Thursday, 23 October 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Afghanistan's Future Depends on Majority Will, Pakistan and World Cooperation

Sunday, 27 October 2013 10:26 By Zulfiqar Shah, Truthout | News Analysis

An Afghan army soldier keeps watch at a guard post near a brigade headquarters in Sangin, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2013. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)An Afghan army soldier keeps watch at a guard post near a brigade headquarters in Sangin, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2013. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

The "first world war on Afghanistan" began in 1979 and concluded in 1991, resulting in a decisive defeat of the then-Soviet Union. If seen in the context of people's history, almost 2.802 billion people suffered the direct, indirect and post-direct burns of the Afghan drama in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and India and later on, post 9/11, in the United States, UK and European Union. If the war and war-related expenditure by the international community in Afghanistan is roughly calculated, it would probably exceed $10 trillion.

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Today, the world powers and "stakeholder states" are planning to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 in a hasty manner, which ultimately will unfold a new arena of global conflicts and complexities. The process of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force - NATO) withdrawal is the appropriate solution for sustainable power transformation to the Afghan government; however, the post-withdrawal strategy for the substantive peace, development, human security and statehood is the key toward everlasting sustenance of the Afghan sovereignty. Moreover, eventually sustenance comes only through the will and strengthening of leading role of the locals in the statecraft and counterterrorism. 

Briefing the Interests

The world has been after Afghanistan at least since the early 18th century because of its strategic location and resource abundance. Rich in minerals including copper, iron-ore, hydrocarbons, gold, lithium, granite, petroleum, natural gas and others, but landlocked amid high mountains with a harsh climate, the country is positioned in the middle of the geopolitical, geo-economic and therefore one of the most geostrategically-important regions of the world.

Afghanistan is the point of common action between and among the international interests like the United States, the UK, Canada, Germany, India, Russia, Australia, China and the Central Asian States. The country can connect Eurasia with the Middle East, South and East Asia, as well as vice versa. At the helm of such a geo-economic reality, Afghanistan has the potential to facilitate the distribution of many hounded energy resources to the global energy corporate sector and thereby, fulfill the energy requirements of world citizenry. The corporate sector of the world has become more globalized today; however, the consumers of the world have not been given the necessary space by the nation-states to become  world citizens. No doubt, the commoners of the world will one day also become world citizens in political-economic terms through the process of people's globalization, which is already underway, albeit with a slower evolutionary pace.  

If the monetary and financial expenditure of the first and second world wars in Afghanistan is compared with the global monetary requirement for eradicating poverty, terrorism, and death of opportunities for unemployed youth, it reveals the difference, and in many cases antagonism, between contemporary "states" and "statehood" in the contemporary world and the socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual requirements of the citizenry. The phenomena may be termed as "state-deception" when the "security" doctrines by the states conflict with the security opinion of their own citizenry. Thus, states in general today keep a security notion, which is often exclusionary of the people's broader socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual security perspective.

Every country has its own stakes in Afghanistan. Therefore, everyone wants the regional and global politics that tilt to serve their interests. This has become a genuine cause behind the non-consensus over an Afghan solution between and among almost all the countries and regional groups of  countries.  

On the other hand, Pakistan has been tossing the counterfeit coin of barbaric Taliban, whose interpretation of Islamic Shariah is of the dark ages, against the extraordinary Indian influence and role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Iran was, in fact, fine earlier with NATO forces toppling the Taliban because the Taliban, ethno-linguistically Af-Pak and bordering Pashtun and Punjabi, are upholders of militant salafism/wahabism and support the involvement in massacres of their Persian-speaking rivals, largely Shia Muslims having historical and cultural affinity with Iran. Taliban also killed more than a dozen Iranian diplomats. Besides, Taliban were supported through Arab-Punjabi nexus in the form of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia-Gulf States trio.

The approach of Iran toward NATO intervention changed later on when there emerged a diplomatic row between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear facility. Although the changing internal mode of Iranian polity, with particular focus on internal reforms and foreign policy softness, has created an opportunity for healthier US-Iran engagement. The friendly Iran-American relationship, in association with their already deeper engagement with India, may help support the Afghanistan, Central and South Asian peace spectrum as well as to a certain degree the Middle-East peace process based on an Israel-Palestine resolution. China and the United States are not on the same page on Afghanistan, as China has adopted a highly calculated approach toward Afghan affairs.

According to research by Sandra Destradi, Nadine Godehardt and Alexander Frank, the United States itself is increasingly focused on a region that is referred to as the "Greater Central Asia" or (especially) the idea of a "New Silk Route" initiative.  Reviving the old trade routes of the Silk Road has been central to the American discourse.

Canada wants an absolute withdrawal of troops in 2014. Germany and Turkey have been playing the role of catalyst in the engagements between conflicting interests, along with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, both of whom tow a pro-Taliban line. Amid all these conflicting interests, ISAF withdrawal of 2014 proves to be an issue of concern.   

Russia will have to keep a check on formidable economic rivals in Afghanistan like China, according to Monika Pawar, a research student in Delhi, India.

 The Costliest War of Our Time

According to the Afghan Study Group, Joseph Stiglitz, the recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, and Linda Bilmes, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, have said that the direct cost of the Afghan war for the US has already topped $600 billion. Ongoing military operations will bring that total to at least $700 billion through 2014.

According to the research project "Costs of War," by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, the final bill (of the Afghan war for the United States) will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion. The United States is projected to have 32,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of February 2013, and the US may keep as many as 8,000 to 10,000 troops in advisory and support roles in Afghanistan for some years beyond the withdrawal of combat forces after 2014. James Kirkup in The Telegraph, reports the United States has agreed to pay $2.6 billion per year through 2024 for the Afghan security forces.

According to a Reuters report, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq. An additional 365,000 have been wounded. However, it is assumed that if one counted the death toll due to civic problems created by the wars (the loss of clean drinking water, health care and nutrition), the number would be much higher than that of direct war causalities.

