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"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: nrqazi
Full Name: Naeem Qazi
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Afghanistan and its Future

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Nikolai BOBKIN | 07.10.2013 | 00:00

 

The international scientific conference on Afghanistan will take place in Bishkek on October 10. The invitation list includes ministers, general secretaries and special representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, special Afghanistan envoys and ambassadors to Kyrgyzstan.

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The President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has decided to suspend the security agreements talks with the United States giving rise to exasperation on the part of Washington. Barack Obama threatens him with the «zero option» meaning no US soldier will be left on the Afghan soil by the end of 2014. The Kabul’s decision to refuse a direct dialogue with the Taliban which envisions the role of intermediary for the United States causes frustration that could expedite the withdrawal of NATO-led coalition. The US military top brass suggest the pull out should take place before the yearly fighting season, leaving the country to its fate as they have already done in Iraq.

There is a real possibility the Afghan government forces will be left face to face with the Taliban in 5-6 months. The events may unfold according to Syrian scenario. As it is forecast in Moscow, terrorism may «spill over» from one country to another… The question is will the United States withdraw fully and simultaneously, or it’ll be a phased and gradual process with about 9-10 thousand men left behind.

The 100 thousand strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghanistan military are responsible for stability today; the latter is urgently expanding to about 260000 active personnel strength by 2015. With the current strength of 150000 the Afghan military seems to be a formidable force but it lacks professional skills. The US trainers admit the recruits get less combat training to increase their numbers. According to ISAF, the yearly loss is 34, 8% due to desertion, combat casualties, wound retirement and poor retainment rate.

Some areas and military facilities gradually get under Afghan forces control. By March 2014 the Afghan forces have to take over full responsibility for security, though the fighting against the Taliban never ceases. 2013 was the bloodiest year since the coalition forces moved to the country. The Taliban is becoming more active, the coalition forces shy away from combat leaving it to the Afghans who are unprepared to fight the enemy alone. Let’s have a look at the casualties. It was 13-27 per month since fighting resumed in the spring of 2013 for the coalition, while the figure was over 100 dead and around 300 wounded for the Afghan national army, national police and local self-defense units. The Afghan armed forces death toll exceeds three times the losses of coalition in 2010 and 2011, when the US casualty rate was the highest. Kabul stopped to inform about the military losses to avoid undermining morale. The ISAF military think the Afghan forces cannot hold out for long suffering the casualties at present rate.

The Afghan leadership has no confidence in the armed forces too, there is no guarantee the military will not change sides and join the Taliban. Let’s not forget there is a civil war going on, the outside aid failed to address a lot of problems. The majority of experts believe peace and stability are impossible without the Taliban becoming part of the political process. The government thinks the direct talks between Washington and the Taliban (without its participation) is a threat to the country’s sovereignty. The United States believes the direct talks are the best way to put an end to violence. It’s possible the Taliban will take part in the upcoming presidential election in April 2014. The incumbent President cannot run for the third term according to the Constitution and there is no visible successor, and, perhaps, a viable candidate may come from the Taliban ranks, you never know.

Karzai is a Pashtun and a Sunni Muslim; he does not exclude a direct (without the US participation) dialogue with the Taliban, whose members are also Pashtun and Sunni. The presence of NATO was an obstacle on the way of talks but it made him a two-term president. Now the situation is changed, Karzai is leaving in a year at the time ISAF is slated to pull out. Obama is sure a security agreement is to be reached by October, but Karzai is in no hurry to take on clearly defined responsibility till the presidential election is over. This attitude is clearly seen when he says that if the document is agreed on during his tenure, then it’ll be O.K. If not – the new leadership will step in and make the decision. Washington continues to insist the decision should be taken before the election but to no avail. As an oriental man, Karzai is not prone for hasty decisions, besides he has his own calculations. Americans need to know how many servicemen are to stay after the withdrawal but Karzai wants to know what award he is going to get for his presidential approval in case the security agreement is reached. Probably it is to be measured by billions of dollars.

Until now the American war expenditure was up to $12 million. Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann believes the sum will be defined by the size of the remaining force to go up to at least $5 billion a year aside from the embassy’s expenditure. The next year the United States and its allies will have to spend $7, 7 billion to cover up the Afghan military costs while the Kabul’s share will not exceed $2 billion.

The Karzai’s government keeps on plunging into the quagmire of corruption and squandering. According to UN report issued this February in 2012 Afghan people paid $3, 9 in bribes to Afghan state officials. Even Western companies, making their contribution into the country’s restoration process, had to give over $1 billion to grease the palm in order to win contracts. In Washington it is widely believed the expenditure was a waste. The fact that Karzai admits the graft problem makes even stronger the criticism Obama comes under. The US spent over $1 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, US taxpayers paid totally around 11million dollars an hour to finance the military operations since 2001. It’s impossible to get the American logic, so many human lives lost, so many billions of dollars wasted just to kill one terrorist! Other missions are unaccomplished. It raises questions with the Pentagon and the administration.

