IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2014 POSTS

Written by admin on Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on Immigvanheugten.nl in 2014

IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2014 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (6 MB)]

The year 2014 in review

PAKISTAN

In the past ten years, over 50.000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers have died in terrorist attacks and in combatting extremists. One of the most divisive topics in the country was about how to handle the militancy problem. Although it was widely acknowledged that ‘Pakistan cannot kill its way to victory’ (paraphrasing similar comments on Afghanistan), no guaranteed outcome of ‘peace’ talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) existed.

Talks first

Nevertheless, the Sharif government sought to restart this futile process. A government committee for peace negotiations met with Taliban intermediaries. Several insurmountable obstacles rapidly surfaced. Who was the government talking with? After all, the TTP was no monolithic militant organization, but rather a highly varied, complex organization. Initially, the TTP had invited PTI-leader Imran Khan, publicly supportive of talks and the ‘cause’ of the Taliban, to be a member of their negotiating team. Wisely, Khan declined.
From the outset the TTP made it clear it wanted Islamic shariah law introduced nation-wide, and a full withdrawal of US troops from neighbouring Afghanistan, before agreeing to any sort of peace. It also wanted all drone attacks to end, all Taliban prisoners freed and criminal cases against them dropped, and Islamic education introduced in all educational institutions. This demand for the practical dismantling of Pakistan’s parliamentary democratic system, secular courts, and political parties, plus the end of all relations with the US, effectively ended the continuation of talks.
The newly appointed military supremo, General Raheel Sharif, rapidly got confronted with the death of 20 Pakistani troops in North Waziristan, and a considerable increase of violent attacks against security personnel, journalists, polio workers and civil targets in general. Some 110 people died in January alone. When 23 Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers, captured in 2010, were beheaded on February 17, 2014, state negotiators broke off meetings with the Taliban. In that same period, five Iranian border guards were kidnapped by Pakistani Taliban. As militant attacks not just continued but increased, military action against them became inevitable.

Increasing violence

Appeasement by talks and limited military action against extremists and militants did not produce the hoped-for results. Whether the Nawaz government had looked for a ‘talks-deal-military operation a la Swat 2009’ or not is irrelevant. Although the army never supported these talks in the first place, the new army commander had obviously decided to let the government give it a try. After six years of hesitancy and inaction by his predecessor Kayani, a large military campaign against the TTP in North Waziristan was at last unleashed by General Raheel Sharif in June, 2014.
Although Nawaz Sharif, during the election campaign in 2013, had promised an end to all drone attacks, his country’s military leadership apparently wanted them to continue. Understandably so, considering the increase in attacks by militant groups.
Initially, the drone strikes targeted Al Qaeda in Pakistan. US drone and air bases were also established to be able to react to a nuclear crisis in the region. Ever since the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons by Islamabad, the US has been seeking permanent monitoring and search capabilities in Pakistan for missing nuclear materials. Preventing them from falling into terrorist hands, whether from Al Qaeda or the Taliban, led to the establishment of several bases in Pakistan.
At the beginning of December, 2014, General Raheel Sharif gave the new commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan US General John F. Campbell an aerial tour through Waziristan, to impress him with the progress Pakistani troops had made in their Zarb-e-Azb offensive against terrorists in the area. It’s not just Western imagination that can come up with fancy names for bloody military operations. The ongoing Army operation in North Waziristan also severely limits the growth and presence of IS in the tribal areas.

