What Ails Afghanistan?

Rather than blaming Pakistan for its every problem, Afghanistan needs to realize that its challenges originate from within the country.

Posted on 11/27/15
By Imtiaz Gul | Via The Friday Times
Many Afghan observers believe that President Ashraf Ghani's authority is being challenged by former president Hamid Karzai and his cohorts. (Photo by UNAMA News, Creative Commons License)
Many Afghan observers believe that President Ashraf Ghani’s authority is being challenged by former president Hamid Karzai and his cohorts. (Photo by UNAMA News, Creative Commons License)

The 10th meeting of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) on November 23 ended in an expected drab draw. Kabul once again sought access to New Delhi for its trucks via the Wagah-Attari border crossing. Islamabad turned down the request citing security issues.


Pakistan also declined Afghanistan’s requests to allow its trucks to load cargo as they returned from Wagah to Kabul. Under the current regulations, Afghan trucks transporting goods can only drop off their cargo at Wagah and return empty to Torkham. In return, Afghanistan declined Pakistan’s request for access to the Tajikistan border.


Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi also complained about gaps in the implementation of the 48-point agenda agreed between Afghanistan and Pakistan when President Ashraf Ghani visited Islamabad in 2014.


The meeting therefore remained largely confined to exchanges of vows to finish ongoing projects. No surprises. And for understandable reasons. Ever since the news of Mullah Omar’s death derailed the reconciliation process late in July, Afghanistan has seen increasing violence by an ascendant Taliban insurgency. Accompanying this spike in violence is a predictable narrative that names Pakistan as the source of all ills in Afghanistan.


Consider this statement by the Afghan Minister of Interior Noor-ul-Haq Olomi at the Lower House of Parliament or Wolesi Jirga in early October:


“The final word is that Pakistan continues to support terrorists… (ISIS) enjoys the same safe havens Al Qaeda, Taliban, Haqqani and other terrorist groups were using. After the launch of the military operation in Waziristan, Pakistan pushed the terrorists into Afghanistan, who were trained there for years.”


President Ghani and other ministers followed this up by practically and repeatedly ruling out any role for Pakistan in the reconciliation process, because of its “duplicitous” role.


Amrullah Saleh, the former intelligence chief, told reporters in Kabul on November 20 that during the course of their probe on the reasons for the brief fall of Kunduz, members of the fact-finding mission were shown “material evidence” – including communication intercepts gathered by their national intelligence agency – that suggested Taliban insurgents were being directed by their “advisers” in the neighboring Pakistan.


Let us compare these notions with another statement – made by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO of the Unity Government, on November 7, while addressing an event in Kabul as the chief guest. The address was aired live on major Afghan television channels:


“There are people (armed groups) who are waging war against the government, and there are people from the former political regime who want this government to collapse – maybe because some people enjoyed large privileges, but today they do not have those privileges and want this government to collapse and return to power. But such attempts will unfortunately lead to total insecurity in the country.”


General John Campbell, the US commander of the NATO-led training and advising Resolute Support mission, had also warned against attempts to destabilize the Ghani government while testifying before a congressional committee on October 6. “We understand how important having a National Unity government is, and I think the Afghans understand this as well,” he said. “To think that there aren’t people that don’t want the National Unity government – that are what I would call spoilers – out there trying to disrupt that, I think would be foolish and there are,” Campbell said.


The unmistakable reference was former President Hamid Karzai, who appears to be running a shadow government.


Similarly, the six-member commission on the Kunduz fall headed by Saleh, identified “illegal political interference particularly by parliamentarians in the official matters, institutional disorder, corruption, judicial weaknesses, ghost police and security forces, rampant poverty and unemployment as major factors behind for the short-lived loss of Kunduz to Taliban.” It also accused the government of failing to seize thousands of illegal weapons.


In October 2014, an alliance consisting of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and 11 other leading civil society organizations had unveiled the “Afghan Peoples’ Ten Point Road Map for Peace” and identified the following priorities:


  1. Promote responsive State institutions
  2. Strengthen security institutions
  3. Disarm and disempower illegal armed groups and other pro-government militias
  4. Promote human rights, rule of law and tackle impunity
  5. Promote women’s rights and their role in peace-building
  6. Enable youth through fostering job creation and strengthening the education system
  7. Realize equitable social and economic development
  8. Ensure inclusivity in the peace process
  9. Strengthen community-based dispute resolution mechanisms
  10. Neutralize spoilers of peace


The Roadmap, which was welcomed at home and abroad, essentially spelt out the problems that afflict Afghanistan, and interestingly only indirectly addressed the issue of foreign interference by urging neighboring countries to help promote peace in Afghanistan.


For these organizations, warlordism, corruption, poor security apparatus, weak rule of law, and extreme financial and economic limitations constituted the core of Afghanistan’s challenges and needed urgent attention.


John Sopko, the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) spoke of the same limitations. “They raise $2 billion, it takes $4 billion to $6 billon to pay for their military and police and another $4 billion to pay for the rest of the government. We gave Afghanistan a government they can’t afford. So, what do we do now?” Sopko asked during a lecture at the Watson Institute for International Studies in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 18.  “When I go to Afghanistan… I cannot drive that 1.5 miles to the US embassy.  I must be helicoptered… and that has been going on since February. So, it makes you pause. It is a serious situation,” he underscored.


That is a grim reminder of the situation in Afghanistan, where according to a US Congress Research Service report released in October, India’s goals are to deny Pakistan “strategic depth”, to deny Pakistan the ability to block India from trade and other connections to Central Asia and beyond, and to prevent militants in Afghanistan from attacking Indian targets in Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan, it said, pursue their own interests in that country.


This basically was reminder of the multiple competing interests that are at play in Afghanistan. This leads us to ask whether it is rational and realistic to point fingers at one or the other country for the maze of challenges that Afghanistan is mired in. The Afghan Peoples’ Alliance, the US general on the ground, the US SIGAR, and many others highlight similar factors at the heart of the present perilous situation under President Ghani, who is struggling with his own health as well as an array of hostile vested interest within the Unity Government and the establishment.


The only direct victim of this continued tug of war are the people of Afghanistan.


The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad


This article first appeared at The Friday Times, Pakistan’s largest political weekly. Click here to go to the original.

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