The socio-economic situation in Afghanistan has been improving gradually and slowly. However, it continues to cause great concern to the international community, especially with regard to the upcoming withdrawal of coalition forces from that country.
The main causes of this situation in Afghanistan is the difficulty for the government, despite the assistance of many countries, to rebuild the economy, raise living standards, reduce unemployment, stop drug production and drug trafficking and, in general, stabilize the situation.
The most recent war in Afghanistan has now lasted for more than 11 years since the invasion of American troops in the country after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 9, 2001.
The conflict between the Taliban militants, to which a part of the Afghan population is sympathetic and the central government, supported by the international coalition, continues. Drug trafficking from Afghanistan to other countries of the world has not stopped and has a tendency to increase despite the presence of the coalition forces in the country. Analysts say the income from drug trafficking is used for financing terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan, working jointly with the Afghan security forces, has pushed Taliban out of the central provinces. However, groups of militants, sheltered in remote regions of the country, have realigned their forces, continue to carry out attacks on government troops and the troops of the international coalition, as well as governmental agencies. They launch terrorist acts across the entire country, while avoiding direct clashes with the forces of the coalition.
The efforts of the United States and other NATO countries to promote stability in Afghanistan have not yielded significant results even at huge financial costs. The long war has no realistic prospects for military victory over the militants. The realization of this eventually led to the need to discuss the presence of troops of the international coalition in Afghanistan at the forum of heads of NATO states.
In May 2012, at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Alliance leaders decided to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. The final document of the summit defined the terms for transfer of control over security in the country to the Afghan national security forces by mid-2013. The withdrawal of the international coalition troops is to be completed by the end of 2014.
It was also decided that after the withdrawal, some U.S. and other foreign troops would remain as a limited contingent of military advisers to train units of the national security forces – the Afghan army, the police and other security forces.
Despite all measures taken, the main problems of the Afghan army and the police remain their low combat capability, high desertion rates and involvement in corruption. These problems make international coalition leaders concerned about these forces’ ability to take responsibility for security in the country.
Many experts fear the withdrawal of the coalition forces will be followed by a new round of civil war. They fear these events will be followed by the intrusion of extremist elements into neighbouring countries which could destabilise the situations in them. They also fear the expansion of drug trafficking across the region caused by an increase in production of heroin and opium from Afghanistan.
Many nations provide the Afghan government with comprehensive support in the political and economic, social, military and humanitarian spheres. International conferences around the world discuss and take decisions on assistance to Afghanistan in providing security, peace and stability. International conferences with these agendas were held in London in January 2010, Kabul in July 2010, Istanbul in November 2011, Bonn in December 2011, Kabul in June 2012 and Tokyo in July 2012.
In different parts of the world, a number of scholarly and social events devoted to the Afghan problem are also held. The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies held an international conference on April 4 titled “Afghanistan after 2014: Possible Scenario for Development of the Regional Situation and the Russian Strategy.” At the Kazakhstan Military Strategic Studies Center in Astana on April 11, an international conference was held with the title “Regional Security and the Situation in Afghanistan.”
Why is Afghanistan so important to the world? Why, for many decades, have most countries in the world paid such close attention and provided so much support to Afghanistan, spending huge financial means for humanitarian and other assistance? After all, there are many other countries in the world with low levels of social life, where people suffer hunger, deprivation and need, and who need immediate and comprehensive assistance of the international community. This is particularly true with regards to the population living on the African continent.
The mass media has widely reported the current situation and the events in Afghanistan. However, the answers to these questions become clear when examined from the position of globalisation.
Afghanistan occupies one of the key locations in Central Asia. The country is in a strategically important region at the crossroads of trade routes from Russia to Asia, from China to Europe and to the Middle East. Great importance also accrues to the transit potential of the region, where it is possible to implement an extensive network of transportation of energy resources, especially oil and gas pipelines.
The interests of the main world political players and neighbouring countries intersect in the region. They have clearly defined goals and intentions regarding Afghanistan.
The main objective of the countries of Central Asia and Kazakhstan is to protect their borders from the possible infiltration of extremist elements that can contribute to a destabilisation in these countries, as well as the suppression of drug trafficking. They want to encourage fair trade, the transportation of electricity, the construction of road, railways and other national economic projects and cultural exchanges between the citizens of the neighboring countries to stabilize conditions in Afghanistan.
The history of Afghanistan in the 19th and early 20th centuries was associated with repeated aspirations of the great powers to conquer the country and make it their colony. The Afghan people fought for many centuries for their independence and freedom. They repeatedly expelled foreign occupiers.
In this connection, it is appropriate to recall the words of President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2000, “Afghanistan is a special regional problem… Kazakhstan has always maintained a solid and realistic position. It comes down to the fact that the national dialogue needs to come from the Afghan people, and the role of all the neighbours and international organizations should be limited to the search for options. Even the army of the British Empire and the military superpower of the Soviet Union did not achieve victory in the Afghan mountains. To hope that someone will be able to impose external force to solve the Afghan question means one has little knowledge of history …” President Nazarbayev’s insights then are equally relevant today.
The main message of the international conferences and events on Afghanistan is to recognise the difficulty for its government to provide security and stability on its own. The withdrawal of ISAF could enhance these concerns. The election of a new president of Afghanistan could play a key role in the resolution of the conflict after the withdrawal of the international coalition in late 2014.
Despite the current instability in Afghanistan, the positive initiatives of the current government should be celebrated. In November 2011, all of its government’s plans, including a programme of national development and the mechanisms for its implementation as well as the agreement between Afghanistan and the United States on strategic partnership and support for negotiations with the opposition were approved at a meeting of the Loya Jirga.
In general, participants in international conferences around the world have come to the same conclusion that the Afghan problem does not have a military solution. The key to solving the problem remains primarily in the hands of the Afghan people and government through a national dialogue with all political forces, including the armed opposition, as well as socio-economic recovery and regional cooperation.
Kazakhstan has supported the actions of the international coalition with the adoption of the UN Security Council in 2001 of a resolution to support the entry into Afghanistan of ISAF, given the interests of the people of Kazakhstan and the international community. Our country constantly provides full support and assistance to Afghanistan in political, economic, social, military, educational and humanitarian fields.
On Nov. 15, 2011 the 12th meeting of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan (ICG) took place in Astana. It addressed issues of long-term stability and development in the country. During a recent visit to Kabul of Defence Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, a new initiative was proposed to the Afghan government. Our delegation offered to train Afghan security forces troops in Kazakhstan.
Demonstrating commitment to its obligations to the international coalition in Afghanistan, the Kazakh government sought ratification of an agreement on the participation in ISAF. However, since ISAF is now going to withdraw from Afghanistan the government has decided to revoke the document.
The third Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan of States Parties to the Istanbul Process is to open in Almaty on April 26. The people in Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the wider international community expect it to provide positive results in proposing and advancing new tangible measures to address the problems of Afghanistan. Facing uncertain future, Afghanistan needs all the honest sustained international assistance it can get today, tomorrow, and in the future.