IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2015 POSTS

Written by admin on Thursday, December 31st, 2015

By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on Immigvanheugten.nl in 2015

IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2015 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (7 MB)]

In our seventh yearbook we once more provide you with a well-documented birds’- eye view of all main events and developments in and about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some 600 English-language articles, covering 1477 pages, have been carefully selected and posted by us throughout the year. They were originally published in a range of about 30 daily papers worldwide, and by some research institutes.

SUMMARY

After a presence of 13 years, the number of Western troops operating in Afghanistan, was drastically lowered. Of 140.000 US and NATO soldiers, after the so-called transition about 13.500 of them were left behind on January 1, 2015. As the Taliban movement only seemed to gain strength and intensified its fighting against the National Unity Government or NUG, installed in September, 2014 future prospects among the Afghan population and many Afghanistan watchers for the year 2015 were distinctly bleak. In neighbouring Pakistan both the Army command and the civilian government were seriously worried about the possible fall-out of the Western troop withdrawal.

Surprisingly the Afghan security forces, although regularly supported by US and NATO ‘advisors’, stood their ground, and succeeded in countering Taliban offensives in a number of provinces. As the new Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah had signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and a Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) with NATO, continuation of Western military and financial assistance was guaranteed. Still, the number of civilian and military casualties among Afghans rose considerably, reaching levels previously unknown.

In Pakistan, relations between the civilian PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif and the Army led by General Raheel Sharif started to deteriorate. The Sharif-government sought to improve relations with India, now led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sought an improvement of relations with its other neighbor Afghanistan, and pursued the opening of a high-treason trial against former military leader Musharraf. The Army leadership, wary of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban going nowhere, already in June, 2014 had started Operation Zarb-e-Azb against them in North Waziristan. The bloody attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, sealed the fate of renewed attempts to talk with the Taliban.

Afghan President Ghani reached out to Pakistan, in an effort to improve ties and cooperate against terrorism. Ghani acknowledged, at the Heart of Asia Conference and after, that Pakistan had finally agreed to act against radical, violent groups that do not wish to lay down their arms. Thus, at the end of 2015, Pakistan’s usually rather troubled bilateral relations with its neighbours India and Afghanistan seemed to be on the mend.

PAKISTAN

Political developments

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by then-President Asif Ali Zardari was soundly defeated in the general elections of 2013. In all-important Punjab province, the PPP managed to gain just 8 seats from 371. The PML-N won 312, the PTI 30. The PPP only succeeded in maintaining government participation in the province of Sindh (94 0f 168 seats), where the Bhutto’s live and own large plots of land. But even in Sindh, where the ‘Bhutto-factor’ and the political affiliations of feudal families saved the day for the provincial PPP government, ‘bad government’ got increasingly criticized.

Although still being the second-largest party in the national assembly in Islamabad, since the disastrous elections leadership issues, primarily between the supporters of Ali Asif Zardari and his son Bilawal (conveniently called Bhutto), did little to restore the power base of the PPP. A telling example of this are the fruitless efforts by Bilawal to revitalize the PPP’s popular support base. In losing its nationwide appeal, the PPP leaves the national political arena open to mainly centre-right and far-right political parties and movements.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, or PTI), established in 1996 and led by Imran Khan, being the leading governing party in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, reputedly does a better job than the PPP in Sindh. Since the PTI relentlessly attacks the allegedly ‘illegitimate’ and ‘corrupt’ Sharif government, it may well become the second largest party of the country at the general elections of 2018. Especially younger well-educated voters support the PTI in its crusade against an allegedly corrupt federal government. They continue to do so, despite the largely failed sit-in (dharna) in Islamabad in August, 2014, and despite the report delivered by the Judicial Commission that there was no ‘stolen mandate’ in the elections of 2013, as claimed by the PTI.

All Party Conference, National Action Plan, madrassas

After the extremely bloody attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, on 16 December 2014, a 20-point national counterterrorism plan was put together by an All Party Conference (APC). It included the installment of military courts, which would try militants for a period of two years – religious militants, since all attacks on Pakistani security forces, ethnic minorities, mosques, shrines, and churches are carried out in the name of ‘Islamic Sharia’. At the meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that his government would no longer differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

The APC also agreed on the necessity of controlling the activities of radical madrassas (religious schools), making up 10 to 15 percent of all madrassas in the country. At the end of 2014, 26.131 madrassas were registered by the ministry of religious affairs; but 8.249 madrassas, enrolling some 300.000 students, were not. Now being recognized as the ideological sources and main suppliers of new members of Pakistan’s many radical religious groups, their far-reaching influence and violent activities within Pakistan society and abroad had to be contained. These madrassas were known to often receive Saudi Arabian organizational and financial support, turning this into a delicate matter.