According to James Kirkup's report in The Telegraph, “Afghan operations had cost UK taxpayers a total of £17.3 billion ($28 billion) on top of the core defense budget.” With a military engagement of 9500 troops, Britain lost 414 lives until early 2012. It was estimated in the UK that the war would cost it at least another £800 million ($1.2 billion) between 2012 and 2014. (Under severe economic pressure, France also decided to pull back 3,300 troops from Afghanistan.)

Independent estimates are different and according to a report by Richard Norton-Taylor, the war has cost Britain at least £37billion ($60 billion). That means more than £2,000 ($3,200) for every taxpaying household. By 2020, Britain will have spent at least £40 billion on its Afghan campaign, enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses and pay for them throughout their careers. It could fund free tuition for all students in British higher education for 10 years.


According to initial Canadian government cost estimation for Afghanistan engagement for the period 2001 to 2009, the cost of war was CAD $9 billion, however the CAD $5 billion was added up in the earlier estimated budget in March 2008 due to some equipment purchases. The independent estimates, according to the "Fiscal Impact of the Costs Incurred by the Government of Canada in support of the Mission in Afghanistan" the total cost of the conflict range as high as CAD $18.5 billion by 2011.

Pakistan's civil economy has suffered direct and indirect losses of up to $67.93 billion since 2001. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, "Pakistan's investment-to-GDP ratio has declined from 22.5 percent in 2006-07 to 13.4 per cent in 2010-11 with serious consequences for the job creating ability of the economy."

A research paper by Bruck Tillman and others (Tilman Bruck et al, "The economic cost of German participation in Afghanistan war," JPR, Sage Publications, India, May 2013), the German share of the net present value of the total costs of the war ranges from 26 billion Euro to 47 billion Euro. On an annual basis, it is estimated that the German participation in the war costs between 2.5 and 3 billion Euro.

Ian McPhedran, in his report says each soldier out of the 1,550 in Afghanistan is costing Australian taxpayers $1 million. By June 2013, the overall outlay for the Afghanistan campaign will reach more than $7.4 billion, including $1 billion for enhanced measures to better protect soldiers from roadside bombs and rocket attacks.

According to Krupnov, chairman of the Society for Friendship and Co-operation with Afghanistan, Russia would need $50 billion for accelerated industrialization in Afghanistan through 2020. According to Russian experts, the money is needed to launch pipeline transit projects from Turkmenistan to India and from Iran to India via Afghanistan, as well as for the electrification of the country.

Regarding multilateral aid, China has rendered financial aid of RMB 30 million ($5 million), as well as US $1 million, and would further provide Afghanistan with assistance of US $150 million.According to The People's Daily (UN), World Bank and Asian Development Bank estimated during 2001 that at least US $15 billion were needed for Afghanistan's reconstruction. US $10 billion was needed for the first five years alone. In this regard, Japan donated US $500 million, Iran promised US $560 million, Saudi Arabia US $220 million, and EU promised US $495 million.Japan, the second-largest donor of reconstruction and development aid to Afghanistan, is eyeing it for its economic engagement in Central Asia and Afghanistan. 

India, being fifth largest donor in Afghanistan, has contributed more than $2 billion for its development. India has already invested US $10.8 billion in Afghanistan as of 2012. More such projects are likely to come up after NATO's withdrawal. Ahead of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's June 2012 visit, according to NDTV, New Delhi cleared $100 million in aid for the third phase of the Small Developmental Projects for Afghanistan as part of its commitment on a $2 billion aid program. The SDPs (Small Development Projects) were earlier implemented in two phases. The first phase, in July 2006, was comprised of 50 projects worth $11,216,179, and the second phase in June 2008 was comprised of 51 projects worth $8,579,537.

Japan would further provide $117 million of direct assistance for development projects in Afghanistan; however, it has already contributed $400 million in the Afghan development initiatives by way of the various UN agencies. Japan is the second largest development donor in Afghanistan, as US stands first. Japan implemented approximately USD $1.6 billion of assistance before 2011.

Despite these initiatives, there is concern among Afghan civil society over the civil-aid deficit, which is based on the expenditure of development initiatives management. Because the key technical consultants, managers, and other assessment staff associated with the projects are employed by the country facilitating support, a large sum of financial reimbursement is sent back to the country supporting aid. According to the Richard Norton-Taylor's report this accounts for 40 percent of the total development aid.

Global Poverty Perspective of the War

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) report, Global Employment Trends 2012: Preventing a Deeper Jobs Crisis, the world faces the "urgent challenge" of creating 600 million productive jobs over the next decade in to generate sustainable growth and maintain social cohesion. The report mentions the global backlog of 200 million unemployed people and clearly indicates that by the next decade, another 400 million jobs will be required to couch human needs. The world faces the additional challenge of creating decent jobs for the estimated 900 million workers living with their families below the US $2 a day poverty line, mostly in developing countries. It mentions that 74.8 million youth aged 15-24 were unemployed in 2011 around the globe. Indicating the deteriorating world economy, it points out that since 2007, an increase of more than 4 million unemployed people was reported.

In an earlier report (Global Employment Trends 2011: The challenge of a jobs recovery), the ILO mentioned that equally unsettling is the outlook for youth unemployment, which the ILO categorizes as the number of people aged between 15 and 24 who are actively seeking work but unable to find it. There was a slight reduction in youth unemployment last year from 79.6 million to 77.7 million, but the jobless rate for the young still stands at 12.6 percent.  "In some countries, the outlook is even worse," it states. "Spain has youth unemployment of 40 percent, while young people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific are 4.7 times more likely to be unemployed as adults. One of the root causes of the revolution in Tunisia was the unrest caused by having a growing number of young people without jobs: the ILO estimates that in North Africa as a whole 'an alarming' 23.6 percent of economically active young people were unemployed in 2010."

