افغانستان Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Beyond the headlines.

By | 07/13/2014

Afghanistan in the globe

Afghanistan is a landlocked country in southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, at the east of Iran. Kabul, the major urban area, is the capital, and one of the 34 provinces in the country.

The climate there is arid to semiarid, with cold winters and hot summers. The terrain is mostly rugged mountains, with plains in the north and southwest, and lots of natural resources can be found; natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones.

Afghans are divided into different ethnic groups, such as the Pashtun (42%), Tajik (27%), Hazara and Uzbek (9% each), Aimak (4%), Turkmen (3%), Baloch (2%) and other (4%). Afghan Persian or Dari is widely spoken by half of the population, functions as the lingua franca and it is one of the official languages of the country, together with Pashto (35%). Turkic languages, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen, are spoken by approximately 11% of the population, and another 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and Pashai, by a 4%.

              Pashtun Ethnic Groups Afghan tribesman, Pashtun

The majority of the population practice Sunni Muslim religion (by approximately an 80%) and the rest are Shia Muslim (19%) or other (1%).

The country has the highest infant mortality rate in the World, with a total of 117.23 deaths/1000 live births, even though it has the 10th highest birth rate. The literacy ratio is also very low, especially for females, but the education system in Afghanistan is regarded as one of the country’s biggest success stories since the Taliban were driven from power. This is because in 2001 no girls attended formal schools and there were only one million boys enrolled, but by 2012 there were 7.8 million pupils attending school, including about 2.9 million girls (although many do not complete their secondary education).

Despite the advances, violence against women is still a problem, with beatings, forced marriage and lack of economic support being listed as the top three offences reported by the CSO in 2010.Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses

Their government is al Islamic republic in which the suffrage is universal at 18 years of age. Their constitution was ratified in 2004, and there were several previous. They have a mixed legal system of civil, customary, and Islamic law.

Since 2004 Hamid Karzai is the President of Afghanistan, being both the chief of state and head of the government. Last elections were held in 2009, and Karzai was re-elected for another five-year term. He has a cabinet of 25 ministers, appointed by him and approved by the bicameral National Assembly, composed by the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) and the Wolesi Jirga (House of People). Ethnicity is the main factor influencing political alliances, and there are around 84 licensed political parties.

A bit of History

Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from national British control in 1919 (from UK control over Afghan foreign affairs). A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup by Mohammed Daoud Khan, cousin of the king (Zahir Shah) and afghan PM from 1953-1963, and a 1978 communist (Khalq faction of the PDPA) counter-coup.

                             Ahmad Shah Durrani Zahir Shah Mohammed Daoud Khan

In 1978 the Saur (April) Revolution ended with the absolute monarchy, and PDPA (communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government took office. The initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqis and Parchamis (the other faction of the PDPA). Taraki (Khalqi) was PM while Karmal (Parchami) was senior Deputy PM. The unity, however, between Khalq and Parcham lasted only briefly, as most of the Parchamis where soon relieved from their government positions.

President Nur Muhammad Taraki (of the Khalq faction) did however start some reforms: land distribution among the peasants, not compulsory use of the hiyab, and compulsory education for boys and girls. The first Afghan Constitution was written by then.

During the Cold War, the radical Islamists (Talibans) gained relevance as the US was sending weapons to them, hoping that their Anti-Sovietism could help their own interests. The Afghan government was not able to defeat the fundamentalist insurrection, and asked the Soviet Union for help, who intervened in the country, but could not defeat them either.

                        Nur Muhammad Taraki Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen. The areas where the different mujahideen forces operated in 1985

The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war that lasted nine years. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahedeen rebels (mostly composed by the alliances of the Peshawar Seven and the Tehran Eight).

In 1992, the Peshawar Accords established the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but opposition militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with Pakistani military support and financial support by Saudi Arabia, started a violent war in Kabul. A series of subsequent inter-factional civil wars, supported by regional powers seeking influence over the geostrategically located country, saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, establishing the Taliban Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance) was then created under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud, former Defense Minister, as a military-political resistance force against the Taliban Emirate which was backed militarily by Pakistan’s Army and enforced by several thousand Al Qaeda fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia. The Alliance, on its side, was allies with Iran, Russia, China and the US among others. Its commander, Massoud, was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives, which some called “the curtain raiser for the NY attacks”.

Map of the situation in Afghanistan in 1996, Ahmad Shah Massoud (red), Abdul Rashid Dostum (green) and Taliban (yellow) territories TALIBAN PICTURE OF MASSOOD

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, NATO intervened in Afghanistan, under Operation Enduring Freedom, a US-led war, and with Massoud’s United Front Troops cooperation and American air support, a military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden.