During several years already, both the Sharif government and its civilian PPP-predecessor had announced ‘measures’ to control and modernize the educational programs of all madrassas, and register, control and license them. Policy initiatives like these have largely resulted in futileness, judging from the continued existence and activities of quite a number of radical Islamic organizations. Only when the military, fed up with the masterly inactivity of the civilian government, started their much praised operation Zarb-e-Azb, a considerable decrease of bloody terrorist attacks and victims occurred.

Owing to the army offensive, Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani Taliban movement, TTP, seemed to have lost considerable ground. But since the TTP, founded in 2007, harboured over 30 radical religious groupings nationwide, not all of them could be effectively suppressed or controlled. A number of splinter groupings like Jamaat-ul-Ahrar continued their horrifying attacks against government and military members and objects, as well as against Shi’ites, Hazaras, and other religious and ethnic entities that were invariably labeled ‘anti-Shia’ and ‘enemies of Islam’.

Pakistan’s economy

Pakistan’s GDP in 2015 amounted to some 270 billion dollar, creating a per capita income of 5000 US dollar, up from 4900 US dollar in the previous year. Agriculture still is the main provider of jobs; nearly 44 % of all Pakistani are active in this sector. Its main produce is cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, vegetables, fruits, milk, beef, mutton, and eggs. Services comes second, industry third. Urbanization rapidly continues; 39% of all 196 million inhabitants now lives in Pakistan’s cities (Karachi being the largest).

Main export commodities of Pakistan are textiles, rice, leather goods, sporting goods, chemicals, manufactures, carpets and rugs. In 2015, exports totaled 23.67 billion dollar; imports, however, amounted to 45.83 billion dollar. Small wonder that the country still faces huge deficits, and needs to continually seek financial support from a number of international quarters, the IMF included. The external debt of Pakistan in 2015 was 63.58 billion dollar, or 64.8% of its GDP.

The United States are the main export market for Pakistani goods. Exports to China amounted to 8.8%; imports from China, on the other hand, amounted to 28.2%. Lower international oil prices reduced the costs of import, narrowing the current account deficit and lowering inflation (4.5% in 2015). Pakistan’s domestic crude oil production amounted to a modest 98.000 barrels per day. Pakistan is largely dependent on imports of petroleum and petroleum products, machinery, transportation equipment (railway locomotives, for instance), iron and steel.

Largescale manufacturing and construction are gathering pace, primarily owing to the implementation of infrastructural and energy projects under the aegis of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) investment programs.

Health, education, poverty

Spending 0,8 % of the GDP on health, and 2.5 % on education, still means that long term prospects for improved health care in general and a better qualified workforce remain grim. Reportedly, 42 percent of all Pakistanis is still unable to read or write. Economic growth and increasing labour force productivity are expected to improve only marginally.

Although the government has adopted a revised poverty line, bringing down the headcount poverty rate from over 64% in 2001-2002 to ‘just’ 29.5% of all 196 million Pakistani in 2013-2014.

However, as Pakistan’s economy grew 4.2 % in 2014-2015 (fiscal year, starting in July), the number of people living below the poverty line did decline, to some 22.3%. Consequently, in 2015 the number of people living below or around the poverty line still remains high.

Foreign affairs

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been a major ally and economic benefactor of Pakistan. Near 2 million Pakistani are employed in the Saudi kingdom; numerous personal relationships between Pakistani and Saudi Arabian leaders exist. Current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lived there in exile while General Musharraf was in power (1999-2008). In exchange, Saudis have been receiving Pakistani military training; thousands of Pakistani military were stationed in Saudi Arabia. In the 1980’s Saudi Arabia co-funded a number of Afghan mujahedin, operating mainly from Pakistani soil, in their struggle against the Soviet occupation of their country. But Saudi Arabian individuals and its government are also known to fund sectarian madrassas and parties in Pakistan.