Peshawar school massacre

It took another bloody attack on an army school in Peshawar to fully unite politicians, the public and military behind the goal of eradicating terrorism. This attack occurred on the anniversary of the defeat of the Pakistani Army in December, 1971, where-after the country broke up.
Over 130 children were murdered in cold blood in their school in Peshawar. The national shock and radical change in public perception of the danger of terrorism that it produced made an all party conference (APC) to accept a 20-points national action plan (NAP) against terrorism. Even the PTI (Tehrik-i-Pakistan) led by Imran Khan endorsed the decisions of the all party conference to combat religious terrorism after the Peshawar massacre. Under these circumstances it would have been extremely difficult to do otherwise.
It was now repeatedly stated that fighting the ‘enemy within’ was more gruelling then fighting the enemy outside (India). After a six year moratorium on the death penalty, the ban on executing those charged with terrorism was lifted. The use of social media will be limited, all religious schools are to be registered, the funding of extremist groups will be halted. A 5000 member paramilitary force will be formed to operate against militants in the cities.
For a period of two years, suspected terrorists will be tried before military courts, no longer by civilian ones. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to continue the war against terrorism until the last terrorist would be eliminated. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif rapidly turned into ‘the most beloved person’ in the country.
Equally important, shortly after the bloodbath in Peshawar, Raheel Sharif received the Afghan Army chief Sher Muhammad Karimi and ISAF-commander in Afghanistan John Campbell in Rawalpindi. They agreed to fully cooperate to eliminate TTP fighters on both sides of the border. One week after the Peshawar massacre, Afghan security forces carried out operations against TTP-militants hiding in Kunar province, on its side of the terrorist-infested border. This promising start of military cooperation, however, would not endure.

Pakistan’s economy

For years, a main problem in Pakistan has been a shortage of energy. Oil (35%), hydel (30%), gas (29%) and nuclear energy (5,8%) were providing for the country’s needs. Still, large energy-deficits continue to hamper both the population at large and industries. Small wonder that Nawaz Sharif made costly promises to improve this situation during his election campaign.
Readily, as requested by the Nawaz government, China largely financed the building of two nuclear reactors near Karachi. Of a reported 9.1 billion dollar bill, Beijing supplies 82%. The Thar Coal power project, to be studied, planned and financed by Japan, has still not been started.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced that the Sharif government had introduced very strict austerity measures. They were required to bring down the deficit, reduce the electricity shortages, and to increase the age-old problem of poor tax collection. According to IMF forecasts, inflation would be around ten per cent in 2014. Eventually, it ended up just under 8 per cent.

Health, education, poverty

The anti-polio vaccination campaign remained under Taliban attack. Especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), polio workers and policemen escorting them got killed, in spite of decrees by religious scholars, including Maulana Samiul Haq, in favour of administering oral polio vaccine and vaccinations.
Sadly, in most Pakistan’s schools, pupils still learn that minorities are ‘second class citizens’, and ‘enemies of islam’. Entire ethnic groups are labelled as inferior (to Punjabis and Sindhis), but Hindus, Christians, Hazaras and Balochis in particular bear the brunt of these intolerant teachings. As Shi’ites, although representing over 15% of all 193 million or so Pakistanis, are also earmarked as enemies of the Sunnite majority, sectarian violence in the country will continue to find fertile grounds. Besides, an enormous number of children remain out of schools, about 25 million aged between five to 16, they receive no education whatsoever.
Poverty remained widespread in Pakistan, despite the increase in spending via the Benazir Bhutto Income Support Programme (BISP), launched in 2008, primarily destined for women. This public fund programme seeks to support families that have an income below 6000 rupees a month. In 2008, 1,7 million families received income support; in 2014, the number had risen to 4,63 million families. In 2018, seven million families, or almost 50 million people, are expected to be supported. Also, the amount they received has been raised, from 1000 to 1500 rupees. This, effectively, is the only major social support measure or ‘social safety net’ the Pakistani government provides to its poorest, worst hit citizens.
Totalling 94 billion rupees in 2014, the BISP absorbed a modest 1,6% of the total federal development budget of the country. Interest on foreign debt demands another 26 percent, military spending requires 14%. Although the programme was initiated by the former PPP government (2008-2013), the current PML-N government could only continue the programme; both the IMF and the World Bank, directly involved in co-funding and monitoring it, insisted on that.
Over two million Pakistani are bonded labourers, rightly labelled as ‘modern day slavery’. Children are held responsible for debts their parents made. They work in brick factories or agriculture. These debts often are no larger than 400 or 500 dollars (40.000 to 50.000 rupees); still, paying back is impossible to many, especially as employers are free to charge exorbitant amounts for housing and food.