Although Afghanistan is the base for al-Qaeda, none of the 19 hijackers were Afghan nationals. Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian, led the group, and 15 of the hijackers originated from Saudi Arabia. However, President George W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the US on 9/11.

This joint resolution will later be cited by the Bush administration as legal rationale for its decision to take sweeping measures to combat terrorism, from invading Afghanistan, to eavesdropping on US citizens without a court order, to standing up the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The war has lasted 10 years now.

                     9-11 operationenduringfreedom B-52H

                Afghan war Osama Bin Laden Guantanamo-Bay

Under the United Front control, a new interim government was established. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. The UN Security Council established ISAF (international Security Assistance Force) by then to provide basic security.

Despite continued operations to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters (such as Operation Anaconda, the first major ground assault and the largest operation since Tora Bora), the US shifted militarily and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan towards Iraq.

      Operation Anaconda afghanistan-us-obama-1 Afghanistan Civilian Deaths

In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. He was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term, as said. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability – particularly in the south and the east – remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government, as well as the lack of basic services, the difficultly setting up police forces, and the lack of international forces to assist with security.

In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. He was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term, as said. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability – particularly in the south and the east – remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government, as well as the lack of basic services, the difficultly setting up police forces, and the lack of international forces to assist with security.

The process of reconstruction, which began in 2002, has had mixed results so far; because on the one hand, of the lack of coordination, knowledge of local conditions, sound planning on the side of international donors (ISAF –International Security Forces in Afghanistan-), as well as by corruption and inefficiency on the side of Afghan government officials. On the other hand, command for individual PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams), which was eventually handed over to NATO states, while credited with improving security for aid agencies, the model is not universally praised, as it lacks central controlling authority and it is disorganized.

Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader, was killed on May 1st, 2011 by US forces in Pakistan. President Barack Obama planed to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, now by 2016, but serious doubts remain about the Afghan government’s capacity to secure the country.

Last Presidential Elections on 5 April this year, with a second round held on 14 June, had Abdullah Abdullah (from National Coalition of Afghanistan) and Ashraf Ghani (as independent candidate) as the front-runners. As no candidate secured more than the 50% of the vote, there was a second round run-off on 14 June.Preliminary results for the second round were due on 2 July, but were delayed to 7 July, and final results are due 22 July.

Afghan Economy: Past, Present & Future; Opium & Minerals

After decades of conflict, and since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan’s economy is slowly recovering. This is due, largely, because of the infusion of international assistance, the recovery of the agricultural sector, and service sector growth.

Afghanistan has a narrow export base concentrated in few markets. Main export items are opium, fruits and nuts, hand-woven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems to Pakistan (32.2%), India (27%), Tajikistan (8.5%) and the US (6.2%) and the main imports; machinery and other capital goods, food, textiles and petroleum products, from Pakistan (24.3%), US (18%), Russia (8.7%), India (5.8%), China (5.6%) and Germany (4.4%). In February this year, the EU and Afghanistan signed a deal concluding their bilateral negotiations on Afghanistan’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva. Accession to the WTO is expected to make a lasting contribution to the process of stabilization, economic reform and sustainable development in Afghanistan.

Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. Criminality, insecurity, weak governance, lack of infrastructure, and the Afghan Government’s difficulty in extending rule of law to all parts of the country pose challenges to future economic growth. Afghanistan’s living standards are among the lowest in the World.

The Afghan econoOpiummy has always been agricultural, despite the fact that only 12% of its total land is arable and about 6% is currently cultivated. Afghan economy almost exclusively relied on opium. Not only Afghan farmers (about 2.4 million) grow poppy flowers from which poppy seeds are extracted, but bathtub laboratories in unstable areas along the Af-Pak border region convert opium into morphine and other opiates and use a sophisticated and international network of merchants and corrupt public officials in neighboring areas for global distribution.

Poppy cultivation increased 57 percent, from 115,000 hectares in 2011 to 180,000 hectares in 2012. As a result of instability, opium production has increased almost every year since the US-led invasion in 2001. Most of the heroin consumed in Europe and Eurasia is derived from Afghan opium. Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries.

For years Taliban warlords have directly controlled the Afghan opium industry; using proceeds from taxation at every step of the production process to bring in as much as $500 million a year by some estimates to finance their cause. The income per hectare for opium compared to wheat is $4662 to $1625.

That is why, the eradication of the fields is controversial, as there is virtually no national economy that would create other job opportunities, and other crops only yield a fraction of the profits.