When battle broke loose in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia sought to suppress a Houthi rebellion, the Saudi government formally requested Pakistani military support. After some passing through this potentially damaging issue, Pakistan’s parliament decided not to join the coalition of Arab nations. Pakistan’s forces at the time were fully occupied by carrying out operation Zarb-e-Azb; besides, this would have seriously compromised already fragile relations with Shi’ite Iran. Although Nawaz Sharif assured the Saudis of Pakistan’s continued warm friendship, the country remained neutral.

The US acknowledged the importance of, and successes in, fighting militants in North Waziristan. At the same time, however, Washington sought more Pakistani Army operations against organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Afghan Haqqani Network, mainly operating from Pakistani soil. These repeated American demands usually met with either deafening silence or denial. Militant organizations like these are still considered to be useful ‘strategic assets’ versus arch-enemy India and unstable, often hostile Afghanistan by Pakistan’s military leaders. Washington for quite some time has been only too well aware of being double-played by Pakistan’s military leadership. Nevertheless, it both criticized and continued this uneasy partnership with ‘frenemy’ Pakistan.

At the All Party Conference following the bloodbath in Peshawar in December, 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ would no longer be maintained. Thus he acknowledged the failure of this approach toward radical terrorist groups. In January, the Afghan Taliban-linked Haqqani network operating from its sanctuary on Pakistani soil was officially banned.

One solid reason for the US to pursue meaningful relations with Pakistan is about tactical nuclear weapons. As Pakistan steadily increases its nuclear arsenal, the US government is increasingly worried that one day they will be actually used. Pakistan for its part maintains that the nuclear facilities are all aimed at maintaining security parity with neighbouring, hostile India. That, however, is not exactly a comforting thought.

Relations with India

The resumption of the so-called composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, now renamed as ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ by Indian External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, after an suspension of two years, came after a commitment by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to bring to justice the perpetrators of the November, 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Nawaz had made a dire promise while in Washington, on October 23, that Pakistan would take action against Lashkar-e-Taiba or LeT. However, its leader, Hafiz Saeed, moves about freely in Pakistan for years, and is known to have strong ties with parts of Pakistan’s intelligence community. Small wonder that many Indians were highly skeptical. After all, former President Asif Ali Zardari and current Prime Minister Sharif had both admitted that the civilian government of Pakistan has little influence in foreign policy matters. Still, adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz maintained that even the sticky subject ‘Kashmir’ would be included in the upcoming talks.

On December 25, on his way back to Delhi from Kabul, Indian Prime Minister Modi surprisingly stopped over in Lahore, where he met with Nawaz Sharif, apparently as an effort to further develop good personal relations with the Pakistani leader, and to personally congratulate him with his 66th birthday. The visit, following recent meetings between Sharif and Modi in Ufa (July, Russia) and Paris, also served to revive a stalled dialogue between both India and Pakistan (since Mumbai, 2008), and possibly to reassure Islamabad that continued and increasing Indian support for Afghanistan was not used to undermine Pakistan.

Relations with Afghanistan

Included in the 20-point National Action Plan against terrorism was a promise to deal with the 1,7 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. Most of them live in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially in the Peshawar region, bordering Afghanistan. Thus, Afghans received the dubious privilege to be labeled ‘possible drivers’ of violence and terrorism. Since the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (claimed by the Pakistani TTP), Pakistani police has started to deport Afghan refugees.

As Pakistan’s military operations against radical Islamic groups in North Waziristan continued, neighbouring Afghanistan was faced with the influx of between 350.000 to 500.000 shelter-seeking Pakistanis, many of them belonging to radical terrorist organizations. President Ghani, welcoming the military operations against militancy, called the influx of Pakistani into Afghanistan an ‘unintended consequence’, also revealing that some 40 operations by Afghan Special Forces were launched against them. Ghani also pleaded for the development and installment of a mechanism for regional cooperation against militancy.

In December 2014, after a visit by Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Kabul, Pakistani and Afghan military officials established a ‘Hot Line’ between them. Both countries agreed to actions against those Taliban that refused to join the deadlocked peace process with the Afghan government. It was also agreed that both countries would actively share intelligence in order to counter the threat of terrorism. Another important decision was to re-install a border management mechanism, absent since 2014. It sought to prevent renewed clashes between Afghan and Pakistani security forces, and improve bilateral ties.