A World Bank blog-report on South Asia mentions that over a million youth, which forms 21 percent of the population in Britain, are currently out of work. The 'arc of unemployment' cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world's young people live along this arc. South Asian unemployed youth form 31 percent of the global youth population, forming the largest percentage of unemployed youth in the developing world.

The Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 section of the ILO report mentions that the youth unemployment rate in North Africa is very high, at 23.7 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate for young women is even higher, at 37 percent, compared with 18.3 percent for young men in 2012. The outlook for the coming years remains bleak, with youth unemployment projected to remain close to 24 percent until 2018.

The North African region has by far the highest rate of working poverty, says the aforementioned ILO report, estimated at 40.1 percent in 2012 at the US $1.25 per day level, and working is a necessity for many young people. At the US $2 per day level, the working poverty rate rises to 64 percent; only South Asia has a working poverty rate at comparable levels (although the working poverty rate at the US $1.25 per day level is significantly lower in South Asia).

According to the fact sheet by The Hunger Project, the world has a population of 7 billion people and 870 million of those people face hunger. Approximately 98 percent of the world's undernourished people live in developing countries. China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh house 60 percent of the world poor.The region-wise populaces of malnutrition include 578 million in Asia and the Pacific; 239 million in Sub-Saharan Africa; and 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Approximately 60 percent out of them are women. Malnutrition is the key factor contributing to more than one-third of all global child deaths, resulting in 2.6 million deaths per year. Almost every five seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases.

According to a 2009 World Bank report on Central Asia, almost 30 percent of people in Central Asia and Europe either live in poverty or are at risk of living in poverty.It is speculated that approximately 5 million people fall further below the poverty line for every 1 percent decline in gross domestic product (GDP). Meanwhile, according to an Asian Development Bank regional MDG Report of 2011,  some 6 million people in Central Asia live in poverty, and recent United Nations predictions estimate that the number of people in Europe and Central Asia living on less than $1.25 per day increased by one million in 2009. It further says if high commodity prices persist, it is estimated that an additional 5.3 million people could slip into poverty (measured at $2.50 per day) because of higher food and fuel inflation, increasing the rate of extreme poverty from 5.5 to 6.7 percent over 2000 levels. According to the ILO's Word of the Work Report of 2011, in Central and South East Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, youth unemployment declined to 9.6 percent, after peaking in 2009 at 10.4 percent - the highest regional rate in the world.

Poverty in Canada has increased because of the recession in the post Afghanistan and Iraq war. During 2007-2009, the poverty rate in Canada had risen to 11.7 percent in 2009, an increase of over 900,000 Canadians compared to 2007. In her article, Poverty in Canada has increased as a result of the recession, published in Digital Journal on May 5, 2010, Stephanie Dearing writes, "The child poverty rate has likely risen to at least 12 percent, an increase of 160,000 children, compared to 2007. In October 2009, this meant 777,400 unemployed Canadians were not receiving benefits."

In the US, according to an RT web-site analysis, poverty is about to hit its highest level since 1965. It is predicted that by the end of 2014, poverty in the United States will be more prevalent than it was at the end of World War II. In 2010, the rate was 15.1 percent, meaning it would only need to increase by 0.1 per cent to surpass the worst that Americans have faced since 1965 - but this year, the poverty level is estimated to rise to 15.7 percent. The Poverty web site reports that the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds, which was 12 percent in 2004, had risen sharply from 15 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2009, and then reached 20 percent in 2010.

Social Watch (Novib, European union: unemployment and poverty, Social Watch, 1995) mentions that approximately 18 million people were unemployed in the European Union in 1994, comprising almost 11 percent of the total workforce on the continent. Meanwhile, the “unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK has become highest in the West at 22 percent.

According to a research paper by Jinjun Xue and others, published in AEJ, (Xue Jinjun, et al, Unemployment, poverty and income disparity in urban China, AEJ, 2003) the urban unemployment rate in China reached 11.6 percent in 1999 and was a major cause of urban poverty. China is facing a higher rate of urban poverty every year. Although poverty has decreased in China from 85 percent in 1981 to 13.1 percent in 2008, the income disparities have increased. In China, 172 million people live below the line of poverty.

Adele Horin of the Sydney Morning Herald writes that two million Australians - or one in 10 - live below the poverty line. Approximately 54 percent of unemployed adults cannot afford at least three essentials of life. These life essentials in the Australian perspective include appropriate housing, secure home life and dental heath.However, around 74 percent of people below the poverty line are from jobless households.

Even after huge international and multilateral development intervention in Afghanistan at the opportunity cost of the developed world's own population, 36 percent of the Afghans are unemployed and live below poverty line. This is due to short-sighted and ad-hoc intervention planning in which the realities of Afghanistan in itself and the broader interests of Afghan people were not associated with the international interests. According to 2006 Annual Report of UNICEF, the under-5 mortality rate is 257 in every 1,000 live births. An overall life expectancy is 43. The country has adult literacy of 28 percent, out of which the youth literacy ratio for males is 51 percent and for females is 18 percent. 

What Should Be Done?

There is a wide arena of inter- as well as intra-allies disagreements, contradictions, policy gaps, and governance as well as implementation fallouts. The solutions to the Afghan crises can only come out amid these gray areas and fallouts.

Pakistan has been the important cornerstone for the major fallouts in Afghanistan. While assessing Pakistan's destabilizing role in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, ISAF was correct in reaching the conclusions that Pakistan was behind almost every resistance in Afghanistan. General McChrystal's report in August 2009 linked all major Afghan insurgent groups to Pakistan and mentioned that senior leadership purportedly resided there and was connected to Al Qaeda. According to General McChrystal, elements within ISI supported these groups. Amid such a situation, Pakistan and the United States have undergone three years of antagonism (2009-2012), which caused blockage of the Torkham Gate border route, a route through which 25 percent of ISAF's non-lethal cargo was transported daily. By this, Pakistan wanted to assert its own strategic importance to the United States and other ISAF allies, and wanted to remind the world powers of their almost unavoidable dependency on Pakistan regarding Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the strategic plea of Pakistan was unrealistic and fallacious since Afghanistan could have also connected through Russia and Iran.     


