On October 7, 2001 U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban government and to destroy Al Qaeda. It was the beginning of the war on terrorism launched by George W. Bush in response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York that killed around 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. After more than ten years of war, Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not completely destroyed, and despite of the intense pursuit, of having suffered heavy material and human losses, especially in their leadership, these organizations are still operating cautiously and continuously from their secret hiding bases in Pakistan. The Pakistan government has never striven to eliminate their strongholds and impose its authority on the country’s border, despite the $20 billion U.S. support in civilian and military assistance between 2002 and 2011 according to the report from Congressional Research Service on October 2012.
The cost of the war against the Taliban has been huge. It is estimated that the U.S. has spent since 2001 by around $557 billion in military costs till 2012 and the country will spent more $84.7 billion in 2013 without being sure of effectiveness these expenses. The human cost is nearly 2,000 deaths of American military in the conflict and more 1,000 deaths of soldiers from the multinational coalition of the 27 allied countries. The human cost to Afghanistan was also huge. It is estimated so far that around 20,000 civilians and military personnel died and 23,000 others were injured.
The Taliban is still a threat, especially to the Afghan government which, in spite of all military and financial aid from of the U.S. and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies, is still not fully operationally capable to defend itself. According to Los Angeles times digital edition on April 2012 Afghanistan’s army and police will receive more than $4 billion a year from U.S. and its allies to provide its own security when the most of the international troops leave the country in 2014. There is yet plenty of homework to be done until to transfer the country’s security to the Afghan armed forces, in a way they can conduct autonomous military operations without western support.
The Chinese, in particular, have expressed concern about the withdrawal of Western troops and with the risks of political instability that could reach Afghanistan, turning the country back into a sanctuary for terrorists and separatist organizations, willing to use it as a basis for attacks, mainly against China and Pakistan. The Chinese have mightily striven themselves to contain ethnic Uyghur separatist organizations that operate in the Xinjiang Chinese province that are currently using the Pakistani territory as a hideout. These organizations could be benefited from an Afghan instability to get new shelters, creating difficulties for a Chinese defensive action. After all, the combined U.S. and NATO intervention did not bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan, but they were able to manage the country internal crisis and to strike strongly at the terrorist organizations that operated there freely. The Chinese know they would pay a high political, economic and military cost if they had to succeed or to cooperate with the Western powers on the tough task of keeping troops in the country. They seem more willing only to reap the benefits of the “dirty work” from the counterterrorism operations conducted by these powers than to provide human and financial resources to help them in order to stabilize the country.
Strategic Agreement – Afghanistan and USA
The Americans also seem unwilling to allow the huge effort made by the stabilization of Afghanistan to go to waste. They also do not want the country to return to its previous social and economic chaos, or to run the risk of it falling under the influence area of other foreign powers hostile to U.S. interests. Therefore, on May 2012, the United States and Afghanistan signed a strategic agreement that ensures the U.S. military presence in the country until 2024, even after the withdrawal of international troops and the majority of U.S. forces after 2014. Probably the military personnel who remain in the country will be composed of rapid intervention elite units, training units to provide support to the Afghan self-defense forces, and specialized units in intelligence operations against terrorism and anti-drug operations. This American support aims to ensure the country’s political stability, the development of its institutions, its economy, and the technical support of the Afghan armed forces which will be responsible for the country’s security. However, this American presence probably has also a hidden interest in exercising control and supervision over Afghanistan’s mineral resources and its reserves of oil and gas, as well as its future trade routes to major consumer markets, thereby reducing the risk of the country falls fully within the Russian, Chinese or even Iranian sphere of influence.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended the last summit of the SCO – The Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June this year in Beijing, as a member observer, marking a political and economic rapprochement with the Central Asian countries, especially China and Russia. The SCO comprises six Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Hamid Karzai has been engaged in bringing investments into the country to accelerate their economic development, especially in the mining and infrastructure fields and thereby reduce its dependence of Western powers.