       Map Poppy cultivation Opium cultivation Talibans and opium

On the other hand, mineral resources are vital to Afghanistan’s industrial growth and development. Afghanistan is endowed with vast quantities of natural resources, including extensive deposits of copper, iron, coal, marble, precious metals, gemstones and hydrocarbons. Unique to Afghanistan, these resources have remained untouched and undeveloped. Generations of instability have resulted in little exploration, minor development attempts and an inadequate infrastructure for development and transportation of these resources.

The value of these previously unknown deposits is estimated at $1 trillion.The process of establishing a modern mining infrastructure and accessing these untapped resources can create hundreds of thousands of jobs for Afghans with every level of education, from illiterates to engineers.

However, it must be taken into account that these resources are limited and fixed. Factors such as corruption, Taliban presence, other national interests, opportunistic Western corporations and negative effects on the environment are also critical aspects that can affect this economic sector.

 

Conclusions: The need on building a functioning economy and society

There are still many problems to attend in Afghanistan. As a country “in transition”, it has to deal with many old problems implementing new solutions. Alliances and International as well as regional help is going to be a key factor to attain it.

Not only is the relationship with the US relevant to Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan is not an easy “brother” to deal with despite being an Islamic Republic as well; the Durand Line (2,640 kilometers long porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan), Taliban insurgency, water problem and the many refugee population had negatively affected their relations.

Afghanistan has one of the world’s largest repatriated populations. Almost six million refugees have now returned home since the Taliban were ousted, and the UNHCR estimates just under two million of these still require support. About 600,000 people are still recognized as internally displaced, most of them in the south and west of the country.

The new government will have to face internal problems as well, such as; Biggest problems Afghans

SECURITY.- Under a bilateral security agreement (BSA), some foreign special forces would stay to conduct “counter-terror operations” and others to support and train Afghan forces, but this has not been signed by the current Afghan President. The US said it will pull all its forces out by the end of the year if the BSA remains unsigned.

Al-Qaeda’s strength in the country has been reduced, although it still has a presence. After more than a decade of war, the Taliban are a long way from being defeated and have been growing in strength. Many of NATO’s territorial gains are by no means irreversible.

Promising to draw the war to a close by the time he leaves office, Obama announced that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in the country after combat operations end in December, split between a training/advising mission and special operations focused on what the president called “the remnants of al-Qaeda.”

If all goes well, the remaining trick will be to convince Congress to continue funding the advising and equipping efforts for the ANSF as well as other economic aid, which together will allow Afghanistan to continue the positive trajectory that has been set after thirteen years of fighting and building by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the wider international community.

Maybe, what President Obama should have announced was that U.S. advisers would be kept in Afghanistan in unspecified numbers as long as the government of Afghanistan requested their presence and as long as the U.S. government judges that they are needed to prevent the Taliban, Haqqanis, al-Qaeda, and other terrorists from making major inroads, instead. Such an announcement will drain the Taliban of hope and fill hard-pressed Afghan security forces with newfound confidence.

POVERTY.- The proportion of the population of Afghanistan in poverty is estimated at 36%, although it varies from a relatively low 29% in urban areas to 36% in rural areas and 54% among the country’s nomadic or Kuchi population. The unemployment rate is high, and the government has not presented a plan yet to reduce it. The mining exploitation might be a possible solution, but infrastructures had to be prepared.

An important issue will be on how much US Congress and the international community will be willing to invest in Afghanistan if American troops, along with a much smaller contingent of NATO forces, are not in the country. Reconstruction of infrastructures highly depends on aid.

Finally, there is also the issue of opium; Afghanistan’s economy depends heavily on the drugs trade. The country supplies over 90% of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

HEALTH.- There have been big improvements in the country’s health system. According to the UN, access to safe drinking water improved from 4.8% of the population to 60.6% by 2011. However, the averages again mask big differences between urban and rural areas, with much less improvement in rural areas.

Vaccination campaigns continue to work towards the elimination of polio in Afghanistan, one of the last remaining countries where the disease remains endemic. In 2013 there were 14 reported cases, down from 37 in 2012.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL30588.pdf

ISAF Facts and Figures http://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/placemat.pdf

NATO Lisbon Summit Declaration, 2010 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_68828.htm

Statement by President Obama on Afghanistan http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press office/2014/05/27/statement-president-afghanistan

Afghanistan minerals Project by US Geological Survey (USGS): http://afghanistan.cr.usgs.gov/minerals

Interactive map on Afghanistan Oil and Natural Gas: http://afghanistan.cr.usgs.gov/flexviewer/

Economic information (imports/exports/foreign investment): http://www.intracen.org/country/afghanistan/

UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1267, creating the so-called al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee: http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/

UN Security Council passed Resolution 1378, calling for a “central role” for the UN in establishing a transitional administration and inviting member states to send peacekeeping forces to promote stability and aid delivery: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N01/638/57/PDF/N0163857.pdf?OpenElement

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