President Ghani, after three particularly bloody terrorist attacks in Kabul in August, 2015, accused Pakistan of ‘still remaining the venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us a message of war’. The Afghan intelligence bureau (National Directory of Security, NDS) squarely put the blame for still harbouring Taliban bases, in particular those of the Haqqani group, on Pakistan’s military.

After some ten months, these attacks effectively ended Ghani’s policy of rapprochement with Pakistan. His new stand was firmly supported by government leader Abdullah, who had never expressed enthusiasm for seeking intimate relations with Islamabad anyway. A somewhat taken aback Islamabad, for its part, postponed its earlier announced scholarship program for Afghan students.

Relations with China

Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared that the relationship with the US was a vital component of Pakistan’s foreign policy, 2015 may well turn out to be the year in which China took over as ‘most favoured ally’ from the US. The so-called all-weather friendship between Pakistan and China, despite some minor irritants like Chinese Islamophobia in general and its harsh campaigns in particular against Uyghur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang, remained unchanged. During his delayed visit to Islamabad in April, 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 51 pacts with the Pakistani government, 30 of them on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC. Ever since, the PML-N government seldom forgets to endorse, usually in glowing terms, the numerous blessings the CPEC will bring to the country.

Early in 2015, China announced its support to make Afghanistan and Pakistan work together in countering regional terrorism. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are essential links in the development of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. Next to securing its huge investments programs, China also seeks to end the alleged training of Uyghur Muslims on Pakistani soil. Thus, Beijing made clear to Islamabad that Chinese interests in the region should be taken into consideration.

As developments on the ground of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) gathered momentum, so did the debate within Pakistan between those provinces that supposedly would largely be left out (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, most of Balochistan’s interior), and those (Punjab) that would benefit from this massive Chinese investment program. Although being the main source of natural gas for Pakistan, developing the provincial infrastructure of Balochistan has long been neglected.

Balochistan, where the seaport of Gwadar is rapidly being developed, suffers from insurgent and separatist activities and economic hardships. And from bad government, mainly due to infighting between the three political parties that make up the provincial government. It is feared that – still – no new job opportunities will be created for Balochis, despite its abundant natural resources and current Chinese investments.

AFGHANISTAN

National Unity Government

Since the NUG was essentially a power-sharing arrangement created to bridge a political abyss between Afghanistans’ major ethnic populations, it seemed to be guided by both President Ghani and CEO Abdullah. (Both had claimed to have decisively won the national presidential election.) The former represented Pashtun power, the latter embodied the presence of the most important minority of the country, the Tajiks. Besides, the Uzbeks (represented by First Vice President former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has sided with Ghani) and Hazaras (represented by Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish) also had their representatives in the national government. This ingenuous, albeit awkward structure, had been arrived at under the solid guidance of U.S. secretary of State John Kerry.

Two major differences between Ghani and Abdullah were their approach of ‘peace talks’ with the Taliban, and seeking friendly relations with neighbouring Pakistan. Although Abdullah opposed these policies, he initially allowed Ghani to give it a serious try. To no avail, as it turned out, in the process damaging the fragile construct of the NUG. It manifested itself in the continued inability of both leaders to agree on who should become the Afghan Minister of Defense, arguably one of the most important cabinet posts.

Ghani’s political outreach to Pakistan was based on the assumption that the country is an essential partner in restarting peace talks, and ending the long war in Afghanistan. Pakistan was considered to wield considerable influence over the Taliban. Ghani and Nawaz Sharif, once again, vowed commitment to the peace process. The stance by Ghani, although making sense, was strongly criticized by his partners from different ethnicities in government. A majority of Afghans does not at all trust, or particularly like, Pakistan. The Taliban reaction by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, on December 12, was clear: ‘’The mujahideen are making rapid military gains, capturing territory and destroying enemy centers. Expecting us to surrender and come for talks is foolishness”.

Foreign relations

Indian Prime Minister Modi visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan in December, 2014. He handed the keys of the new Afghan parliamentary building to President Ghani. It was built by and paid for by India, next to a number of large infrastructural projects. Pakistan always considered Indian support to Afghanistan to be directed against it, an accusation always denied by both the Afghan and Indian leaders. But the Modi government has also financed the purchase of some Russian military equipment for the Afghan army.

American President Barrack Obama announced in October that thousands of US troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2016. As Taliban operations multiplied, and casualties among Afghan forces and civilians rapidly increased, a complete withdrawal of US troops would further demoralize ANDSF. Obviously, the ANDSF was not yet able to face the insurgents on its own. About 9800 US soldiers remained in Afghanistan, albeit on a ‘non-combat’ mission.