The further support of the Afghan government makes no sense for Washington, but it cannot stop spending. The forces pull out will probably be the most costly and complex endeavor in the history of US armed forces. The British have already called the withdrawal the most unique operation in the century though they will have to get only 9 thousand troops out of the country in comparison with the US contingent of over 60 thousand along with weapons systems and logistics. It’s much more complicated than it was in Iraq.

Afghanistan has no access to sea. There are a few alternative routes: the road to Karachi, the railroad going to Russia across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the air route for cargo aircraft flying to the Persian Gulf. The US Defense Department plans to spend around $80 billion in 2014 for the purpose. The figure is mentioned in the request for additional expenditure submitted to Congress. The 2013 fiscal year was over on September 30, the expenditure was $37 billion. It means the next year’s «zero option» may exceed the present spending twice making expedient the withdrawal postponement. But this scenario will most certainly be opposed by Afghan government and its neighbors, who look forward with fear awaiting the surge of instability in the country

 

The return of Taliban to Kabul is a matter of special concern for Russia and the neighboring CIS (the Community of Independent Nations) states. President Karzai believes Afghanistan is a sovereign country and has a right to determine its own fate, including the involvement of Taliban into the political process. He is self-assured and not concerned a bit about the fact that with ISAF gone the Taliban can come back to the political scene and share power. Those who took the reins after the Soviet forces withdrawal let the movement turn Afghanistan into the springboard of international terrorism. They were self-assured too. Those who headed the country back then had no political will to make the gained independence work for the benefit of Afghan people.

Now Karzai is on the verge of repeating the same mistake, he goes on insisting his government is ready to take on full responsibility for the future of the country. Actually the incumbent Afghan government is siding with the United States and NATO getting the country embroiled into the mess with consequences hard to predict… The US-led NATO readiness to retain its presence within the framework of Resolute Support mission aimed at security transfer to Afghan forces should not mislead. The same way, according to NATO, Kabul is already responsible for 90% of combat operations inside the country, but it does not mean the puppet regime is strong enough. NATO evidently exaggerates saying the government forces enjoy the support of major part of population. The affirmations of the West that the Taliban enjoys only minor public support after the 12-year war, that brought about no tangible results, look more like an awkward propaganda maneuvering to cover up the fact that the US-led operation is a failure.

Will ISAF leave fully or let some forces stay as part of the Resolute Support? It all depends on the US and the Karzai-led government; will they let the Taliban return to the country?

The moment of truth has come. The US and NATO are to report to the international community on the results of their 12-year presence in Afghanistan. It’s not serious when they say the 100 thousand strong force has eliminated the Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and it’s the major achievement of the West. Afghanistan faces the prospect of becoming a Taliban dominated state once again.

The movement is supported by Pakistan – its homeland. For Islamabad the friendly Taliban-controlled Kabul is a strategic advantage. Let me remember that during five years of the Taliban rule, the movement failed to spread its control throughout the entire country with all the leverage they had holding the reins of state power, and it was the failure for Pakistan too. Those days the Taliban got very limited international support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, the countries that have not changed their stance as yet. The money flows coming from the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (more commonly known as Inter-Services Intelligence or simply by its initials ISI), never stopped, sometimes the process even ran out of government control. The Taliban is the only means of leverage Islamabad can use to influence the Afghan politics; the Pakistani elite will never sever ties with it. Pakistan will do its best to make the Taliban return as a result of reconciliation process under «the predominant role of Afghan people» meaning the possibility of making a choice thanks to elections at various levels.

The logic of Pakistani approach is based on the fact the Pashtun are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The fact that it dominates the Taliban is hushed up. The calculations show the Taliban candidate has a chance to win at the election of 2014. In any event the new presidential election may become the main political event for Afghanistan. The incumbent head of state Hamid Karzai does not exclude the possibility the next presidential hopeful may come from the Taliban ranks. It could be the Taliban founder Muhammad Omar. Karzai is ready to cooperate with him on the condition the Taliban refuses armed struggle. It had been reported earlier the Taliban started to hold secret talks with the government. The place is not any foreign country but Kabul. It means the US supports the process. The position of Mullah Omar before the withdrawal is getting stronger; he knows the incumbent government is weak. So the Taliban leaders have not refused to take the power in Afghanistan into their hands again to revive the Islamic Emirate. No doubt the Taliban is intent to resort to forceful methods to the political management process.