Political opposition

The PTI had started its sit-ins in front of the federal parliament and boycots against the ‘fraudulous’ PML-N government in August, together with the PAT (Pakistan Awami Tehreek) led by Tahirul Qadri, and which threatened to create chaos and political paralysis in the country. For the revolutionary occasion, Qadri had come over from the country he lives in, Canada.
Imran Khan accused the PML-N of political rigging of the national elections in 2013, and demanded that Nawaz Sharif resigned, calling for fresh elections. He promised a ‘march of a million’ to Islamabad on August 14, when his demands would not be met. On that same day of national independence celebrations, Tahirul Qadri marched on Islamabad as well. Both marches, labelled ‘potentially seismic events’, temporarily even overshadowed the recently begun military operation in North Waziristan.
Although PPP-leader Aitzaz Ahsan, heading the opposition in the senate, agreed with Khan’s allegations about massive electoral rigging during the elections in 2013, both the oppositional PPP and the Pakistani army choose not to try to further harass the increasingly beleaguered Nawaz government. The army had an entire different battle to fight, rather than interfere in politics, and urged all parties to start ‘meaningful’ talks, to arrive at a political solution. And thus it happened. In all, 11 out of 12 political parties in parliament supported starting talks between the government and the PTI and PAT, rather than asking the army to intervene, or calling for fresh elections.
After several weeks, the protest movement in dharna (sit in) in Islamabad, now dubbed ‘container city’, led by Khan and Qadri lost momentum. It resulted in increased political isolation of both leaders, who were hardly on speaking terms anyway. The promised ‘millions’ of demonstrators never showed up; at its peak, an estimated 50.000 demonstrators did take part. It also guaranteed the triumphant political survival of the PML-N government. Especially after ‘Peshawar’, the main powerbroker beside the PML-N government remained the Pakistani army.
Another significant but largely unnoticed consequence of the strong PAT presence during the sit-ins in Islamabad was the formation, in November, 2014, by 21 politico-religious Sunnite Deobandi parties, of a new united group. Together, these groups control over 18.500 Deobandi madaris (Islamic schools). Most of them are now established in Punjab province. As the PAT-movement led by Tahirul Qadri demonstrated, the Barelvi school of Islamic thought still exercised widespread influence in Pakistani society, wider even then Shi’ism.
As militancy and its terrorist activities are largely (and rightly) ascribed to Deobandi-linked groups, another reason for uniting for these 21 parties and groups was to seek to distinguish themselves from Deobandi-motivated terrorism. Both the leadership and foot soldiers of the Pakistani Taliban belong to the Deobandi school of thought. As they seek to unite once more, all parties involved promised to abstain from campaigning against each other during the next election.

Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP, or Pakistan Taliban)