Most of the opinion polls and surveys have been faulty readings of the people in Pakistan concerning their opinions towards the United States. Most of them had the technical faults in the demography of the respondent selection. A Gallup Survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 59 percent of all Pakistanis believed the United States posed the greatest threat, while only 11 percent thought the Taliban to be a risk. However, the material reality is different in that the majority of ethnic Sindhi, Siraiki, Baloch and Pashtuns of plain areas and desert areas actually dislike Taliban and have no particular contempt toward the United States.

Three things collide together in Afghanistan: the transition of power in Afghanistan, elections in Afghanistan, and negotiations with the Taliban. The transition essentially requires a broader cooperation among all parties; however, the destabilizing parties like Pakistan may want to take advantage of the vacuum. Although the policy of gradual withdrawal of ISAF is important, the most important concern is that there are chances for Taliban and their associated terrorists to seize the opportunity for making gradual inroads in a post-ISAF situation. The role of capability in the Afghan National Army and security system would be tested. 

According to Tim Sullivan's report "Indo-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan" in the Associated Press, the United States' backing of recent Kabul-Taliban talks and its openness to allowing some Taliban to join the Afghan government have led New Delhi to threaten forming a coalition with Iran, as well as Russia and Central Asian states who are averse to seeing the Taliban poised to takeover. 

The basic drawback of the situation is that the international community has given lesser importance to local capacity for governance over the last 11 years engagement in Afghanistan. If the affairs of Afghanistan had been of gradual self-rule since 2001-2002, the international forces would not have opted for such a failure-like endgame. Had there been an indigenously initiated and supported mechanism of an electoral system, there would not have been local support for the insurgency. Besides, the ethnic composition of the statehood in the multi-ethnic societies and the balance of power between central, provincial and local/tribal governance have always played the role of key importance in the fragile states like Afghanistan. The investment and strengthening of local governance in Afghanistan is a matter of prime importance in the post-2014 scenario. 

Once again, after ISAF withdrawal, Russia would be the loser, as most other parties would be following the United States. The situation will leave Russia alone to deal with the Taliban threat. In case of a Taliban return to power, drug trafficking and Islamist militancy in Central Asian states and Russia would destabilize ex-Soviet states and economies.  

The ISAF withdrawal and Afghan elections will occur in the same year. This strategic juncture will require elections that are more transparent so that the process of transition could further be strengthened. Moreover, the major task for Afghan people and engaged international communities is to carry on an appropriate state building process in which proportionate participation of all ethnicities is ensured. The inclusion of liberal Afghans in the new state is a condition that should not be compromised in any way. 

There is another and highly important viewpoint in the world, mostly voiced by the broader left, right, and anti-war activists. It is based on the basic notion that no country has a right to invade any other country on any pretext. According to Echech a la Guerre, based on principals, this school of thought professes that "The war in Afghanistan is not a just war; the invasion of Afghanistan was never authorized by the Security Council and cannot be justified by invoking self-defense."

Historically, the people surrounding Afghanistan's borders have been pushed toward so-called Islamism since the 1970s. A minority of armed or state-supported religious extremists have dominated the liberal, secular, and progressive view of the majority. The worst impacts of Talibanization have been especially present in the three liberal and secular majority provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa of Pakistan, the Xinhua province of China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, along with India and Bangladesh as well. In fact, Sindh, the only secular province of Pakistan, has suffered a lot regarding the events in Afghanistan.

The British invaded the sovereign and independent Sindh in 1843 because Tzar's Russia was invading Central Asia in a bid to finally invade Afghanistan for their access to the hot waters of the Indian Ocean through Sindh. Sindh is not a country today despite its hundreds of years of countryhood, and it has suffered extraordinarily from the demographics, resources, and gradual inroads of the Talibanization perspective. If Sindh becomes Talibanized, as desired by the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan establishment, the whole of South Asia would heavily feel the burns of the disaster of the radicalized Islamization. It is therefore imperative for the global community to take all necessary initiatives for quarantining, if not deleting, the epicenter of the terrorism virus in South Asia.

If such a noble task is achieved through the ISAF, through intervention and a strategically cohesive withdrawal, the possibility of new politics may begin in the region while minimizing chances of military dictatorships, as well as the dominance of security regimes on the civilian populations, especially in Pakistan. It could also broaden space for the still-surviving voice of a liberal, secular, and progressive majority.

It is important to focus on the intervention by the United Nations in such kinds of global interventions. The issue of Afghanistan has many aspects, but essentially, from the structural point of view, it is the issue of appropriate ethnic accommodation in the state field. A similar situation is also prevailing in Pakistan, where dominancy of ethnic Punjabi in association with an Urdu-speaking privileged community has perverted the society in name of Islamization so that Punjab may carry on its colonization of Sindh, Baluchistan, and to a certain extent, KP in Pakistan. In so many manners, if the chemistry of statecraft in Pakistan is not changed, the issue of Afghanistan will never get resolved.   

 The principle stance of antiwar activists is undoubtedly correct, however the Pandora's Box of the four-decade-long engagements with Afghanistan and Pakistan by the global community has torn apart the fabric of the sociopolitical ecology in the region enough that it needs a sustained settlement of the core issues. If the fate of Afghanistan is left solely to the regional counties, Afghanistan will never calm down. A global consensus over Afghanistan and surgical reforms in the Pakistani statehood is needed. The future of Afghanistan depends on the will of the Afghan majority as well as state-chemistry change in Pakistan. 

