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Afghanistan after NATO withdrawal

United States has announced to completely pull out its forces from Afghanistan till the end of 2014 and has started delegating control of parts of the war-torn country to Afghan authorities. NATO will withdraw its 87,000 troops by the end of 2014 after 13 years of fighting the war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

As a part of transferring power to the Afghan government, US forces have handed over charge of Bagram prison to Afghan troops. However, parts of the prison, where notorious militants are kept are still in the control of the foreign troops. Likewise, US forces also transferred control of the restive Nirk district of the Wardak province to Afghan forces. By the same token, on political front, US have also started parleys with Taliban that has passed few phases of suspension and resumption, but remains far away from success.

Taliban opened their office in Qatar for holding talks with representatives of Karzai-led government and US, however, later the office was closed. Such steps clearly indicated the seriousness of US handing over power to Afghan government.

But the US also has plans to keep about 10,000 troops in the war-battered Afghanistan after 2014. NATO allies are expected to provide around 5,000 troops if the security-related agreement is agreed to among the stakeholders in Afghanistan, US and NATO.

Brief history

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on twin towers in USA, the then US president, George W. Bush waged a war in Afghanistan with an aim to eliminate Bin Laden (the said mastermind behind 9/11) and the Al-Qaida terrorist network; two, to remove the Taliban from power and to prevent Afghanistan from continuing to serve as a safe-haven for terrorists; and three, to bring stability to Afghanistan and its people through the creation of a functioning stable and democratic state.

With the establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority as a temporary local authority in the Bonn Agreement in December 2001, the issue of state-building was added to this agenda. And indeed, after NATO took permanent command of the ISAF force in October 2003 and its mandate was expanded territorially to reach across most of Afghanistan, ISAF’s goals were further expanded to cover the maintenance of security, the aiding of reconstruction and development and the facilitation of good governance.

Over a decade, the US and NATO forces backed the Karzai led administration in several cadres vis-à-vis education, health, reconstruction.

Implications of withdrawal of troops

There could be many challenges to Afghanistan after 2014, some are discussed below:

a) Regional Security
It is assumed that after reduction/withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan, the militants would be re-organized/restructured and could threaten the peace of the entire region by drawing the neighbouring countries in the war. Thus the reduction/withdrawal can endanger stability of the south and central Asia.
History reveals that after complete withdrawal of Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan in 1988, America ceased taking interest in Afghanistan and the fighters made their way to Pakistan-India eastern borders.  If the terror activities persist in Afghanistan after 2014, they are likely to spill over into neighbouring countries, and Afghanistan could become "a staging ground for an Indo-Pakistani proxy war.

b) Afghan Forces
The key question is: Will the Afghan forces be able to discharge their responsibility effectively? NATO´s withdrawal from Afghanistan can provide a golden chance to Taliban to challenge the Afghan National Security Force(ANSF) potential to keep the country intact. The ANSF will simultaneously combat on two fronts. Firstly, it will fight against Taliban, which will use all their strength to re-take areas from army in the remotest rural territories. Secondly, the Taliban will strive to eliminate the country´s internal security and political apparatus – the police, government and the army by demoralizing and deserting the security forces.

The international community is prepared to help the Afghan forces by providing money, equipment and training. But it is not known whether this help will be sustained over a longer period of time. There is also a possibility of the ANSF disintegrating along ethnic lines, in case the Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun-majority entity, successfully overruns Kabul after 2014.

c) Economy
Afghanistan’s economy is totally dependent on foreign aid that has been cut down to a great extent. Some foreign funded media outlets, including TV and Radio channels have shut down or limited their services. In case of instability, foreign investors can cease their projects in Afghanistan that will be a great blow to its economy.

After 2014, the dependent Afghanistan would need to stand on its own feet, which would be something very difficult for this war torn country. Afghans who are drawing salaries in dollars and Euros now will plunge into severe despair when dollars are stopped. Afghanistan will need a minimum of 3-4 billion dollar apart from security fund to maintain the functioning of the government.

