After over a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States is still grappling with the problems that plague that country. These problems range from the existence of the Taliban and threats posed by al-Qaeda to a dependent economy whose survival hinges upon assistance from the United States. Multiple and complex problems abound in Afghanistan — multiplex indeed. One cannot help but ask: why hasn’t the United States eliminated the Taliban and put an end to the violence that claims the lives of many Afghan civilians and its own troops serving in Afghanistan?
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Twice during the last few months, Afghan women have come out to vote in higher numbers than expected despite Taliban threats of violence. Whether they voted for the candidate their male relatives instructed them to or made the choice themselves, their act surprised the international community. Their appearance at the polls represented their desire for change.
Two centrally important countries in South Asia recently had elections that attracted international attention – India and Afghanistan. India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, believed by many to be a Hindu nationalist, pleasantly surprised many by inviting Pakistan’s prime minister for his swearing-in ceremony. Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to his credit, resisted pressure from hawks within his own country and attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
The Obama administration has increased the risk of Islamist attacks against Americans with the release of five–most dangerous and seasoned–jihadists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of Bowe Bergdahl. They are as brutal as Osama bin Laden, and capable of planning major terrorist attacks. They have had over twelve years in isolation to think about targets. Guantanamo Bay still holds over 150 battle hardened enemy combatants. Sending the five to Qatar, the headquarters for the Taliban, will be like a homecoming—a brief period of rest and recuperation.
The Abbott Government has made a point to shock more than awe in its short time in office. (It is hard to be awed by the Prime Minister, whose behaviour has been expected.) It has taken the program of the previous Labor government further in chastising and banishing asylum seekers. It has created seemingly insuperable legal barriers in arriving, legitimately, to Australia. It has grovelled and fawned before US power interests while dismissing concerns of unwarranted mass surveillance. It has taken the hammer to affordable education, proposed increases in the costs of medical services and funnelled more money into defence.
Then came the announcement, made in somewhat hushed tones, that 500 Afghans, many of them involved in interpreting duties for the Australian Defence Force, have been resettled in Australia. For Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, “This policy reflects Australia’s fulfilment of its moral obligation to those who provided invaluable support to Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan.”
There is an American belief that the democratic system of government is the most suitable, even the most desirable, for all countries.
This misconception is exploited when the United States decides to aid the economic and military success of foreign governments, economically and/or militarily, thereby gaining the opportunity for political influence. The argument for these actions is that democracy leads to stability, and stable countries do not become threats to the American people. However, prior attempts at using aid to democratize have proven to produce negligible if not detrimental effects. There are more effective ways to aid other countries and boost economic development that do not require political intervention. For this to be achieved, there must be legislation that provides a framework for the distribution of foreign aid. The policy would designate that non-military aid should be given through independent organizations which are funded by the State Department, thereby preventing democratization and political influence. Also, military aid, if given at all, should be given to the country under assault, not necessarily the one considerably more democratic.
The United States’ goal is to stabilize foreign countries and prevent them from becoming a threat. The government does this through USAID, which describes its mission as, “focused on sustainable development outcomes that places a premium on broad-based economic growth, democratic governance, game-changing innovations, and sustainable systems for meeting basic human needs.” Note that the government directly admits to spreading democracy. One should also wonder what these struggling countries could possibly do to compensate for the millions of dollars the United States gives them in aid. Often the cost of accepting this aid is political influence, specifically, shifting to a more democratic style of government.
One of the things that continue to inspire me and endow me with optimism for the future of Afghanistan is the devotion of the country’s young generation to peace and conflict resolution. Tormented by many years of war and violence, they are in the pursuit of a peaceful and democratic future. In addition, they have been active agents of change in the Afghan society. Their ubiquity and influence pervades all spheres of life: from the establishment of private schools and universities to the creation of organizations aimed at building a strong civil society.
As terrorist attacks go, it was as shocking for its scale and its choice of target: on April 14, at least 200 people were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in the Nigerian town of Chibok.
More than a week later, the whereabouts of hundreds of young women remain a mystery. Within local communities of Borno province there is much sympathy for parents, but not a huge degree of shock. For this is just the latest in a series of attacks blamed on one outfit: Boko Haram. To understand the kidnapping, we have to look at the terror group’s history, how it was formed, and how its ideology developed. Boko Haram has made itself notorious with a long campaign of bombings and mass murders across Nigeria, often in concert with other Islamist groups.
However, to properly understand the group, we have to look at the terrorist group’s history, how the group was formed, and how its ideology developed. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a 30-year-old man called Muhammad Yusuf founded a new religious preaching group in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, and gave it the Arabic name “Jamaat ahl as-Sunnah li ad-Dawah wa al-Jihad” (literally, “The Group of the People of Tradition and Call for Jihad”). This group would later become known in Hausa as “Boko Haram,” meaning “Western education is sinful.”
Preliminary results from Afghanistan’s presidential election are due to be announced, three weeks after the vote was held. Earlier partial results put former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead with 43.8% of votes cast, short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. The BBC’s David Loyn in Kabul says there are increasing claims of fraud. Final official results are due to be announced on 14 May after a period for adjudication of complaints.
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is barred from standing for a third term. Eight candidates are vying to succeed him. If none gains more than 50%, a second round between the two frontrunners is scheduled for 28 May. Saturday’s announcement will come two days after full preliminary results were expected to have been declared.
Our correspondent says the continuing delay is increasing suspicion that the result is being manipulated. There are allegations on all sides that ballot boxes were stuffed and that the count itself was rigged, he says. When 80% of votes were counted, Mr. Abdullah’s main rival Ashraf Ghani – a former World Bank economist – was in second place with 32.9% of the vote.
