – not dependent upon Pakistan to fight its wars nor for making the right decisions.
So what will post US withdrawal Afghanistan be like? Should it be Ashraf Ghanai or Abdullah Abdullah, that should not really matter to Pakistan; what really matters is an inclusive, united, bold Afghanistan – not run by selling out its wares but by owning them for the progress and welfare of their own people – and an ANSF that protects all Afghans alike and fights against the external enemy only.
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