After the widely predicted failure of ‘peace talks’ between the Nawaz-government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan, in June the Pakistani army started its long delayed operation in Northern Waziristan. Pressurized by operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of Allah), many hundreds of TTP fighters have fled to Nangarhar and Kunar in eastern Afghanistan, their newly chosen but highly disputed leader ‘Mullah’ Fazlullah among them.
The appointment of new leader Fazlullah of the TTP in November, 2013, after the killing of leader Hakimullah Mehsud on November 1 by an American drone, has been dividing the movement from day one. Hardliner Fazlullah was confronted by more moderate companions of Hakimullah Mehsud, who were not opposed against talks with the government. Besides, Hakimullah was a leader of the Waziristan-based Mehmud tribe, while Fazlullah originates from northwestern Swat.
In yet another clear signal of internal disunity, in October six Pakistani commanders and TTP leaders hiding in Afghanistan declared their loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared Caliph of the Islamic State (IS). More and more TTP members, hiding in Afghanistan, are no longer willing to follow Fazlullah, and join IS. These former Pakistani Taliban are opposed by nationalist orientated Afghan Taliban loyal to mollah Omar, who do not tolerate the presence of a competing foreign organisation of transnationalist Islamic fighters in their midst.
Balochistan
In Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, Balochistan, abductions and killings continued unabated in 2014. Corpses of murdered Balochis have been found regularly, mostly from those who had either disappeared or had been arrested previously. In January, three mass graves were discovered south of Quetta; over 100 bodies were unearthed. An increasing number of Balochistan’s 6 million Baloch inhabitants (since the 1970s, in and around Quetta, capital of the province, a considerable number of Pashtuns have settled) decided to leave Pakistan, and headed for neighbouring Afghanistan. That country now houses approximately 600.000 Balochis. Iran houses about two and a half million Balochis.
Apart from possessing huge natural resources like gas, copper, gold, oil and uranium, the coastal province of Balochistan also is a transit area for oil and gas pipelines connecting Iran and the countries of South Asia. On top of that, the ongoing development of the port city of Gwadar, mainly with Chinese capital investments, only heightens the economic importance of the province for Pakistan.
Ever since its forced inclusion into the new state of Pakistan, ethnic Baloch insurgent and separatist movements resisting the national government and Pakistani army have emerged. Reportedly, in 2014 Islamic militant groups considerably increased their recruiting activities in the province, as well.

India

Several major obstacles continue to prevent the normalisation of relations between Pakistan and India. The first problem would still remain the battle for Kashmir. No major developments took place in the declared positions of both countries, namely, that each was, is and remains the legitimate ruler over entire Kashmir, no matter how many handshakes Nawaz and Modi exchange. As Pakistan continues to seek international support and mediation, India continues to denounce any interference or ‘internationalization’ by other countries, including the United States. As Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi, Abdul Basit, held meetings with Indians to discuss the Kashmir issue, the Indian government cancelled the scheduled meeting of the foreign secretaries of both countries.
The second problem would be the issue of terrorist groups used by Pakistan to harass India, not just in Kashmir, making it an exporter of deadly terrorism. Borders between both countries have remained largely sealed; promising trade relations cannot be developed.
As a new prime minister, Narendra Modi, took over after winning the elections, a more assertive stance on Pakistan and China characterized Indian attitudes towards its neighbours. At the same time, Modi sought to increase Indian involvement in Afghan matters, if only to counter Chinese influence in Kabul. This further annoyed Pakistan’s military and civil leadership; Islamabad always considered Afghanistan to be its own security backyard. President Karzai has repeatedly been accused by Pakistani officials of actively supporting Indian subversion and terrorism to Pakistan. In 2014, Pakistan continued to expand its nuclear arsenal, since November, 2013 also including tactical nuclear weapons on land.
Although Modi had (surprisingly) invited his Pakistani counterpart to his inauguration (Nawaz Sharif obliged), relations between Islamabad and Delhi readily turned sour again. It resulted in an icy meeting of the eight SAARC leaders (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), the first one held in three years, in Kathmandu, Nepal. As mistrust between India and Pakistan increased again, it also limited the development of trade and ties of the entire organization. The Modi-led government narrowed its diplomatic scope with Pakistan to three T’s: terrorism, trade, and trial (of the accused of the Mumbai killings).

United States

In December, General Raheel Sharif paid his first official visit to the United States. He was received with all ceremonial regards, indicating that Washington valued close ties between the military leadership of both countries. After all, succeeding a hesitant Kayani, Raheel Sharif finally started the long awaited armed clearance of terrorist groups in North Waziristan. Also, the Pakistan Army controls a growing nuclear arsenal, and is considered to be the most important institute in containing terrorism nationwide. As US and international forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the role of the Pakistani military and intelligence in the region gets even more important. Continued US monetary assistance remains crucial to the armed forces of Pakistan.

AFGHANISTAN

In 2014, 70% of all approximately 29 million Afghans are under the age of 25. 75 TV stations are now functional, as are 180 radio stations. 18 Million Afghans use GSM mobiles, nearly one million are internet users. Over 10,5 million Afghans, or one third of the entire population, enrolled in schools, colleges and universities. 37% of them are girls.