The Taliban movement

On July 29, 2015, Afghan officials made public that Mullah Omar had died in a Pakistani hospital in Karachi, in April 2013. At the time he was 53, and known to be ill, suffering from kidney problems. This announcement was made while another so-called ‘peace process’ between the Afghan government and the Taliban was due to commence. Although Omar had been declared ‘dead’ before (in 2011, for instance) by the Afghan government spy agency, now the Taliban confirmed the message. Apparently, this time the intelligence gathered proved correct.

But why announce the dead of the founding father, of crucial importance in maintaining unity within the ranks of the Taliban movement for over twenty years, now? Had Afghan infiltrators of the National Directorate of Security at last gained access to the inner circles of the Taliban leadership? Or was someone in, say, Rawalpindi, seeking to prevent further talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, after the first face-to-face talks between Afghan official and Taliban representatives on July 7, in the Pakistani city of Murree? After all, the Afghan government was informed about Omar’s dead by Pakistani senior and military officials.

Did a faction of the Taliban themselves, increasingly divided among themselves, hand over this message to the Afghan spy agency? The breakaway faction Feday-e-Mahaz perhaps, that opposed renewed peace talks (both Omar and his ‘moderate ’lieutenant Mansour reportedly supported talks), and stated one week earlier that Omar had died two years ago and was buried in Zabul Province? (Equally interesting was the remark by then-chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry visiting Kabul back in August, 2010, to President Karzai, that Mullah Omar lived in a safe house in Karachi, strictly guarded by Pakistani military and intelligence personnel.)

Within Taliban ranks, this long suppressed news, plus the rapid official installment of Omar’s right hand Mullah Mansour only one day later, on July 31, as his successor, caused even more divisiveness, and some bloody struggles. It showed that the myth of a living Omar, practically invisible during many years well before his dead, had been kept silent quite successfully. Only on July 15, 2015, a written statement was publicized, presumably by Mullah Omar, criticizing the leadership of Islamic State. But his last audio statement was issued back in 2008. He had not been seen in public since 2001, shortly after he managed to escape from US-led efforts to capture him.

As Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a co-founder of the movement, was now publicly declared the new leader, it became apparent that he had been just that for several years already. His ‘newly’ appointed deputies included notorious leader of the Haqqani group Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Islamic scholar Haibatullah Akhundzada, influential figures within the Taliban leadership anyway. Notably missing in the new leadership was Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yakoub, 26 years of age. Shortly after the announcement, the Taliban leadership declared it was ‘not aware of any peace talks’. This stance also served to prove the futility of releasing over 500 Taliban prisoners by former President Karzai, who had thus hoped to lure the ‘discontented brothers’ into peace talks.

Although largely responsible for the huge increase in civilian and military deaths among Afghans, the ‘new’ Taliban leadership steadfastly stuck to its demand that the ‘foreign occupation’ of Afghanistan had to end. The movement repeatedly announced it would continue its jihad until the last (foreign) soldier had left the country. The Taliban leadership, still based in the city of Quetta, capital of Pakistani province Balochistan, also condemned the U.N. Security Council decision to lengthen and broaden sanctions against the movement for another 18 months. The UN envoy for Afghanistan characterized the security situation in the country as ‘extremely challenging’.

Taliban offensives

As the year progressed, the number of casualties among both the Taliban and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and civilians killed considerably increased. In October, the Taliban shocked their adversaries by capturing the city of Kunduz, capital of the province in northern Afghanistan with the same name. It took Afghan special forces and US logistical and air support to oust them.

A considerable part of the southern province of Helmand, next to Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces, but also bordering Pakistan, was brought under Taliban control, as well. In order to counter their offensive, next to Afghan special forces United States Special Operations forces were brought in, too, although the US presence in Afghanistan is euphemistically labeled ‘train, advise and assist’ mission.

Helmand is a major poppy-producing region, and part of traditional Taliban heartland. Afghan defense officials claimed that their security forces had successfully prevented the establishment of the Taliban leadership, arriving from Quetta, Pakistan, in the northern districts of Helmand. The Quetta Council or ‘Shura’ has been plotting and coordinating Taliban operations in Afghanistan for years.