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Zulfiqar Shah

Shah is a Sindhi refugee journalist, activist and analyst currently staying in India. www.zulfiqarshah.com


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Afghanistan's Future Depends on Majority Will, Pakistan and World Cooperation

Sunday, 27 October 2013 10:26 By Zulfiqar Shah, Truthout | News Analysis

An Afghan army soldier keeps watch at a guard post near a brigade headquarters in Sangin, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2013. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)An Afghan army soldier keeps watch at a guard post near a brigade headquarters in Sangin, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2013. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

The "first world war on Afghanistan" began in 1979 and concluded in 1991, resulting in a decisive defeat of the then-Soviet Union. If seen in the context of people's history, almost 2.802 billion people suffered the direct, indirect and post-direct burns of the Afghan drama in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and India and later on, post 9/11, in the United States, UK and European Union. If the war and war-related expenditure by the international community in Afghanistan is roughly calculated, it would probably exceed $10 trillion.

Think the world needs an alternative to corporate media? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong.

Today, the world powers and "stakeholder states" are planning to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 in a hasty manner, which ultimately will unfold a new arena of global conflicts and complexities. The process of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force - NATO) withdrawal is the appropriate solution for sustainable power transformation to the Afghan government; however, the post-withdrawal strategy for the substantive peace, development, human security and statehood is the key toward everlasting sustenance of the Afghan sovereignty. Moreover, eventually sustenance comes only through the will and strengthening of leading role of the locals in the statecraft and counterterrorism. 

Briefing the Interests

The world has been after Afghanistan at least since the early 18th century because of its strategic location and resource abundance. Rich in minerals including copper, iron-ore, hydrocarbons, gold, lithium, granite, petroleum, natural gas and others, but landlocked amid high mountains with a harsh climate, the country is positioned in the middle of the geopolitical, geo-economic and therefore one of the most geostrategically-important regions of the world.

Afghanistan is the point of common action between and among the international interests like the United States, the UK, Canada, Germany, India, Russia, Australia, China and the Central Asian States. The country can connect Eurasia with the Middle East, South and East Asia, as well as vice versa. At the helm of such a geo-economic reality, Afghanistan has the potential to facilitate the distribution of many hounded energy resources to the global energy corporate sector and thereby, fulfill the energy requirements of world citizenry. The corporate sector of the world has become more globalized today; however, the consumers of the world have not been given the necessary space by the nation-states to become  world citizens. No doubt, the commoners of the world will one day also become world citizens in political-economic terms through the process of people's globalization, which is already underway, albeit with a slower evolutionary pace.  

If the monetary and financial expenditure of the first and second world wars in Afghanistan is compared with the global monetary requirement for eradicating poverty, terrorism, and death of opportunities for unemployed youth, it reveals the difference, and in many cases antagonism, between contemporary "states" and "statehood" in the contemporary world and the socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual requirements of the citizenry. The phenomena may be termed as "state-deception" when the "security" doctrines by the states conflict with the security opinion of their own citizenry. Thus, states in general today keep a security notion, which is often exclusionary of the people's broader socio-economic, cultural, and spiritual security perspective.

Every country has its own stakes in Afghanistan. Therefore, everyone wants the regional and global politics that tilt to serve their interests. This has become a genuine cause behind the non-consensus over an Afghan solution between and among almost all the countries and regional groups of  countries.  

On the other hand, Pakistan has been tossing the counterfeit coin of barbaric Taliban, whose interpretation of Islamic Shariah is of the dark ages, against the extraordinary Indian influence and role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Iran was, in fact, fine earlier with NATO forces toppling the Taliban because the Taliban, ethno-linguistically Af-Pak and bordering Pashtun and Punjabi, are upholders of militant salafism/wahabism and support the involvement in massacres of their Persian-speaking rivals, largely Shia Muslims having historical and cultural affinity with Iran. Taliban also killed more than a dozen Iranian diplomats. Besides, Taliban were supported through Arab-Punjabi nexus in the form of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia-Gulf States trio.

The approach of Iran toward NATO intervention changed later on when there emerged a diplomatic row between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear facility. Although the changing internal mode of Iranian polity, with particular focus on internal reforms and foreign policy softness, has created an opportunity for healthier US-Iran engagement. The friendly Iran-American relationship, in association with their already deeper engagement with India, may help support the Afghanistan, Central and South Asian peace spectrum as well as to a certain degree the Middle-East peace process based on an Israel-Palestine resolution. China and the United States are not on the same page on Afghanistan, as China has adopted a highly calculated approach toward Afghan affairs.

According to research by Sandra Destradi, Nadine Godehardt and Alexander Frank, the United States itself is increasingly focused on a region that is referred to as the "Greater Central Asia" or (especially) the idea of a "New Silk Route" initiative.  Reviving the old trade routes of the Silk Road has been central to the American discourse.

Canada wants an absolute withdrawal of troops in 2014. Germany and Turkey have been playing the role of catalyst in the engagements between conflicting interests, along with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, both of whom tow a pro-Taliban line. Amid all these conflicting interests, ISAF withdrawal of 2014 proves to be an issue of concern.   

Russia will have to keep a check on formidable economic rivals in Afghanistan like China, according to Monika Pawar, a research student in Delhi, India.

 The Costliest War of Our Time

According to the Afghan Study Group, Joseph Stiglitz, the recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, and Linda Bilmes, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, have said that the direct cost of the Afghan war for the US has already topped $600 billion. Ongoing military operations will bring that total to at least $700 billion through 2014.

According to the research project "Costs of War," by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, the final bill (of the Afghan war for the United States) will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion. The United States is projected to have 32,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of February 2013, and the US may keep as many as 8,000 to 10,000 troops in advisory and support roles in Afghanistan for some years beyond the withdrawal of combat forces after 2014. James Kirkup in The Telegraph, reports the United States has agreed to pay $2.6 billion per year through 2024 for the Afghan security forces.

According to a Reuters report, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq. An additional 365,000 have been wounded. However, it is assumed that if one counted the death toll due to civic problems created by the wars (the loss of clean drinking water, health care and nutrition), the number would be much higher than that of direct war causalities.

