Afghanistan: Fleeing The Curse

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December 23, 2013: President Karzai continue refusing to sign the Status of Forces agreement, saying out loud that he believes that the U.S. would never leave, even if there were no Status of Forces agreement. The U.S., and many Afghans, fear the unstable and unreliable Karzai actually believes this and is willing to block the agreement until he is out of office. The U.S. has told the Afghans that if they don’t get a Status of Forces (immunity) agreement by the end of 2014 then the U.S. will withdraw all their forces and most of their aid money. This finally got most Afghan leaders to agree to U.S. terms, even if president Karzai continued to invent excuses to not sign. Now the Karzai clan faces a crises because Hamid Karzai cannot run for president again and the election to replace him is in April. Karzai is unlikely to muster enough support to change the constitution or hang on by force. The U.S. has made it clear that trying to use bribes and coercion to change the constitution will not be tolerated. So Hamid Karzai has to make plans for life after dominating the government for a decade (two terms as president). His successor will likely not be a Karzai and will want to halt the Karzai clan plundering that has been going on for a decade. Depending on who gets in, things could get ugly and very costly for the Karzais, even though the clan has already moved a lot of assets, and family members, overseas. Worst case would be the new government accusing the Karzais of corruption and bringing in international agencies to go after Karzai clan assets. This is unlikely because all the major Afghan clans are guilty of this and no one wants to encourage such prosecutions. But losing the presidency will be difficult and dangerous for the Karzais. The U.S. has made it clear to the Karzai clan that it understands the tribal politics and if there is not sufficient cooperation to get the Status of Forces agreement signed than the U.S. would play tribal politics and only send money to tribes it could depend on. If the Afghans want to play by tribal rules the U.S. will oblige and some clans, like the Karzais, will be big losers.  Many Afghan leaders are beginning to look beyond Karzai. The leading candidates to be next president (Abdullah Abdullah, a part-Tajik Pushtun MD and Ashraf Ghani, a Pushtun PhD and academic) are both cleaner, more open minded and definitely eager to move beyond tribal politics. Both are aware that many Afghans simply want to leave Afghanistan and go just about anywhere, because anywhere is seen as better than Afghanistan. Many forced out by Russian violence in the 1980s refuse to return because of the violence and corruption. The children of these exiles are even more opposed to returning. For many Afghans Afghanistan has no place to go but up. But some Afghans believe that things can always get worse and that is the curse Afghanistan operates under.

It appears that Hamid Karzai is trying to force all the Americans agree to reduce pressure on the Taliban and drug gangs by halting UAV strikes and night raids. These are all tactics that hurt the Taliban and drug gangs in a big way. Despite the occasional Afghan casualties these tactics are popular with most Afghans and some tribal leaders have openly called for more of this sort of thing. Karzai is seen as becoming bolder in his support of the Taliban and drug gangs by increasingly calling for an end to bombing and night raids. Most Afghan leaders are opposed to this and they have recently gone public with their protests. Some Afghan tribal leaders have accused Karzai of being a tool of the Taliban by always publicly criticizing the Americans when Afghan civilians are killed accidentally while playing down Taliban atrocities. Everyone knows that most civilian deaths are at the hands of the Taliban and most of these are deliberate, not accidental. 

While the Karzais have made lots off corruption and drug dealing in the last decade, most other clans have yet to strike it rich in such a big way. Driving the Americans away is seen as economic suicide and most Afghans oppose the drug gangs, whose activities only benefit about ten percent of the population (mostly clans in Kandahar and Helmand provinces). Meanwhile cheap opium and heroin have turned about ten percent of the Afghan population into addicts, a catastrophe that has most Afghans very angry at the Taliban and their drug gang allies. It’s widely known that the drug gangs pay well to rent politicians and government officials and that many Karzais have benefitted from this. So the growing popular opposition to president Karzai and his clan should come as no surprise.