According to an article published by The Jamestown Foundation on July 2010, by Richard Weitz, U.S. Geologists discovered nearly $1 trillion worth of iron, copper, cobalt, and lithium reserves scattered around Afghanistan, including the southern and eastern regions where there are Taliban activities along the border with Pakistan. Pentagon Officials believe these mineral resources will help transform the quarrelsome Afghanistan into a modern industrial state.
The Chinese are especially interested in Afghanistan’s stability and the possibility of obtaining large supplies of natural resources at competitive prices close to its territory. To ensure the exploitation and flow of these resources it is necessary investments in roads and railways. In accordance with publication from Afghanistan News Center, on June 2012, this is a business area in which Chinese engineers are already developing advanced technical studies, for the implementation of a railway from the Aynak copper mine in the South of Kabul city to Afghanistan’s shared border with Uzbekistan and then to China. It is estimated that Chinese investments will reach more than $3 billion and will be conducted by two Chinese companies: Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper. Before constructing a copper mine, the projected contract is also expected to help the development of the local infrastructure, including a train connecting the region to Kabul and local roads, local schools, hospitals and employment for local Afghans.
According to the digital edition of the American site: The National Interest, published on May 2012, further evidence of China’s long-term interests in Afghanistan can be seen in the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), which won a contract on December 2012 to exploit oil blocs in Amu Darya, at the northern region of Afghanistan. This company made an initial investment of around $400 million in an area rich in natural gas, which offers further potentially lucrative contracts for CNPC down the road. These state-owned Chinese firms are interested in ensuring the appropriate infrastructure, linking the natural resource projects in Afghanistan to their forthcoming transport network in Central Asia. This network is also planned to be connected to the Indian Ocean with the Chinese-built port at Gwadar in Pakistan and the Iranian coast which is located in meaningful strategic position very close to the entrance of the Persian Gulf.
These future possibilities mentioned above could enable regional transport of goods, people and raw materials and could allow the construction of gas and oil pipelines along these lines of communication directly to the inland of China. The Gwadar port could also be used as an important way of access to the markets in Central Asia, Afghanistan and China boosting regional development to countries that do not have access to the sea, simultaneously promoting the progress inside Pakistan. But the country is still subject to the influence of tribal groups, which provide safe haven to several and heavily armed terrorists groups, including Taliban and Al Qaeda. These groups use the difficult mountainous border region shared with Afghanistan to carry out attacks on both sides of border, creating huge difficulties in implementing these development plans.
The Russians are also attentive to the opportunities in Afghanistan. According the Russian Afghanistan.ru digital media, published on February 2012, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Andrei Avetisyan said Russia intended to return to the country with important investments. Moscow is planning to work with around 150 projects, which were started during Soviet era. Among these projects is the reconstruction of the strategic Salang tunnel located in Parwan province, which is an important link between northern and southern Afghanistan crossing of the Hindukush mountain range; the reconstruction of an irrigation complex in the Nangarhar province, and the construction of roads. Also Russia is interested in making an investment in hydro-power generation and construction projects, oil production and the construction of railways. The ambassador said Russia was ready to cooperate with Afghan and international forces in fighting against drugs.
According to the article written by Margherita Stancati on June 2012, and published in a digital edition of India Real Time, the Indian investment in Afghanistan has been led by state-owned Indian companies with a focus on natural resources. In November last year, a consortium of companies led by the state-run Steel Authority of India won the rights to a $14 billion iron ore project in the province of Bamiyan and a group of state-run Indian companies, including Hindustan Copper Ltd., is on a short-list to bid for four copper and gold projects around the country.
All of these projects need a stable and peaceful Afghanistan to be conducted in a safe way. It is impossible imagine how it could work well with the Taliban back to the country.