A second-round vote could be avoided if a power-sharing deal is struck between the two leading candidates. However, both men have vowed to fight on if a run-off is required. “We have not talked or negotiated with anyone about forming a coalition government,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters after Thursday’s results.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to take part in the election. Turnout was double that of the previous presidential election in 2009, despite a number of attacks in the run-up and bad weather on polling day. The next president will face several challenging issues, including the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan later this year and attacks by the Taliban.
This old cliché is still apropos in President Barrack Obama’s saber-rattling standoff with President Vladimir Putin.
In Europe last week Mr. Obama said that Russia was a declining “regional power.” In seizing Crimea, Mr. Putin was expanding Russia’s influence over Ukraine–part of the lost former Soviet Empire–was the inference. I am sure Mr. Putin is still fuming over those remarks. For the U.S. the annexation of Crimea is not a national security threat as was the Cold War era. Containing Russia’s further incursion into Ukraine is important however the most pressing foreign security issues are the control of Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical stockpile. Mr. Putin is the key to both issues.
Mr. Obama needs to spend time with Mr. Putin, to better understand his goals–at least his thinking. The Crimea takeover could have been averted. Reversing its integration into the Russian Empire probably will not happen. Western allies wringing their hands and seeking punishing sanctions will not change the takeover. What we don’t want to do is push Mr. Putin into annexing Ukraine. This would begin a more regional conflict and draw in neighboring countries.
Suddenly the talk is of a new Cold War between Russia and the West, as Crimea is quietly written off as “lost” for the foreseeable future and the diplomatic focus moves to preventing a further—and potentially devastating—move into eastern Ukraine.
While an understandable metaphor, though, this is a dangerous one. The Cold War, for all its brinkmanship and proxy conflicts, was a relatively stable and even rules-bound process. Instead, in this new “hot peace,” perhaps a better, if less comfortable analogy would be the Great Game, that (since mythologized) nineteenth-century era of imperial rivalry over Central Asia between Britain and Russia,, the freewheeling nineteenth-century struggle for authority in Central Asia.
One of the particular characteristics of the original Great Game was that there was little real distinction between the instruments of conventional conflict and competition such as wars, diplomatic missions and treaties and those of the informal realm, from subsidized bandit chieftains to third-party intelligence freelancers.
Thomas Paine once quipped that “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” In a similar vein, a nation once awakened politically cannot revert back to dormancy. Despite decades of war and ravage, Afghanistan, while still continuing to suffer from all sorts of injustices, afflictions, and violence, is on the march toward democratization. Yesterday – April 5, 2014 – the country convulsed with exhilaration and jubilance, as millions of Afghans sallied toward the polling stations to elect their new president.
Afghanistan’s first Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim passed away a few days ago, March 9th, 2014 of natural causes. Reports say that he died of a heart attack.
Mr. Fahim was a complex political figure. A native of the Panjshir Valley, he joined the late Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud in the fight against the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s. Having established himself as a fierce fighter, he continued his struggle against the Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1990s as Commander Masoud’s top deputy. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, and with Commander Masoud having been assassinated by al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, Fahim emerged as a crucial force in helping the United States remove the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001.
His sudden death has prompted many Afghan leaders and prominent politicians to believe that with Fahim gone, Afghanistan’s instability will intensify. Those writing about the vice president’s passing are too kind to him. Society often looks very kindly upon the dead, regardless of their actions while they were alive. Fahim was a corrupt politician, lacking scruples and integrity.
The recent kidnapping of 5 Iranian soldiers serving along Iran’s border with Pakistan, and their subsequent alleged captivity in Pakistani territory has shed light on the complex relationship between the two states.
With western media analysis firmly focused on continued negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme and Pakistan’s internal troubles, there is little written about the relations between the two neighbours who share a 900km border running through the heart of the Baluchi cultural region. This is a relationship that contains myriad complexities and the potential for conflict and cooperation, ranging from tackling Baluchi separatism and drug trafficking to pipeline politics, Afghanistan and the ever present spectre of US and Saudi interests in the Middle East and beyond.
Despite the complexities, relations have been good up until now, showing the pragmatism of both states and the importance both place on the relationship. However, the recent comments of Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who has threatened unilateral action inside Pakistani territory as a means of maintaining Iran’s security and that of its soldiers serving along the border, demonstrate the potential for a rupture and the necessity for pragmatism to prevail.
The war in Afghanistan has been expensive. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are still being spent there on a daily basis.
My hope is that this war – the longest in American history – will teach the next generation of foreign policy leaders a few lessons about conflicts and foreign interventions. However, this war was necessary. Those behind the terrorist attacks of September 11 had to be brought to justice, and they have been. Moreover, for Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic, and prosperous country, the United States must continue its involvement in the country because the consequences of a sudden withdrawal would be cataclysmic.
The Obama administration knows this well, of course. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking officials have been visiting Kabul frequently in recent months. We do not have to wait to see what would happen in Afghanistan if the American troops were to leave; the fallout from the Iraq withdrawal provides a sufficient cautionary tale. To say that Iraq is unstable is to state what is overwhelmingly obvious. The sectarian tension between the Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq has intensified to such a degree that it is threatening the survival of the current democratic regime. Certainly, hope has not died in Iraq, and most likely, the nation’s ample resources and great potential for economic growth will eventually enable the country to recover from its present instability. However, it is abundantly clear that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has greatly compromised the country’s ability to weather political shocks.