According to James Kirkup's report in The Telegraph, “Afghan operations had cost UK taxpayers a total of £17.3 billion ($28 billion) on top of the core defense budget.” With a military engagement of 9500 troops, Britain lost 414 lives until early 2012. It was estimated in the UK that the war would cost it at least another £800 million ($1.2 billion) between 2012 and 2014. (Under severe economic pressure, France also decided to pull back 3,300 troops from Afghanistan.)

Independent estimates are different and according to a report by Richard Norton-Taylor, the war has cost Britain at least £37billion ($60 billion). That means more than £2,000 ($3,200) for every taxpaying household. By 2020, Britain will have spent at least £40 billion on its Afghan campaign, enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses and pay for them throughout their careers. It could fund free tuition for all students in British higher education for 10 years.


According to initial Canadian government cost estimation for Afghanistan engagement for the period 2001 to 2009, the cost of war was CAD $9 billion, however the CAD $5 billion was added up in the earlier estimated budget in March 2008 due to some equipment purchases. The independent estimates, according to the "Fiscal Impact of the Costs Incurred by the Government of Canada in support of the Mission in Afghanistan" the total cost of the conflict range as high as CAD $18.5 billion by 2011.

Pakistan's civil economy has suffered direct and indirect losses of up to $67.93 billion since 2001. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, "Pakistan's investment-to-GDP ratio has declined from 22.5 percent in 2006-07 to 13.4 per cent in 2010-11 with serious consequences for the job creating ability of the economy."

A research paper by Bruck Tillman and others (Tilman Bruck et al, "The economic cost of German participation in Afghanistan war," JPR, Sage Publications, India, May 2013), the German share of the net present value of the total costs of the war ranges from 26 billion Euro to 47 billion Euro. On an annual basis, it is estimated that the German participation in the war costs between 2.5 and 3 billion Euro.

Ian McPhedran, in his report says each soldier out of the 1,550 in Afghanistan is costing Australian taxpayers $1 million. By June 2013, the overall outlay for the Afghanistan campaign will reach more than $7.4 billion, including $1 billion for enhanced measures to better protect soldiers from roadside bombs and rocket attacks.

According to Krupnov, chairman of the Society for Friendship and Co-operation with Afghanistan, Russia would need $50 billion for accelerated industrialization in Afghanistan through 2020. According to Russian experts, the money is needed to launch pipeline transit projects from Turkmenistan to India and from Iran to India via Afghanistan, as well as for the electrification of the country.

Regarding multilateral aid, China has rendered financial aid of RMB 30 million ($5 million), as well as US $1 million, and would further provide Afghanistan with assistance of US $150 million.According to The People's Daily (UN), World Bank and Asian Development Bank estimated during 2001 that at least US $15 billion were needed for Afghanistan's reconstruction. US $10 billion was needed for the first five years alone. In this regard, Japan donated US $500 million, Iran promised US $560 million, Saudi Arabia US $220 million, and EU promised US $495 million.Japan, the second-largest donor of reconstruction and development aid to Afghanistan, is eyeing it for its economic engagement in Central Asia and Afghanistan. 

India, being fifth largest donor in Afghanistan, has contributed more than $2 billion for its development. India has already invested US $10.8 billion in Afghanistan as of 2012. More such projects are likely to come up after NATO's withdrawal. Ahead of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's June 2012 visit, according to NDTV, New Delhi cleared $100 million in aid for the third phase of the Small Developmental Projects for Afghanistan as part of its commitment on a $2 billion aid program. The SDPs (Small Development Projects) were earlier implemented in two phases. The first phase, in July 2006, was comprised of 50 projects worth $11,216,179, and the second phase in June 2008 was comprised of 51 projects worth $8,579,537.

Japan would further provide $117 million of direct assistance for development projects in Afghanistan; however, it has already contributed $400 million in the Afghan development initiatives by way of the various UN agencies. Japan is the second largest development donor in Afghanistan, as US stands first. Japan implemented approximately USD $1.6 billion of assistance before 2011.

Despite these initiatives, there is concern among Afghan civil society over the civil-aid deficit, which is based on the expenditure of development initiatives management. Because the key technical consultants, managers, and other assessment staff associated with the projects are employed by the country facilitating support, a large sum of financial reimbursement is sent back to the country supporting aid. According to the Richard Norton-Taylor's report this accounts for 40 percent of the total development aid.

Global Poverty Perspective of the War

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) report, Global Employment Trends 2012: Preventing a Deeper Jobs Crisis, the world faces the "urgent challenge" of creating 600 million productive jobs over the next decade in to generate sustainable growth and maintain social cohesion. The report mentions the global backlog of 200 million unemployed people and clearly indicates that by the next decade, another 400 million jobs will be required to couch human needs. The world faces the additional challenge of creating decent jobs for the estimated 900 million workers living with their families below the US $2 a day poverty line, mostly in developing countries. It mentions that 74.8 million youth aged 15-24 were unemployed in 2011 around the globe. Indicating the deteriorating world economy, it points out that since 2007, an increase of more than 4 million unemployed people was reported.

In an earlier report (Global Employment Trends 2011: The challenge of a jobs recovery), the ILO mentioned that equally unsettling is the outlook for youth unemployment, which the ILO categorizes as the number of people aged between 15 and 24 who are actively seeking work but unable to find it. There was a slight reduction in youth unemployment last year from 79.6 million to 77.7 million, but the jobless rate for the young still stands at 12.6 percent.  "In some countries, the outlook is even worse," it states. "Spain has youth unemployment of 40 percent, while young people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific are 4.7 times more likely to be unemployed as adults. One of the root causes of the revolution in Tunisia was the unrest caused by having a growing number of young people without jobs: the ILO estimates that in North Africa as a whole 'an alarming' 23.6 percent of economically active young people were unemployed in 2010."

