The Afghan Reconciliation by lanyuehua


									  The Afghan Reconciliation
        An assessment by a member of the Afghan
                                           Noorolhaq Olomi

                                            A work shop on:

               The Prospects for Security and Political Reconciliation in Afghanistan:
                           Local, National, and Regional Dimensions
                                 17-18 February 2010, Boston, USA

Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts, the Compton Foundation, and the Belfer
Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, with assistance
from the Center on International Cooperation and United States Institute of Peace.

                                                   For comments on this paper, please contact Nafi Olomi
                                                                               on behalf of the author at:
                                                                    or phone number +93(0)700303439
Table of Contents

  1. Initial Assessment ............................................................................................................................ 2
  2. Political Settlement .......................................................................................................................... 5
  3. Reconciliation Process/ Strategy ..................................................................................................... 7
  4. Military and Reconciliation .............................................................................................................. 9
  5. Political Economy of the Afghan Conflict....................................................................................... 10
              a. Poverty & Unemployment ................................................................................................ 10
              b. Narcotics ........................................................................................................................... 11
              c. Corruption & lucrative Contracts ...................................................................................... 11
              d. Pipeline Routes ................................................................................................................. 12
              e. Trans-Boundary Water Issue............................................................................................ 13
  6. Population Support ........................................................................................................................ 14
  7. The Future ...................................................................................................................................... 16

1. Initial Assessment:

Geography plays a vital role in shaping human life and relations all over the globe. But one may
hardly find a nation with a population affected by its geography to an extent as in Afghanistan.
Internally, its harsh and distinct mountainous terrains play a predominant role separating
communities from one another and thus limiting social interaction among its diverse ethnicities
and tribes. While on the other hand, its sensitive location as a critical crossroad in Asia has
always been a major factor in shaping its complex external political, economic and social
interaction with the rest of the world, especially with its neighbors. Hence, Afghanistan’s
geographic characteristics, throughout its history until today, have always posed serious
obstacles for Afghans to develop Afghanistan into an independent international entity.

Afghans have always had internal violent conflicts over politics and power; and there have
always been dire external interests in its domestic affairs. Throughout the history, Afghanistan
has always been the center of geo-strategic and geo-political calculations for both regional and
world powers. In the early nineteenth century Great Game, Afghanistan was the center for
British and Russian imperial struggle in which Afghanistan’s location served as a buffer zone
separating the two empires. After the Great Game and a short period of relative peace,
Afghanistan then became the center of the twentieth century Cold War that turned the country
into a hot proxy battle field for the ideological and power competitions of the Soviet Union and
the United States. The answer to the question – whether it is the Afghan internal conflict or
external manipulation that has played the most fundamental role in the country’s troubled history
– remains unclear.
The current Afghan war is a lot more complicated than those of the past; its internal and external
dynamics are multiple, complex and intertwined. Internally, various conflicting armed and
unarmed groups and elements – with a long history of war – are fighting and competing for
political and economic power with serious ethnic, tribal and religious divisions and
considerations. This struggle exists on all levels of the Afghan society; local, provincial and
national and are immensely linked each reinforcing the other.
In the heart of this political, economic, ethnic and tribal power struggle, there is a third element
that makes the current Afghan war further unique and complex; religious extremism. The Afghan
Taliban are the main armed opposition group against the Afghan government and its
international allies. Their organizational setting is highly secret and complex; since their removal
from power after 9/11, many sub-groups under various local leaderships has sprang up within
their organizational setting following various goals and objectives. However, mainly, their goal
is a radical Islamic state system in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from
Afghanistan. Their motivations are local and not international jihad; nevertheless, there are
certain individuals and groups that have close links with international terrorist networks such as
al-Qaeda and some Pakistani based religious extremist groups.
It is crucial to understand that a large portion of the Taliban, like other insurgents, have local
political, economic, religious, ethnic and tribal motivations. This is the segment that is closely
linked to the overall political power struggle and dispute in the country. It is significantly
important to note that some elements in the current Afghan government are using their