The group has not said openly it intends to take part in the election though many forecast that Mullah Omar would hold a sweeping victory if he had an opportunity to run. The Taliban has many faithful supporters among the voters. At that, there are other options, the choice is not limited by the Taliban and the supporters of incumbent President Karzai, other Islamist political forces have emerged which are not that close to Islamabad and appear to be less radical in comparison with the Mullah Omar supporters.

Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf has registered at the offices of Kabul's Independent Election Commission. He is a Pashtun from Paghman valley and an hereditary theologian. Sayyaf is one of the most influential Islamist politicians of the country, for many years he led the Mujahedin faction Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan fighting against the Soviet Union. In February 1989 he was elected the first Prime Minister of Mujahedin transitional government, and then became a close associate of Afghan leaders Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Sayyaf has always been an opponent of the Taliban and fought it together with the Northern Alliance. After the American forces came into the country he took the side of US and supported Karzai at the election.

Before the registration as a presidential hopeful, he had been a member of the lower chamber of parliament preserving the status of a conservative and respected imam. Field commander Ismail Khan agreed to become first Vice-President in the Sayyaf- led government if elected. Ismail Khan has always been influential in the western province of Herat near the Iranian border. Abdul Ahad Irfan, the chairman of parliamentary upper chamber and the leader of Afghanistan National Unity Committee, has registered too to run for the position of second Vice-President.

These personalities that make up the triumvirate of hopefuls may challenge the Islamist Taliban at the election. It’s up to people to appreciate the reputation of Sayyaf as a religious Pashtun leader and the fact he has broad connections among the Islamist groups inside Afghanistan and outside. The voters don’t doubt his military record and his influence in the western parts of the country. The Islamic youth has sympathy for his educational level; he is a new kind of religious preacher, who does not share the Taliban ideology which requires religious rigidity in all aspects of everyday life according to the Muslim moral standards of the times of Prophet Muhammad. Let’s not forget the Taliban banned women from leaving their houses. Now over two million girls go to school, over 300 thousand Afghan children have Facebook accounts, the young people younger than 25 years old account for 70 percent of population. All these factors have weight in case the election is fair.

If Sayyaf wins the presidential election the coalition he is going to head will cement ties with NATO as the organization that came to support Afghanistan in the times of trouble (a hint it seeks US blessing). Sayyaf promises to stick to the principle of equality in the process of national reconciliation and respect for all nationalities including: Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras which have never had real chances to have a President coming from their ranks. This time Abdullah Abdullah, former leader of Northern Alliance, runs too. He had got his registration two days before Sayyaf. It’s not excluded the both will agree on concerted actions against the Taliban which never shared his power with those who come from the north of the country. At present, as the experience of Karzai government shows, it’s impossible to talk about the Afghan unity without bringing in national and religious minorities. Under certain circumstances the Northern Alliance voters may shift to support Sayyaf, if no serious rivals appear. Minister of Foreign Affairs Zalmai Rassoul, liberal politician Ashraf Ghani, Qayum Karzai, the brother of incumbent President, – they all run and have hopes to win. The issue is defining the main sponsors, including the ones outside the country.

 

Washington does not exclude that the repetition of Syria scenario caused by NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan may result in strategic advantage to meet its interests. Controlled chaos is a tried and true method. A would-be war in Afghanistan will enable the Americans to control the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, maintain instability in the vicinity of Iranian borders and exacerbate the relations between India and Pakistan. Finally, the United States will maintain a springboard to exert pressure on Central Asia. Since 2014 Afghanistan is to become a major security problem for Russia…

Along with the allies – the members Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - Russia is urgently planning emergency measures that actually should have been taken long before. By the end of September a CSTO summit was held in Sochi ahead of the schedule with Russia becoming the chairman of the organization before time as well. The leaders of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan talked shop with regard to planned practical steps aimed at tackling the major aspects of the security problem. Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war).

On October 1 the lower chamber of Tajikistan ratified an agreement on the status of the Russian 201st military base. Signed on October 5, 2012 at top level, the Russian military base agreement is to be in force till 2042. Together with the Tajik forces the base will guarantee the security of Tajikistan. Russia has started to deliver a $200 million military aid package to the country. Air force equipment and other war material will be transferred to Tajik armed forces gratuitously.

According to experts, there are urgent steps to be taken, for instance, the deployment of Russian border guards along the almost 1500 km long Afghan-Tajik border guarded by only 16 thousand Tajik servicemen. No way could the Tajik authorities tackle the problem of refugees and armed gangs alone. Eight years ago Russian border guards left the area leaving behind only a few dozen strong operational group. Since then the situation has turned for the worse. New hot beds appear along the Tajik border, the extremists gain influence, the number of training camps for militants coming from the Collective Security Treaty Organization member-states has grown.