According to a New York Times report, “NATO forces withdrawal may also jeopardize vital aid commitments. Afghanistan is decades away from self sufficiency — it currently covers only about 20 percent of its own bills, with the rest paid by the United States and its allies.

As the country is dependent upon aid, therefore it has been less focused upon trade over the last decade. Vibrant trade tiesmwith neighbouring countries could save Afghanistan economy from sinking after 2014.

Afghanistan spent very little amount of the foreign funds on its industrial sector. Afghanistan imports are larger than its exports, the biggest export of Afghanistan are dry fruit. Rampant smuggling and corruption have almost ditched Afghanistan’s economy, there is no proper check and balance system in this regard and there is a fear that after 2014, a weak economy will be one of the biggest challenges to Afghanistan.

d) Political uncertainty
In April or May 2014, presidential elections are expected in Afghanistan, but currently Afghanistan has a very weak government. Karzai government has no or very weak control beyond Kabul. The upcoming presidential elections are very important because Afghanistan needs a strong leader to implement not only the writ of the government, but also bridge the gap among the conflicting ethnic groups.

Political parties are very weak in Afghanistan, after 2014, the Jihadi groups can again become vibrant. The Parliament is divided into disunited groups comprising of disgruntled elements, this disunity and hatred can pose a grave threat to political situation in Afghanistan.

e) Pakistan  Interference
After 2014, Pakistan interference can mount in Afghanistan. The stability of Afghanistan is closely intertwined with developments in neighboring Pakistan. Islamabad has assisted the Taliban in the past and once again stands accused by the United States of supporting the Taliban groups fighting ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

Some researchers argue that the Pakistan military actively aids the insurgents through funding, the provision of weapons, strategic planning, and so on, as well as through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency

f) Illegal drug trafficking
llicit drugs is one of the major post-2014 problems that must be urgently addressed. Afghanistan remains by far the leading cultivator and producer of opium in the world. Poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates threaten the health and well-being of people in the region and beyond. They fuel crime and corruption, undermine stability and can be used to finance terrorist activity.

Options for India

Afghanistan is a very important nation for India because of following reasons:
First, India is invested in the success of the current regime. It has already committed around US$2 billion in developmental aid to Afghanistan, making India one of the country’s biggest donors. In 2011, the two countries signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement, in which India agreed to assist in the training and equipping of Afghan security forces, forces that will eventually take on the Taliban without the support of Western troops.
Second, Afghanistan is important for India’s energy security. India has vital economic interests in Afghanistan in terms of natural resources, i.e. iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium. Reserves of these natural resources are estimated to be worth US $ 1 trillion. Afghanistan is also endowed with natural gas and oil. As most of the country is unexplored due to war and conflict, prospects for additional natural resources reserves cannot be denied. Natural resources are very significant for economic development of Afghanistan that primarily relies on international development assistance. For instance, lithium is crucial for green energy products. It is used in mobile phone and laptop batteries as well as electric car batteries. As the threat of climate change looms large and there is emphasis on developing clean energy technologies, importance of lithium is bound to increase. Several Indian companies have started investing in mining sectors. For India, mining sectors and infrastructure development are suitable areas for private investment as Indian companies have hinted to invest up to US $ 10 billion in mining and steel sectors. Afghanistan has awarded three of four blocks of its largest iron ore deposit, Hajigak, to a consortium of Indian companies led by the state-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd. Indian entrepreneurs have also shown interests in petroleum and copper mining blocks in Afghanistan.
Thirdly, Afghanistan is vital for the revival of the silk route that can be a gateway for India to Central Asia for trade and energy resources. In return, transit routes will generate substantial revenue for Afghanistan. For example, TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) pipeline project is estimated to add around US $ 5 million annually in transit fee to the Afghan coffer. 735 kilometers of this gas pipeline will pass through Afghanistan and the entire project could be jeopardized, if the security scenario in Afghanistan does not improve. The NATO’s withdrawal has created a sense of uncertainty in Afghanistan and regional countries are anxious about the country’s future.
Fourthly, a stable Afghanistan is important to India’s security. Several Indian citizens have been killed on duty in Afghanistan, and the Indian embassy in the Afghan capital has had to withstand two attacks, in 2008 and 2009, that brought many casualties. Before the current war Afghanistan posed a significant danger to India. It was during Taliban rule in 1999, for example, that an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan. India had to release three terrorists in exchange for the hostages.
So the options for India to maintain a closer link with new Afghanistan are:

• India can expand its role in training Afghan national security forces (particularly the police and officer corps of the army) and helping develop the justice sector. As the process of reintegration gains momentum, India’s experience of building a counter insurgency grid in Jammu & Kashmir and reintegrating the militants could have some important parallels and lessons for security sector reform in Afghanistan.

