2014 – Shaping the Destiny of Afghanistan
President Karzai of Afghanistan wrapped up his 5-day state visit to India on 13th of this month on an insignificant note. He utilized major part of his visit to plead Indian business community to invest more in Afghanistan. India has already pledged US $ 2bn for development in Afghanistan with particular focus on extraction of huge mineral deposits. India capitalized on his visit to strengthen its foothold in Afghanistan’s energy and communications infrastructures. Speaking at a joint press conference Indian Prime Minister apprised the media persons that his talks with President Karzai covered all aspects of civil and military cooperation under ‘Strategic Agreement’ with especial focus on capacity building of Afghan security sector besides regional security in the backdrop of US/NATO withdrawal in 2014.
Whereas President Karzai was more cautious on delineating his engagement with Pakistan despite incitements of the Indian media, his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh committed that India would support Afghanistan in countering terrorism emanating from its neighborhood, in a clear reference to Pakistan. His statement reflected feelings of insecurity in India over its investments in Afghanistan post NATO/ISAF withdrawal. Karzai may have held his horses in castigating Pakistan for all of Afghanistan’s ills probably for the reason that a delegation of High Peace Council of Afghanistan was visiting Islamabad for talks on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan at that time.
President Karzai’s visit to India has taken place amid growing global concerns on Afghan stability once foreign military forces quit Afghanistan. Two major events that would translate Afghanistan’s destiny, Presidential elections and withdrawal of foreign forces, will follow each other in 2014. The country at the moment is weighing its options to survive through both. Whereas it does not have a say in withdrawal mechanism of the foreign forces, it sure does have a significant work to do to hold free and fair elections. Crucial to that aim is development of adequate infrastructure that would support holding of the sensitive elections. At the moment, the dynamics that contribute to holding of free and fair elections are not being seriously considered by Karzai government. The sitting government refuses to talk to Haqqani faction of Taliban. It has failed to take steps that may prevent routine heavy shelling into Pakistani territory by its armed forces and its affiliated Taliban. Only last week, Afghan militia’s shelling killed five in South Waziristan Agency for which Afghan ambassador in Islamabad was summoned by Pakistan’s foreign ministry to lodge a strong protest. Karzai government continues to support Afghanistan based TTP’s Maulvi Fazlullah in his terror and assassinations across into Pakistan. He also claimed the responsibility of such an attempt on Malala Yousufzai. The credence that Afghanistan is sheltering TTP in Afghanistan is getting stronger and stronger in the world community showing Afghan regime’s complicity in Maulvi Fazlullah’s cross border attacks in Pakistan. On the domestic front, as the foreign forces withdrawal plan draws closer, Afghans are becoming more skeptical on the country’s stability. The real estate prices in Kabul are fast spiraling down in a show of ill confidence on Karzai’s regime’s ability to lead the country out of its crises. On diplomatic front, there are only promises and MOUs by various countries to aid development in Afghanistan beyond 2014 as global economic meltdown continues. If at all some funds are provided, a lion’s share is consumed by the NGOs in whose name funds are released for carrying out development works in Afghanistan. NGOs ultimately become the beneficiaries of such funds and not the government in Afghanistan. Seeing some concrete development infrastructure in Afghanistan is hard to come by. Even India that has made hyphenated economic development promises, has failed to launch many of its projects off the ground in Afghanistan.
Other significant developments taking place with regards to Afghanistan future comprise visits of its High Peace Council to Pakistan and US officials’ visit to Afghanistan. Afghan Peace Council led by Burhanuddin Rabbani’s son Salahuddin has concluded its three-day visit to Pakistan. The delegation sought Pakistan’s help in bringing various Taliban factions on negotiating table. Although Salahuddin Rabbani has not met with Taliban himself, a lot of hopes are being attached with his current visit to Pakistan. Pakistan has reassured the Peace Council of its sincerity in stabilizing Afghanistan and vowed to do all for Afghan peace. It is in this spirit that Pakistan has started releasing Taliban leaders from its jails. The Prime Minister of Pakistan while talking to the delegation has also pressed for hard work by both countries towards establishing exemplary bilateral relationship. On Afghanistan-American front, their officials are due to start formal talks on 15th of this month to discuss a security pact between the two nations. US seeks a separate security pact with Afghanistan to clarify the limits, frame work and presence of US troops along with military cooperation beyond the year 2014.
In view of Afghan Presidential elections on 5 April, 2014 and departure of foreign military forces from Afghanistan in the same year, this is probably the time when the President should be focusing on placement of some concrete infrastructure on ground in the time leading to 2014 and beyond. Tokyo Conference has already pledged over $16 bn over four years for development in Afghanistan. He does not have to trot the globe for more. Whatever meager financial resources Afghanistan possesses they should not be spent on extravagant and luxurious routine trips abroad. His latest visit to India was also not given adequate significance as it got overshadowed with more significant visit of Suu Kye of Myanmar. He has a plethora of challenges at home and all of them require immediate redress while foreign military forces are still in the country. He cannot afford to ignore assessments and apprehensions of foreign organizations and think tanks who have shown strong resentment on Afghan government’s non-serious attitudes towards ensuring an infrastructure that would ensure a free and fare elections in Afghanistan. The logic demands of the Afghan President and his government that they must ensure placement of an adequate infrastructure in Afghanistan much before 2014 to ensure continuation of socio-economic development of Afghan masses.