Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked country of 27 million people located in Central Asia, between Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The current Afghani government was selected and installed by the United States and its NATO allies. Several flawed elections have been conducted to give it the appearance of legitimacy. Today the country is an economic and social basket case. Government spending accounts for 57% of the entire (non-opium) Gross Domestic Product. A large proportion of that government spending is devoted to security, although that hasn't succeeded in defeating the Taliban insurgency in the south and southeast. All but 8% of its government budget is funded by international aid donors. The only other major souces of foreign exchange in the economy come from opium growing, remittances from Afghanis living abroad and the smuggling of other commodities across the country. Having 40% of the female primary school age population actually enrolled in school is deemed a success, although in many rural areas female enrollment in schools and female literacy is almost entirely absent. More attention to fixing Afghanistan after 2002 rather than launching a new war in Iraq would have been wise but wisdom is not what one finds in the second Bush administration.
In 1980, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to support a communist government in Kabul that was threatened by Islamic fundamentalists angry at the regime's social reforms: land reform, education for girls, ending child marriage, etc. The Soviets were eventually defeated by Islamist rebels supported by the American CIA, the Pakistani ISI and Islamic "charities" in the oil states of the Persian Gulf. The CIA and ISI recruited tens of thousands of Arab Islamist partisans from other countries to train and fight in Afghanistan. These "Arab Afghans" become the nucleus of Al-Qaeda.
The various Islamist rebel militias fell out among themselves even before they had defeated the the last Afghani communists. A collection of Pashtun, Uzbek, and Tajik nationalists, together with Arab Islamists from the Gulf States, most of the militias were led by vicious tribal warlords and fanatical jihadists. When the Soviet Red Army left, they were replaced by local warlords, who were in turn replaced in turn by the Taliban, a blood-thirsty group that enforced a puritanical Salaffi form of Sunni Islam. The Taliban regime was supported by Al-Qaeda while seiziing power and naturally agreed to continue providing support and bases for that organization as it expanded its jihad worldwide.
In May 2001, the United States gave $43 million to the Taliban regime because it forbade the growing of opium. (Source: House of Bush, House of Saud, by Craig Unger, p.231)
In 2002, the Taliban were driven out of Kabul by a combination of U.S. aerial bombardment, support for the Northern League Islamist militias and bribing Pashtun warlords to defect from the Taliban. Unfortunately, the war drags on. The strategy of the second Bush administration in Afghanistan allowed senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders to escape across the border into northern Pakistan during the Battle of Tora Bora. Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks and Mullah Omar, leader of Taliban, are still at large. Rather than devote the resouces necessary to defeat them miltiarily, the second Bush administraion moved on to the war its senior decisison-makers had really wanted to fight: Iraq. Today the Taliban are still able to wage guerrilla attacks across southern and eastern Afghanistan.
As of early 2006, the national government has held three "free" elections, and introduced some reforms, but it has very little authority outside of the capital, Kabul. The capital and some northern parts of the country are patrolled by the NATO-run International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has about 9000 European troops. During the summer of 2006, another 8000 troops will arrive to extend their mission into five southern provinces. The more unsettled parts of the country, in the south and along the Pakistani frontier, are patrolled by US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, with about 19,000 troops; this will decrease to 16,500 as the NATO troops arrive. Starting on August 1, 2006, all these troops will come under NATO command.
Security is detiorating throughout the country. Human Rights Watch published a report in July 2006, that Taliban attacks have closed hundreds of schools in the region (HRW report), especially schools for girls. The Taliban have been joined in these attacks by local warlords who want to drive out any government interference in their areas and protect the poppy crop.
Last year's opium production was 52% of GDP, and this year's crop is even larger.
The United States cut its development assistance in half in 2006, to $622 million. That did not change things much for most Afghanis because much of the foreign aid given to the country is spent on projects where it can siphoned off into the pockets of foreign, especially American, contractors or corrupt Afghani officials.
Safia Ama Jan, a teacher and provincial director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, was assassinated by the Taliban outside her home in Khandahar on Sept. 26, 2006.
Incredibly, on Jan. 7, 2007, the U.S. Army announced that an infantry battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan will be withdrawn within weeks in order to deploy to Iraq. This withdrawl is happening at the same time that NATO's commanding general is asking other countries to commit more troops to Afghanistan. Later that month, the US announced that it planned to spend an additional $10 billion on reconstruction; in addition to the $14 billion that has been spent since the invasion.
The current "duly elected" government of Afghanistan is threatned because it has failed to win much legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Afghanis. Like other Afghani elites, Karzai government officials devote themselves to rent seeking, whether by siphoning off money and goods given in foreign aid, extracting bribes from ordinary Afghanis, or participating in the opium and heroin trade. ordinary Afghanis would tolerate all this if the country were making economic and social progress. To date however the only thing moving forward in economic development is road building by the U.S. miltiary. The new roads only make it easier to move raw opium to processing facilities buthardly counts as a decent economic development strategy. The second Bush adminsitration is responsible for breaking trust with the Afghani masses, promising them much and delivering very little.
The Karzai government has exhibited so much corruption and incompetence that Afghanis are turning once again to the Taliban. Given that the second Bush admisnitration has been wiling to see a Salafi Sunni islamist government take power in Somalia would it bother to conduct yet another invasion and install yet another pupprt government? The ugly reality is the U.S. and the world will now pay a high price because the neo-conservatives setting U.S. foreign policy didn't bother to finish the job of nation-building and economic development in Afghanistan. Their goal was to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq. As a consequence the U.S. is faced with not one but two quagmires in the Middle East.
Compromise with the Taliban?
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said that "the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government". (Source: International Herald Tribune, October 2, 2006)
Major Ethnic Groups
- Pathan or Pashtun
- Hazzara (Persian speaking Shi'a)
- Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander by Gary Berntsen, ISBN 0307237400.
- John Cooley. 1999, 2000, 2002. Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terror. Pluto Press. ISBN 0745319173.
- Robert Dreyfus. 2005. Devils Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Henry Holt. ISBN 0805076522.
- Hussain Haqqani. 2005. Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ISBN 0870032143.
- Ann Jones. March 2006. Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. Metropolitan Books. ISBN 080507843.
- Owen Bennett Jones. 2002, 2003. Pakistan: Eye of the Storm. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300101473.
- Jonathan S. Landay. "For GIs, Pursuit of Taliban 'Like Chasing Ghosts'; Fighters' Tactics Mirror Iraqi Counterparts." Knight Ridder. August 21, 2005.
- Ahmed Rashid. 2000. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press. 0300089023.
- World Bank. "Afghanistan, Managing Public Finances for Development." Report No. 34582-AF. December 22, 2005.
- "A Geographical Expression in Search of a State", The Economist, July 8, 2006.
- Afghanistan's Uncertain Transitions - a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, by Barnett R. Rubin, April 2006.
- How a ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad, by DAVID ROHDE and DAVID E. SANGER, New York Times, August 12, 2007.
- NATO troops in Afghanistan by country