With so many economic interests at stake, the Afghan government is being encouraged by the great powers to conduct peace negotiations with the Taliban before the departure of international troops in 2014, finishing a long and bloody war that has caused too much suffering and hardship for people who inhabit the country. It is not easy imagine a peace deal without giving any compensation to Taliban. They probably would want at least an
Afghan territory under its control which could be a high risk decision to the future since it could allow them, at the appropriate time, reinitiate the war very well positioned to take over the rest of the country again.
An Afghan peace is only possible if there is a considerable effort on the part of its neighbor Pakistan to eliminate Taliban positions within its territory, mainly in the extensive mountainous border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which is a semi-autonomous tribal region in the Pakistan northwest region, where the Taliban wields a lot of power, trains its militants and thus continue indefinitely tormenting his neighbor Afghanistan. There is no possibilities to attract Taliban for peace talks whether they are enough strong to continue fighting and choosing options. They were defeated in Afghanistan, but with safe refuge on the side of Pakistani border they always can reorganize themselves and come back to the fight again. The Pakistani service secret has been a source of distrust from the U.S. that sees this organization responsible to support Taliban with weapons and redirecting them to face western powers in Afghanistan instead of causing problems in Pakistan. The death of Osama Bin Laden by American troops which was hidden near of a military Pakistani facility was considered a proof of the Pakistani involvement with terrorist organizations. The Pakistani government has always denied any support for Taliban or Al Qaeda and pressed by western powers, have faced Taliban several times to alleviate the pressure in the Afghan war and to prevent them to take control on large areas inside the country, and of course, to avoid them to be stronger them Pakistan army, but they cannot try to impose a tight and decisive defeat and run risk to be involved in a civil war. Pakistan faces several internal problems with corruption and ethnic divisions. They fear to take this decision. The Taliban is supported mainly by people from Pashtun ethnicity with more than 29 million people. They are 15% of Pakistan inhabitants. In Afghanistan the Pashtuns are 42% of the inhabitants which is more than 12 million people. Hence, they have human potential to be an independent country taking possession of large portions of Afghan and Pakistani territory. This scenario would be a chaos for Pakistan since it could detonate several ethnic rebellions; mainly in Baluchistan where there are separatists groups fighting government to achieve the national independence. If the Baloch and Pashtun secession happened the Pakistan certainly would disappear as a National state.
The Pakistani authorities have faced other problems as well. According to the Asia Times Online on October 2011, the Chinese would be interested in establishing military troops in northern Pakistan to curb militant activities conducted by Uyghur separatists. They have used the tribal region in the north of the country, for nearly a decade, as a basis to plan terrorist operations against the restless Chinese province of Xinjiang. This is one of the few points of dissatisfaction of Beijing with Islamabad, who does not see commitment from the Pakistani government to combat and eliminate the activities of these groups considered terrorists by the Chinese government which could also delay Chinese investments. It seems that the Pakistanis will have no choice but to cooperate with the Chinese and to conduct themselves the hard work to provide internal security, rather than to be subject to the presence of Chinese troops. This last possibility would also be dangerous and could detonate internal rebellions against the government.
Pakistan is in a crossroad, the country do not have enough power to control at the same time the Taliban insurgency, the risk of a rebellion in Baluchistan, the risk of internal ethnic insurgency and the risk of a confrontation with India in its turbulent Kashmir province. But they need the Chinese investments to drive the infrastructure projects that would create thousands of jobs and thereby reduce the strong tribal and armed groups influence on the population. They need investments to grow as an independent and powerful regional country in order to allow them reduces its dependence of western powers resources and to face its rival India.
Afghanistan is in a crossroad as well, the country needs Pakistan support to control Taliban insurgency to negotiate a treaty peace with them. Thus, the key for the success to restructure Afghanistan and to foster regional development also passes through Pakistani government decisions. There is no an easy scenario to achieve peace in this region without a coordinated involvement with both governments. An Afghanistan destabilized and back to chaos would be also a high risk for Pakistani stability. Hence, the two countries need to work supporting each other to achieve regional stability whether they want to survive as multinational and independent states.
Let us see what is going to happen next.
Political and Social Scientist