A World Bank blog-report on South Asia mentions that over a million youth, which forms 21 percent of the population in Britain, are currently out of work. The 'arc of unemployment' cuts across southern Europe through the Middle East to South Asia. Almost half of the world's young people live along this arc. South Asian unemployed youth form 31 percent of the global youth population, forming the largest percentage of unemployed youth in the developing world.

The Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 section of the ILO report mentions that the youth unemployment rate in North Africa is very high, at 23.7 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate for young women is even higher, at 37 percent, compared with 18.3 percent for young men in 2012. The outlook for the coming years remains bleak, with youth unemployment projected to remain close to 24 percent until 2018.

The North African region has by far the highest rate of working poverty, says the aforementioned ILO report, estimated at 40.1 percent in 2012 at the US $1.25 per day level, and working is a necessity for many young people. At the US $2 per day level, the working poverty rate rises to 64 percent; only South Asia has a working poverty rate at comparable levels (although the working poverty rate at the US $1.25 per day level is significantly lower in South Asia).

According to the fact sheet by The Hunger Project, the world has a population of 7 billion people and 870 million of those people face hunger. Approximately 98 percent of the world's undernourished people live in developing countries. China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh house 60 percent of the world poor.The region-wise populaces of malnutrition include 578 million in Asia and the Pacific; 239 million in Sub-Saharan Africa; and 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Approximately 60 percent out of them are women. Malnutrition is the key factor contributing to more than one-third of all global child deaths, resulting in 2.6 million deaths per year. Almost every five seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases.

According to a 2009 World Bank report on Central Asia, almost 30 percent of people in Central Asia and Europe either live in poverty or are at risk of living in poverty.It is speculated that approximately 5 million people fall further below the poverty line for every 1 percent decline in gross domestic product (GDP). Meanwhile, according to an Asian Development Bank regional MDG Report of 2011,  some 6 million people in Central Asia live in poverty, and recent United Nations predictions estimate that the number of people in Europe and Central Asia living on less than $1.25 per day increased by one million in 2009. It further says if high commodity prices persist, it is estimated that an additional 5.3 million people could slip into poverty (measured at $2.50 per day) because of higher food and fuel inflation, increasing the rate of extreme poverty from 5.5 to 6.7 percent over 2000 levels. According to the ILO's Word of the Work Report of 2011, in Central and South East Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, youth unemployment declined to 9.6 percent, after peaking in 2009 at 10.4 percent - the highest regional rate in the world.

Poverty in Canada has increased because of the recession in the post Afghanistan and Iraq war. During 2007-2009, the poverty rate in Canada had risen to 11.7 percent in 2009, an increase of over 900,000 Canadians compared to 2007. In her article, Poverty in Canada has increased as a result of the recession, published in Digital Journal on May 5, 2010, Stephanie Dearing writes, "The child poverty rate has likely risen to at least 12 percent, an increase of 160,000 children, compared to 2007. In October 2009, this meant 777,400 unemployed Canadians were not receiving benefits."

In the US, according to an RT web-site analysis, poverty is about to hit its highest level since 1965. It is predicted that by the end of 2014, poverty in the United States will be more prevalent than it was at the end of World War II. In 2010, the rate was 15.1 percent, meaning it would only need to increase by 0.1 per cent to surpass the worst that Americans have faced since 1965 - but this year, the poverty level is estimated to rise to 15.7 percent. The Poverty web site reports that the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds, which was 12 percent in 2004, had risen sharply from 15 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2009, and then reached 20 percent in 2010.

Social Watch (Novib, European union: unemployment and poverty, Social Watch, 1995) mentions that approximately 18 million people were unemployed in the European Union in 1994, comprising almost 11 percent of the total workforce on the continent. Meanwhile, the “unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK has become highest in the West at 22 percent.

According to a research paper by Jinjun Xue and others, published in AEJ, (Xue Jinjun, et al, Unemployment, poverty and income disparity in urban China, AEJ, 2003) the urban unemployment rate in China reached 11.6 percent in 1999 and was a major cause of urban poverty. China is facing a higher rate of urban poverty every year. Although poverty has decreased in China from 85 percent in 1981 to 13.1 percent in 2008, the income disparities have increased. In China, 172 million people live below the line of poverty.

Adele Horin of the Sydney Morning Herald writes that two million Australians - or one in 10 - live below the poverty line. Approximately 54 percent of unemployed adults cannot afford at least three essentials of life. These life essentials in the Australian perspective include appropriate housing, secure home life and dental heath.However, around 74 percent of people below the poverty line are from jobless households.

Even after huge international and multilateral development intervention in Afghanistan at the opportunity cost of the developed world's own population, 36 percent of the Afghans are unemployed and live below poverty line. This is due to short-sighted and ad-hoc intervention planning in which the realities of Afghanistan in itself and the broader interests of Afghan people were not associated with the international interests. According to 2006 Annual Report of UNICEF, the under-5 mortality rate is 257 in every 1,000 live births. An overall life expectancy is 43. The country has adult literacy of 28 percent, out of which the youth literacy ratio for males is 51 percent and for females is 18 percent. 

What Should Be Done?

There is a wide arena of inter- as well as intra-allies disagreements, contradictions, policy gaps, and governance as well as implementation fallouts. The solutions to the Afghan crises can only come out amid these gray areas and fallouts.

Pakistan has been the important cornerstone for the major fallouts in Afghanistan. While assessing Pakistan's destabilizing role in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, ISAF was correct in reaching the conclusions that Pakistan was behind almost every resistance in Afghanistan. General McChrystal's report in August 2009 linked all major Afghan insurgent groups to Pakistan and mentioned that senior leadership purportedly resided there and was connected to Al Qaeda. According to General McChrystal, elements within ISI supported these groups. Amid such a situation, Pakistan and the United States have undergone three years of antagonism (2009-2012), which caused blockage of the Torkham Gate border route, a route through which 25 percent of ISAF's non-lethal cargo was transported daily. By this, Pakistan wanted to assert its own strategic importance to the United States and other ISAF allies, and wanted to remind the world powers of their almost unavoidable dependency on Pakistan regarding Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the strategic plea of Pakistan was unrealistic and fallacious since Afghanistan could have also connected through Russia and Iran.     