Karzai’s final months

In his final months in office, President Karzai managed to further antagonize both Islamabad and Washington. Although universally approved by a Loya Jirga, Afghan politicians and the Afghan public at large, the president refused to sign the nationally and internationally much wished-for security pact (bilateral security agreement, or BSA) with Washington. President Karzai strongly objected against the continuation of night raids by US Special Forces, and against the prolonged presence and activities of US initiated arbakis, or local militias. To be sure, both the night raids and the formation of arbaki units were highly unpopular. His stance served to increase US political support in Congress for the so-called ‘zero option’, or total military and financial abandonment, of Afghanistan.
Further troubling US-Afghan relations, Karzai ordered the release of a number of Taliban prisoners near Bagram Air Base. In March, the US had handed over control of the Parwan prison to the Karzai-government. As more and more Talban prisoners were released because of ‘lack of evidence’ against them, American public support for the continuation of US presence in Afghanistan dwindled to an all-time low of 17%.
Since nearly all released prisoners readily re-joined the Taliban movement, the release of these so-called ‘discontented brothers’ can only be termed a serious political mistake. It showed in the intense battle taking place in the province of Kunduz, where some 2500 Taliban fighters were led by Mawlawi Salam, recently set free by the Afghan government.
As it turned out, secret informal contacts between presidential and Taliban representatives were taking place for several months. But no agreement, not even a start of formal negotiations occurred. Karzai had hoped to reach a deal with the Taliban and end the conflict, in spite of the fact that few of his political associates believed that this would be possible at all.
The only contacts with certified Taliban representatives – meaning they were approved by Mullah Omar and his inner circle, were developed by American and German diplomats. This led to the opening of an official Taliban office in Qatar. It was a move Karzai vehemently opposed, if only because he felt side-lined by the US.

Presidential elections

In April, presidential elections were to take place in Afghanistan. As President Karzai completed his second and final term (as decreed by the constitution), a new Afghan President would have to be elected. Of 11 candidates, Pashtun Ashraf Ghani and Tajik Abdullah Abdullah were the favorites. They both assured their willingness to sign the BSA with Washington, and to seek peace talks with the Taliban. The latter should first lay down their arms, and cut all ties with foreign terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda.
Unfortunately, a thorough report by European Union election observers stated that electoral fraud had taken place, possibly even widespread. This led to a political standoff between the two main contestants, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah, both claiming to be the winner. Thus, the special ceremony in Kabul commemorating Afghanistan’s 95th Independence Day on August 20, 2014, offered the rare sight of one defunct President, Hamid Karzai, sided by his two potential successors, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah.
Although both Ghani and Abdullah had solemnly promised to inaugurate a new government within 45 days after the elections, reality proved more stubborn. Only three months after the elections Ghani and Abdullah, both winners, prodded by external mediator US Foreign Secretary John Kerry, signed a political agreement to somehow share power. It also brought back in power an old, notorious warlord; northern Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, was poised to become vice-president.
After the peaceful, orderly transfer of power, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah were finally inaugurated on September 29. Ghani became President, Abdullah Chief of Government. Any follow-up research on electoral irregularities quietly evaporated. Nevertheless, major differences between both men continued to exist, delaying the installation of new cabinet ministers and provincial governors. One main stumbling block became the appointment of a new Minister of Defence.
The new Ghani-Abdullah government, in marked contrast to its predecessor, adopted a friendly and conciliatory stance towards Pakistan, lauding the Pakistani military efforts in North Waziristan. One of the first countries President Ghani visited was Pakistan. On this occasion, Ghani was not accompanied by Abdullah; relations between the non-Pashtun ethnicities of Afghanistan and Islamabad are virtually non-existent at best.
Both Afghanistan and the US were eager to obtain Pakistan’s political support in fighting the Afghan Taliban, as well. Pakistan sought US and Afghan military support for actions against the TTP leadership hiding in Kunar province. Thus, further diplomatic and military cooperation against the common threat of religious extremism seemed to be in the offing.
At the same time, President Ghani wanted to open a ‘peace’ dialogue with the Taliban leaders. He started inviting the Taliban for talks. His widely criticised approach nevertheless received support from both Pakistan and Washington. This policy was welcomed in Islamabad, and characterized as ‘turning a new leaf’ in Afghan-Pakistan relations.
In a show of unity, both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, and a donor conference in London.

