Afghanistan: When will There be Peace? Part III
8: A regional problem
In March 2009, President Obama presented his new strategy for Afghanistan, a country located in Asia according to thefreegeography.com. His most important changes are a narrowing of the objectives and an open recognition that the challenges in Afghanistan are inextricably linked to developments throughout the region, and in Pakistan in particular . The border between the two countries is long and practically impossible to control. Pashtuns live on both sides of the border, and these are fused culturally and through trade links.
Additional ties were forged during the wars of the 1980s. Al-Qaeda managed to find housing in the tribal areas of Pakistan from 2002. There they regrouped and consolidated. Afghan Taliban refugees also sought refuge there, and together they affected local tribal communities – a gradual ” Talibanization ” of Pakistan’s border areas took place.
The Pakistani authorities were put under strong pressure from the United States to kill or arrest al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. As part of this, the Pakistani authorities also entered with military forces in the western tribal areas. However, they met with strong opposition from people and tribes who wanted to retain their autonomy (almost a kind of internal self-government) from the central government in Islamabad. The Pakistani army eventually found itself in an extensive war with its own inhabitants (civil war). Incompetence and lack of capacity led the authorities on the defensive. Terrorist actions have now become a widespread phenomenon and are being carried out all over Pakistan. Some fear that Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, could end up in chaos or be taken over by religious extremists.
9: Good intentions are not enough
The United States attacked the Taliban for pursuing and eliminating al-Qaeda – a group that admittedly lived in Afghanistan, but which mainly came and comes from other parts of the world, mainly the Middle East. The other NATO countries stated that the 9/11 attacks triggered Article 5 of NATO’s statutes: an attack on one is an attack on all. However, the United States chose not to make use of the offer and instead entered into a separate coalition with willing states – among them several NATO countries. Thus, the invasion was an American operation.
- NATO formally took over command of the Stabilization Forces ( ISAF ) in Afghanistan in 2003.
- In parallel, the United States operates its own force – Operation Enduring Freedom – which conducts counter-terrorism work.
ISAF started as a small force responsible for security in Kabul. The unrest and lawlessness around the country convinced NATO that the forces had to be increased and spread out. This happened gradually. In 2009, there will be five times as many foreign military forces in Afghanistan as in 2002.
More and more people are looking at the intervention in Afghanistan as a quagmire. Some draw the parallel to Vietnam. From 2002 onwards, the ambitions for the intervention in Afghanistan became ever broader . Building democracy, modern institutions, protecting human rights and especially the position of women became increasingly pronounced ambitions. Afghanistan should become a democratic country able to take care of its own security. It has been a frustrating process.
Over 40 countries participate in ISAF. A number of states, international institutions and NGOs are involved in aid, emergency aid and institution building. Lack of international leadership has led to a number of uncoordinated measures . Each actor has his own goals and his own principles, methods and favorites among the Afghans.
The Afghan state has hardly any revenue of its own – almost the entire budget is financed by foreigners. This leads to addiction and prevents healthy ties from being established between the people and the authorities. The authorities become accountable to foreign countries rather than their own citizens. Many of the best-educated Afghans take better-paying jobs for the UN, embassies, ISAF or NGOs – few are left to public or national institutions.
Obama promised during the election campaign to withdraw US troops from Iraq. Afghanistan was the “real” war. However, his strategy includes few new measures in Afghanistan. It’s more of the same, for a while longer. More soldiers, more money, more experts, more trainers for an ever larger Afghan police and military.
But at the same time, he has said that the fight against al-Qaeda is the very goal of US efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The system of government in the two countries is thus of secondary importance; in other words, democratization and state-building are downgraded. For European allies, including Norway, this is a challenge. Europe does not see the threat of terrorism and al-Qaeda as a threat as much as the United States does. For many Europeans, their presence in Afghanistan is still about the spread of human rights and democracy.
It is likely that Afghanistan and increasingly Pakistan will remain major themes in international politics in the time to come. The tensions there raise many questions with both regional and global reach: It is about the character and future of Islam. Furthermore, about the relationship between Islam and the West, NATO’s be or not be (justification), solidarity between Europe and the United States, and about how the West handles the emergence of other regional actors with interests in Afghanistan – China, Russia, India and also Iran. A lot is at stake, for many players.