Most of the opinion polls and surveys have been faulty readings of the people in Pakistan concerning their opinions towards the United States. Most of them had the technical faults in the demography of the respondent selection. A Gallup Survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 59 percent of all Pakistanis believed the United States posed the greatest threat, while only 11 percent thought the Taliban to be a risk. However, the material reality is different in that the majority of ethnic Sindhi, Siraiki, Baloch and Pashtuns of plain areas and desert areas actually dislike Taliban and have no particular contempt toward the United States.

Three things collide together in Afghanistan: the transition of power in Afghanistan, elections in Afghanistan, and negotiations with the Taliban. The transition essentially requires a broader cooperation among all parties; however, the destabilizing parties like Pakistan may want to take advantage of the vacuum. Although the policy of gradual withdrawal of ISAF is important, the most important concern is that there are chances for Taliban and their associated terrorists to seize the opportunity for making gradual inroads in a post-ISAF situation. The role of capability in the Afghan National Army and security system would be tested. 

According to Tim Sullivan's report "Indo-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan" in the Associated Press, the United States' backing of recent Kabul-Taliban talks and its openness to allowing some Taliban to join the Afghan government have led New Delhi to threaten forming a coalition with Iran, as well as Russia and Central Asian states who are averse to seeing the Taliban poised to takeover. 

The basic drawback of the situation is that the international community has given lesser importance to local capacity for governance over the last 11 years engagement in Afghanistan. If the affairs of Afghanistan had been of gradual self-rule since 2001-2002, the international forces would not have opted for such a failure-like endgame. Had there been an indigenously initiated and supported mechanism of an electoral system, there would not have been local support for the insurgency. Besides, the ethnic composition of the statehood in the multi-ethnic societies and the balance of power between central, provincial and local/tribal governance have always played the role of key importance in the fragile states like Afghanistan. The investment and strengthening of local governance in Afghanistan is a matter of prime importance in the post-2014 scenario. 

Once again, after ISAF withdrawal, Russia would be the loser, as most other parties would be following the United States. The situation will leave Russia alone to deal with the Taliban threat. In case of a Taliban return to power, drug trafficking and Islamist militancy in Central Asian states and Russia would destabilize ex-Soviet states and economies.  

The ISAF withdrawal and Afghan elections will occur in the same year. This strategic juncture will require elections that are more transparent so that the process of transition could further be strengthened. Moreover, the major task for Afghan people and engaged international communities is to carry on an appropriate state building process in which proportionate participation of all ethnicities is ensured. The inclusion of liberal Afghans in the new state is a condition that should not be compromised in any way. 

There is another and highly important viewpoint in the world, mostly voiced by the broader left, right, and anti-war activists. It is based on the basic notion that no country has a right to invade any other country on any pretext. According to Echech a la Guerre, based on principals, this school of thought professes that "The war in Afghanistan is not a just war; the invasion of Afghanistan was never authorized by the Security Council and cannot be justified by invoking self-defense."

Historically, the people surrounding Afghanistan's borders have been pushed toward so-called Islamism since the 1970s. A minority of armed or state-supported religious extremists have dominated the liberal, secular, and progressive view of the majority. The worst impacts of Talibanization have been especially present in the three liberal and secular majority provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa of Pakistan, the Xinhua province of China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, along with India and Bangladesh as well. In fact, Sindh, the only secular province of Pakistan, has suffered a lot regarding the events in Afghanistan.

The British invaded the sovereign and independent Sindh in 1843 because Tzar's Russia was invading Central Asia in a bid to finally invade Afghanistan for their access to the hot waters of the Indian Ocean through Sindh. Sindh is not a country today despite its hundreds of years of countryhood, and it has suffered extraordinarily from the demographics, resources, and gradual inroads of the Talibanization perspective. If Sindh becomes Talibanized, as desired by the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan establishment, the whole of South Asia would heavily feel the burns of the disaster of the radicalized Islamization. It is therefore imperative for the global community to take all necessary initiatives for quarantining, if not deleting, the epicenter of the terrorism virus in South Asia.

If such a noble task is achieved through the ISAF, through intervention and a strategically cohesive withdrawal, the possibility of new politics may begin in the region while minimizing chances of military dictatorships, as well as the dominance of security regimes on the civilian populations, especially in Pakistan. It could also broaden space for the still-surviving voice of a liberal, secular, and progressive majority.

It is important to focus on the intervention by the United Nations in such kinds of global interventions. The issue of Afghanistan has many aspects, but essentially, from the structural point of view, it is the issue of appropriate ethnic accommodation in the state field. A similar situation is also prevailing in Pakistan, where dominancy of ethnic Punjabi in association with an Urdu-speaking privileged community has perverted the society in name of Islamization so that Punjab may carry on its colonization of Sindh, Baluchistan, and to a certain extent, KP in Pakistan. In so many manners, if the chemistry of statecraft in Pakistan is not changed, the issue of Afghanistan will never get resolved.   

 The principle stance of antiwar activists is undoubtedly correct, however the Pandora's Box of the four-decade-long engagements with Afghanistan and Pakistan by the global community has torn apart the fabric of the sociopolitical ecology in the region enough that it needs a sustained settlement of the core issues. If the fate of Afghanistan is left solely to the regional counties, Afghanistan will never calm down. A global consensus over Afghanistan and surgical reforms in the Pakistani statehood is needed. The future of Afghanistan depends on the will of the Afghan majority as well as state-chemistry change in Pakistan. 

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Zulfiqar Shah

Shah is a Sindhi refugee journalist, activist and analyst currently staying in India. www.zulfiqarshah.com


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