The Taliban movement

Helmand province, part of the so-called heartland of the Taliban-movement, had previously been largely cleared from Taliban presence as a result of the American troop ‘surge’. As Afghanistan’s National Army was replacing American forces, Taliban offensives there rapidly increased. Between June and November, over 1300 security force members were killed, especially in the southern part of Helmand province. Hundreds of civilians got killed or injured as well. The main missing link for the Afghan forces was a solid air force. Without air support operations in rugged, mountainous areas are hard to carry out anywhere in the country.
After more than 13 years, NATO combat operations in Afghanistan formally ended on 8 December 2014. A brief ceremony in Kabul marked the occasion. In its wake, the Taliban habitually claimed defeat of America and its allies, at the same time stepping up its combat activities nationwide. Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were totalling 352.000 members.
The US withdrew its forces for several reasons: their continued presence only seemed to draw more and bloodier attacks by the Taliban; the costs of maintaining over 100.000 of US troops in Afghanistan weighed heavy. The price for keeping one single US soldier operational in that distant country amounted to a staggering 2.1 million dollar each year.
A new NATO mission numbering 12.500 troops was announced to train, advise and assist the ANSF (entitled Resolute Support Mission, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel), now ‘in the lead’ after the transition period in combatting the ‘insurgents’. The ANSF personnel numbered 352.000 members, which had required 61 billion dollars to create. Next to supporting Afghan security forces, Resolute Support was to deliver a clear message to the Afghan people that the US and the international community would not (once more) abandon Afghanistan. It also served to keep the US drone programme going. Ideally, as far as the Obama government was concerned, at the end of 2016 there should not be a western soldier left in the country.
As the international forces actually withdrew, nationwide over 5000 Afghan policemen and soldiers were killed this year. Civilian non-combatant casualties in 2014 amounted to about 10.000 killed or wounded, 75% was caused by Taliban actions. One of the major Afghan army problems was its lack of an air force, a highly priced feature which was not left behind by Western armies.
Mullah Omar, the undisputed spiritual and ideological leader of the Afghan Taliban, although hardly ever visible to anyone including even his inner circle, reportedly was alive and living in Karachi, Afghan spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil and Western intelligence sources claimed as much on December 30. Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour was named as second in command, being the main link to Omar. Although the Islamic State headed by Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi drew increasing numbers of jihadi fighter support, mullah Omar remained their main spiritual leader, including al Qaeda.