In capital Kabul, a number of suicide bombers and rocket attacks were also carried out. Clearly, diminished unity and cohesion within the Taliban movement did not prevent it from increasingly attacking foreign and government targets. On average, in 2015 over 9 Afghan civilians were killed and 18 wounded every day.

Peace efforts

Nevertheless, a new international steering group, consisting of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States was formed to promote direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. According to President Ghani, the Taliban were now made up of several groups (in the wake of the announcement of Mullah Omar’s dead and his replacement), making this the right moment for the group to embrace peace. He even expected that this would ‘not take years, but only weeks’. Ghani may have been further encouraged by the establishment of a breakaway fraction of the Taliban, led by Mullah Mohamed Rasool.

This so-called Quadrilateral Framework was based on the repeated acknowledgement that a decisive military victory by either party was highly unlikely, leaving no other means to end the bloody struggle than by diplomatic means. But as the year ended, no change in Taliban conditions for possible talks was in sight, their joining the negotiating table remaining a remote prospect.

Russia was not invited to become part of the new steering group, but certainly was eager to control and push back IS activities in Afghanistan. President Putin reportedly met with new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in September, in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. One Taliban commander stated that his group had been promised Russian arms and financial support. Thus, the Kremlin seemed to be willing to support its ancient mujahedin enemies against a rising new, and supposedly larger, danger – Islamic State, or Daesh.

AQIS, Islamic State

It was not just the Taliban movement that regained strength and initiative. Al Qaeda also seemed to be on the rise again; several large training camps used by AQIS (Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent) were discovered in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the general leader of Al Qaeda, announced that AQIS was established in late 2014, primarily to withstand the growing presence of Islamic State in Afghanistan and the region. The mere fact that these AQIS camps were mostly established in Taliban controlled provinces fed US suspicions that the Taliban, especially the Haqqani group within them, once more, were providing AQIS members with shelter and support. Both movements opposed the growing presence and cruelties of Islamic State fighters as well. (IS, mainly present in Nangarhar province, had established radio station ‘Voice of the Caliphate’, broadcasting in Pashto.)

Afghan economy

In the wake of the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, and increased Taliban and Islamic State operations, the security situation in the country worsened. As the departing Western soldiers were accompanied by many civil organizations, the traditionally small and fragile Afghan economy deteriorated as well. Its GDP in 2014 was an estimated 20,84 billion dollar; the per capita income amounted to less than 700 dollar. Economic growth slowed down to only 0.8 %.

Agricultural production in particular was 5.7 percent lower, mainly because of adverse weather conditions. Over 78 % of all 32,8 million Afghans are working in agriculture, and living in rural areas. Some 35 % of all Afghans were unemployed in 2015, an equally substantial percentage of Afghans lived below the poverty line. The country harbours the world’s largest population of chronically undernourished children under 5 years of age; about 41 % of all Afghan children.

A number of urban areas (Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif) enjoy near 24/7 electrical power supply; main suppliers of electricity and energy are Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. In rural areas, though, home to about 77% of all Afghans, less than 11% of the population has access to grid-connected power. The further development of infrastructural works and energy-sources remains severely hindered by increasingly unsafe conditions in ever larger parts of the country.

In the year 2015, some 200.000 Afghan asylum-seekers were registered in 27 European states, over 80.000 of them in Germany. Often these emigrants had paid large sums to human traffickers in order to ‘escape’ from their country. The departure of hundreds of thousands of able young men, apparently with enough material possessions to pay between 6000 and 10.000 dollar to do so, caused President Ghani to deplore this loss of labour and money to Afghanistan, only ‘to become dishwashers in Europe’.

On the other hand, over 90.000 Afghans were forced out of Pakistan; many tens of thousands more are expected to follow, putting more pressure on the scarce financial means of the Afghan government. This influx comes on top of increased Taliban operations in ever more areas of the country, displacing some 100.000 Afghans this year, raising their total numbers to nearly a million.

On 13 December, the construction work of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline finally got started (in Turkmenistan). Its length will be 1735 kilometers, by the end of 2018 it should be finished. The required 10 billion dollar are mainly provided by the United States and the Asian Development Bank. The project is expected to create thousands of much needed jobs in Afghanistan, as well.

At the end of the year, Afghanistan at last became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). As such, it committed itself to the free market model, seeking to alleviate poverty, greater fiscal discipline, and attract investments in key sectors of the economy (transport, infrastructure and energy).

 

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