The Status Of Forces treaty with the United States probably will go into force before the end of 2014. Such agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan officials, judges and prosecutors. If the U.S. withdraws completely a lot of the foreign aid will stop coming as well as essential logistical, training and air support for Afghan security forces. The implication here is that if the Afghans prove unable to govern themselves and the country once more becomes a terrorist haven, the bombers and commandoes will come back and the Afghan leaders responsible will be primary targets. That threat carries more weight since Osama bin laden was finally taken down in 2011. More Afghans realize that all the U.S. is asking for is the same deal it has received from dozens of countries for over half a century with no problems. Getting most Afghans to understand this has been difficult as Afghans prefer to believe the worst case, which is how life usually plays out in Afghanistan.

The drama surrounding the Status of Forces agreement and who will succeed Karzai has created an economic crises as many Afghans hold spending (on homes and businesses) until they can see how bad the post-Karzai world is. Many Afghans understand that if there is a return to the bad-old-days the best alternative is to leave Afghanistan. In anticipation of that there are already reports of army units arranging truces with Taliban and drug gangs. Many in the security services see this as a long-term survival strategy. The Afghan security forces are very eager to see the Status of Forces agreements signed, because without it there is no hope of keeping some of the air and logistical support that NATO and the Americans now supply. Without this aid the security forces will be much less effective against the Taliban and the drug gangs. This is why Karzai is seen as a tool for the drug gangs and being increasingly blatant about it.

NATO has its own Status of Forces agreement pending with Afghanistan and it is generally the same as the U.S. one. But with all the delays NATO has shown a willingness to negotiate some separate terms just to get the deed done. Karzai is not offering much in the way of concessions.

December 18, 2013: In Pakistan (South Waziristan) some sixty mortar shells fired from across the border in Afghanistan wounded six civilians as many of the shells hit a village and its market place. The shells were believed fired by Pakistani Taliban who maintain camps in Afghanistan as well as the terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan.

December 15, 2013: The latest international corruption rankings put Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea at the bottom of the list, as the most corrupt countries on the planet. In Afghanistan the corruption is encouraged by the intense tribal loyalties and the desire of high level officials to look out for their family and tribe first and Afghanistan later, maybe. The inability of government officials to leave tribal politics out of their decision making and halt the theft of government funds (nearly all if from foreign donors) has made unity and economic growth nearly impossible. The donor nations warn that without a crackdown on the corruption and the tribal rivalries the foreign aid will be reduced and what does arrive will have a lot more conditions attached. These include bringing in more foreigners to supervise the spending of the aid. If the foreign aid supervisors are unable to work because of threats and violence, the aid will stop. Most Afghan leaders don’t believe the donor nations will completely withdraw and that the donors can be manipulated via media exploitation of Afghans suffering from famine, Taliban violence and disease.

December 14, 2013: An American UAV fired a missile at a boat in the Kabul River, killing five Islamic terrorists.

December 13, 2013: India has refused president Karzai’s request for military aid and is holding back on major economic investments in Afghanistan until the Status of Forces and presidential succession issues are settled.

December 10, 2013: In Kabul police detected preparations for a major Taliban terror attack and disrupted it by arresting over a dozen men and seizing five suicide vests and many weapons. The Taliban have launched several attacks in Kabul in 2013 but most have been failures, mainly hurting civilians and thus making the Taliban even more unpopular.

December 9, 2013: Afghan officials complained to Pakistan that at least six artillery shells were fired into Afghanistan from Pakistan today.

Iran and Afghanistan signed a long-term friendship and cooperation pact. This is mainly for show as the most important links with Iran are the Iranian bribes paid to Afghan officials and unofficial (and often illegal) business arrangements. The one tangible effect of this agreement is an increase in legitimate trade with Iran, which can provide many goods, at competitive prices, that Afghanistan needs. Iran also has an agreement with India to allow Indian trade with Afghanistan via an Iranian port and Iranian roads into western Afghanistan. All this means less trade with Pakistan, which is fine with most Afghans who see Pakistan as a threat, not a trading partner. 

 

 

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