Deteriorating Afghan economy

As the Western troops withdrew, foreign aid steeply declined as well, hitting an already fragile economy. Military bases and facilities across the country had provided numerous jobs for Afghans. In Kabul alone, some 90% of all five million people living there were somehow dependent for their livelihood on 75 NATO bases and Afghan military facilities. In 2011, its peak year, NATO had 800 military bases nationwide; at the end of 2014, only a handful remained.
Numerous NGO-workers had already been withdrawn; in 2013, an increasing number of Taliban attacks caused more victims among them then in any year before. In January 2014, US Congress had slashed development aid for Afghanistan by half. It went down from 2.1 billion dollars in 2013, to 1.1 billion dollars this year. New infrastructure projects by the US army were also cut short. At the same time, the Taliban insurgency hit new heights. These developments served to underline the need to continue international aid to Afghanistan.
Of the Afghan national budget of 8 billion dollars for 2014, 44% was spent on security. The rest was destined for social security and infrastructural development. However, an estimated two billion dollar ‘vanished’ because of corruption, especially in the revenue department and the country’s ports, according to Integrity Watch Afghanistan.
Endemic corruption, next to, and because of, poorly conceived and shoddily built projects, made public support in the US and other NATO countries for continued support to Afghanistan hit an all-time low. Between 2001 and 2014, Afghanistan had received 104 billion dollars in international aid. Of that enormous sum, 7.6 billion was destined for counter-narcotics initiatives; nevertheless, drug smuggling has remained a big problem.
In 2014, as in the previous year, some 4,6 billion dollar of ‘undeclared income’ was taken out of Afghanistan. Small wonder business activities and investments declined steeply. The rate of the Afghani has fallen to 56 to the dollar, against 49 in a recent past. In particular, the services sector contracted rapidly, contributing to President Ghani’s gloomy estimate of zero percent economic growth.
Finding jobs not just remains a big problem, but becomes even harder, for millions of Afghans. The country possesses no industrial base, its agricultural infrastructure is largely in shambles. Although the country is reportedly well-endowed with mineral riches (cobalt, copper, gold, iron, lithium), few if any projects are being undertaken to take advantage of this hidden treasure.
As long as the Taliban and other armed movements continue to jeopardize the security and safety in large parts of the country, few national or foreign investments will be made. In the wake of the troop withdrawal, the fragile economy of the country is confronted with dwindling aid funding. At the same time, the number of attacks by the Taliban movement has increased sharply, especially in Kabul. Thus, the new leadership by Ghani and Abdullah must be weakened. In other words, international military support and financial backing remain essential for Afghanistan, if the Taliban are to be barred from regaining national power.
As President Ghani visited Islamabad, after having received the Pakistani Army commander, Raheel Sharif, in Kabul, he concluded several agreements with an obliging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. By 2017, trade between both countries should be more then doubled, reaching a value of 5 billion dollars. It was also agreed that both countries would closely cooperate on building the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, a project estimated to require an investment of 7,6 billion dollars. It would support the declared aim of making Afghanistan and Pakistan the ‘heart of Asia’. According to former World Bank employee Ghani, this would help to ensure that economic integration in Asia would become a reality.
China
As NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan, China – finally – took a more active stance in seeking peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan. (China and Afghanistan share a borderline in the east of the Afghan province of Badakshan, an area also known as the Wakhan corridor.) Beijing even proposed a five-point programme for peace and economic development. This went down well in Islamabad, since Pakistan remains an ‘all-weather’ friend of China. In Delhi, however, unease increased, since President Ghani appeared to downplay relations with India. One of his first measures was to cancel the arms deal Karzai had concluded with India, under the strategic partnership agreement. The very first countries the new Afghan president chose to visit were Pakistan and China.
In September, 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to visit Pakistan. Like the cancellation of an IMF’s delegation visit, owing to the political chaos in Islamabad, Xi Jinping’s visit was put on hold. His declared aim was to tighten robust economic cooperation in mega energy and infrastructure projects. To that end, an investment of 34 billion dollar had been announced.
Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC) initiated in May, 2013, Beijing had started its financial assistance for a number of projects. The CPEC should link Kashgar, in Xinjiang, with Gwadar port in Balochistan. Roads and railways were being built, but to succeed in bringing lasting economic development, terrorism in the Af-Pak region needs to be banned, and political stability increased. Equally important, Uighur terrorism in Xinjiang, having direct links with Pakistani terrorist movements, must be contained.
Although the Nawaz Sharif government got temporarily politically paralysed, it should be remembered that the PML-N enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, 209 out of 342 seats. Also, both China and Pakistan consider India to be their mutual regional adversary. Unlike the negative Pakistani popular opinion on the United States, a huge majority of the 200 million Pakistani consider China to be a positive force.
Beijing and Islamabad are seriously worried about the political instability that may increase in Afghanistan in the wake of the US troop withdrawal. The Taliban will profit from their departure; another consequence might well be the widening of ethnic gaps, again, as Pashtuns and Tajiks will seek bigger control over the national government. As the year ended, the prospects for peace-deals in both Pakistan and Afghanistan looked distinctly bleak.

 

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