• India’s experience of the parliamentary system, political parties, electoral processes, space for opposition, federal system could have important lessons for political sector reform. The past presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan and the present political impasse have brought to the fore the problems of a highly centralised presidential system. As Afghanistan prepares for another conference in Bonn in December this year ahead of transition, India can make significant contributions to political, electoral and constitutional reforms.

• While India has indicated support for the Afghan led reintegration and reconciliation process, adherence to the red lines laid down at the London Conference including respect for the Afghan constitution, human and women rights would be crucial to prevent subversion from within. Afghanistan’s attempts at reconciliation needs to be supported by larger political and constitutional reforms which would necessitate provisions for dialogue, autonomy and special representation of minorities, women and marginalised groups.

•India could play a critical role in developing decentralised structures of governances based on its own Panchayati Raj system. Promoting grassroots democracy and local self government institutions can emerge as an alternative to the top down centralised approach of the international community which has proved to be ineffective.

• While India has worked towards shoring up the Afghan government’s capacity for aid delivery, improving aid effectiveness would remain a critical goal. Towards this end, the participation of local civilians in identifying and prioritising aid projects would remain crucial. One of the success stories of Afghanistan is the National Solidarity Programme that needs greater funding and support.

• In the economic realm, there is an immediate need for developing of alternate livelihood programmes as well as reviving Afghanistan’s traditional artisan and agricultural base. Saffron cultivation in poppy growing areas could be a useful alternate livelihood project. Natural resource exploitation, thermal power generation and industrial development in the relatively stable north and west could provide opportunities for employment for the youth. Moreover, it would help Afghanistan to graduate from being an externally dependent ‘rentier state’ to a self sustaining economy. Indian business companies could be encouraged to invest in the natural resource sector in the relatively stable north and west.

• There is also an urgent need to establish industries to spur economic independence and generate employment, which would actively engage the youth of the country. Afghanistan, due to its very low tax regime, is swamped by foreign goods mainly from Pakistan, China and Iran. This inhibits the growth of an indigenous industrial base. India could contribute to establishing small-scale industries like a carpet industry along with ornaments and handicrafts to help artisans, weavers and craftsmen. Follow up studies on these projects, assessing their usefulness and links with the development strategy of the Afghan government, would be extremely critical.

• India needs to further capitalise on its traditional, historical, social and cultural capital. As part of counter radicalisation campaigns, messages of moderate Islam from the Deoband would be a good way to counter and neutralise the radical Wahhabi messages. There is also a need to further expand cultural, sports and educational exchanges between the two countries. Setting up of Pushtun centres in India and Hindi centres in Afghanistan would help in greater cultural and linguistic exchanges. Cricket is an important sport that needs promotion. The excellent performance of Afghanistan in the recently concluded Asian Games in China is a case in point.

• While there has been an appreciation of the scholarship programme, there is a need to ensure that deserving and meritorious students are awarded. Setting up a board with Afghan and Indian observers for the process could be a step in ensuring that quality and transparency are maintained.

• India has actively provided assistance to women’s groups either through self employment schemes, health and capacity building not only in Kabul but also in the western province of Herat. Being long term stake holders in the rebuilding of the social and economic fabric of the war ravaged society, this mode of aid delivery can proved to be effective in sustaining and even expanding such programmes.

As developments in Afghanistan will directly impinge on India’s security, and the search for the ‘end game’ quickens, New Delhi will have to strengthen its position as a serious stakeholder in the long term stabilisation of Afghanistan and as a partner in the nation building process.

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