Addressing the Sochi Collective Security Treaty Organization summit the President of Tajikistan Emomalii Rahmon called for combined efforts to strengthen the Afghan border. Many Russian politicians and military support the idea of getting Russian border guards back to Tajikistan. Still Nikolay Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, actually opposed the idea. According to him, Tajikistan needs assistance to enhance the professional level of national border forces, including mountain warfare and new equipment deliveries.

The US-Afghanistan partnership agreement, which is in works now, is expected to leave nine United States military facilities behind maintaining the capability for emergency response and coming to aid the government forces in case the situation gets abruptly worse. The remaining military forces are to stay in Kabul, Mazari Sharif, Jalalabad, Gardez, the Bagram air base and in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Herat. The list is missing the northern city of Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz Province, situated at the Tajik border, no matter it was the first major populated area where security responsibility was transferred to Afghan forces. Some time ago the security transfer ceremony was held with the participation of German defence and foreign chiefs. Kunduz has an important place in the history of German armed forces. During ten years around 20 thousand Bundeswehr servicemen have seen service there. Nowhere else since the days of WWII has the German military suffered comparable death toll than in Kunduz.

Russian and Kyrgyz parliaments have ratified a status agreement on Russian air-base in Kant. Russian military will stay there for at least 20 years. Russia is going to upgrade the facility transforming it into a real outpost of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Central Asia, the presence to count with. Today the base is home to Su-24 fighter bombers, SU-25 attack planes, SU-27 SM air superiority fighters and an air group of rotary wing aircraft. Air and ground forces of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan kicked off military exercises the very next day the summit was over on September 24.

Facing the expected threats from terrorist and extremist activities to intensify in Afghanistan, it is expedient to remember the events of the Uzbekistan’s Fergana valley where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IDU) conducted subversive activities from the territory of Kyrgyzstan. It should be admitted that Kyrgyz authorities face growing difficulties while exercising control over the south-western part of the country predominantly populated by Uzbeks. Militants are still recruited among local population to fill the IDU ranks. The Afghan drug flows get to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan from Tajikistan and mainly from Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstan stands for strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border and boosting military presence in Kyrgyzstan, the government believes the measures taken are vitally important for the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Of course, Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is situated far from Afghanistan, still there is concern over the possibility of destabilization affecting Central Asia. Kazakhstan supports assistance to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan because it meets its own national security interests. It also stands for collective defense of Central Asian air space, enhancement of Collective Forces capabilities, spurring the fight against drug trafficking. There have been no bloody conflicts on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan while Uzbekistan, which left the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s membership some time ago, has become the prime target for terrorists. The country is a party to a strategic partnership agreement with Astana. But Kazakhstan is a CSTO member, while Uzbekistan applies efforts to boost the relationship with the United States.

Some time ago the relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States appeared to be worsened for good. The White House condemned the government for quelling the Andijan protests in 2005. The final break up seemed to be inevitable. Now Washington has restored the relationship with Islam Karimov considering an option of leaving on Uzbekistan soil some forces withdrawn from Afghanistan. Much talked about democratic values, human rights and the persecution of dissent in Uzbekistan pale in importance before the Washington’s desire to preserve military presence in Central Asia.

It’s Uzbekistan the Unites States relies on to maintain a springboard for exerting influence of Afghanistan and stymie the process of Russia and Central Asia integration. In any event Tashkent is to be compensated by US guarantees and Western arms supplies as a reward for keeping away from the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Uzbekistan is under West European and US arms supplies embargo, but it does not confuse its leadership. The Uzbek government has approached NATO with a request to bring in the equipment and weapons used in Afghanistan and leave it in the country. Tashkent hopes the United States will support its desire to enjoy a privileged position in the northern part of Afghanistan where the ethnic Uzbeks are a majority. Uzbekistan has experience of being a «key ally» of the United States in Central Asia; it’s hard to predict how long the friendship will last this time, the same way it is hard to predict if the United States would leave Afghanistan without leaving some presence behind.

The insinuations about NATO pulling out before the «combat season» in the spring of 2014 is a probe to see the outside reaction, including the response of Russia. The Russian Federation preferred not to wait till the ISAF withdraws; the probing raids from the territory of Afghanistan could be expected in the upcoming months. For instance, Kenya, where militants perpetrated a blood slaughter, is not an isolated incident, it’s a tendency. The United States military intervention under the pretext of «fight against international terrorism» has not resulted in peace; Afghanistan today is one of the most vulnerable states in the world. Over and over again we reap the fruits of US military domination. Under the circumstances, Russia has to take on a global mission and use the southern approaches to counter the US-sponsored scenario which envisions the «transition of the Middle East from the axis of instability to the axis of freedom». 

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