insurgency to reinforce their own political agendas by either rejecting or systematically
supporting their activities. This is one reason why the Afghan government has constantly failed
to come up with a united, clear and strategic approach for achieving a political settlement with
the Taliban over the past eight years.
In brief, the internal Afghan political arena has two main categories of the so called ‘legitimate’
and ‘illegitimate’ players/actors: the constitutionally approved political parties including the
Afghan government and the unconstitutional, so called, terrorist Taliban armed groups. Each of
these two categories have numerous conflicting parties, groups and powerful individuals all
following various politically and economically motivated local agendas and are divided along
ethnic and tribal lines. This multiplicity of ‘legitimate’ actors and their influence over the Karzai
administration on the issue of dealing with the Taliban insurgency is what makes the Afghan
internal conflict further complicated. In other words, there is a serious lack of a united
understanding among the legitimate of what can be an effective approach to fight or reconcile
with the illegitimate armed insurgents.
The other serious complication of the Afghan matter is its external dimension and dynamics.
Knowing this complication requires the right understanding of all the external players, their
motivations and links with the various actors of the Afghan political arena. A simple explanation
would be that, today, the main external actor in Afghanistan is the international community; their
concern is to help Afghans defeat al-Qaeda and radical Taliban cells; and their purpose is
enhanced homeland security. The second main external player is regional state powers; they too
share the international community’s objective of fighting international terrorism.
And third is al-Qaeda whose goal is a radical religious agenda for the world. For al-Qaeda,
Afghanistan is a great proxy battle field to engage in an open fight with those nations that it can’t
reach for such a fight in their own soils. Afghanistan brings many state armies into a geographic
setting conducive for al-Qaeda type militant operations; thus, Afghanistan can be titled as an
alternative battle field for international terrorist organizations. The question whether al-Qaeda is
really present in Afghanistan or not? They are not on the Afghan soil; they are in Pakistan with
an open border with Afghanistan which means they can come in attack and go back to their safe
havens on the other side of the border. This is even worse than having them in Afghanistan.
The reality of the international and regional motivations in Afghanistan is extremely complex in
nature. Individual state actors within both the international and regional communities have
specific other political, economic and social interests in Afghanistan. In short, due to its sensitive
geographic location in the region, Afghanistan is increasingly becoming an area of geo-political
and geo-strategic calculations for many states in the international system; it is no longer only a
frontline in the war against al-Qaeda; but is also an area of great power competition for various
regional and international players.
The main characteristic of this geo-political and geo-strategic competition is similar to that of the
early nineteenth century Great Game; many are already calling it the “New Great Game”. A
number of regional powers have high concerns over the political and military presence of the
United States and its international allies in Afghanistan and the region as whole. Their
complicated and unclear policies and politics on Afghanistan and fading willingness to honestly
support the United State’s fight against terrorism in Afghanistan highly indicates a lack of trust
between the two sides. It is almost evident that regional powers perceive the United State’s

presence in Afghanistan as a political and military maneuver to strategically manage key
powerful states in the region in order to counter act their world and regional power aspirations.
In the current international order, the only states that can pose serious threats to United State’s
status as the only world super power are located in some how close vicinity of Afghanistan who
may never accept the US influence in the region.
This geo-strategic power competition is not only between the international alliances led by the
United States on one side and regional states on the other side; regional powers too are engaged
in a serious regional power struggle over Afghanistan and the region.
It is significantly important to note that Pakistan is a key factor for fighting religious extremism;
Pakistan has a long history of using religious militants to expand its regional power. Since its
inception as an independent state, religious militants have been at the fore front of its military
and political strategy on the Kashmiri conflict with India. Pakistan has always strictly regarded
Afghanistan as a critical area within the sphere of its influence; and thus sees the international
community in Afghanistan against its regional power interests.
There are clear signs indicating that Pakistan’s lack of interest in honestly fighting the Taliban is
due to their belief of the international community not being able to remain in Afghanistan for
long. Pakistan deeply believes that Taliban can still be brought back to power to rule Afghanistan
the way it wants. Afghanistan is in the depth of Pakistan’s strategy for regional politics/ power
and will always remain there.
The complexity of both internal Afghan conflict and its relationship to the external regional and
international political dynamics is a lot more complicated that what has been captured in this
paper. Understanding the current Afghan conflict as a war only against terrorism is misleading. It
is extremely important to know that al-Qaeda and Taliban are operating in an exceedingly
complex inter-state political dispute over Afghanistan and the region. This inter-state dispute and
the internal Afghan problems provide perfect conditions for al-Qaeda to manipulate the situation
in its best interest. In other words, al-Qaeda perfectly enjoys external dispute over Afghanistan
because it prevents the states from truly uniting in the fight against terrorism and stability in

The current failure in fighting terrorism raises serious questions as to why the international
community with its thousands of armed forces and billions of dollars, so far, failed to defeat al-
Qaeda and Taliban’s growing insurgency in Afghanistan. The answer to the question is complex
but simple as well; there has been serious lack of regional commitment to support the
international community’s War on Terror. This commitment is missing simply because there is
political dispute among all the involved states that have significant political interests in
Afghanistan and the region. This now brings up another critical question: Is terrorism becoming
a tool for achieving state interests; or, is al-Qaeda and its networks a kind of state sponsored

This is a highly controversial question; al-Qaeda is an independent terrorist organization with a
clear radical religious agenda for the world; thus it can’t, under any circumstances, be affiliated

with any state in the international system. But in the Afghanistan case, Taliban are increasingly
showing signs of being affiliated with a number of states in the region that are seriously against
the international community’s intervention and progress in Afghanistan. This is a unique
opportunity for al-Qaeda to use the Afghan Taliban and their links with regional powers as great
tool for achieving their interests. Therefore, for a lasting stability in Afghanistan, the
international community must clearly make a distinction between Taliban and al-Qaeda and
should deal with the two differently.

This is not to say that Taliban are entirely separate from al-Qaeda; there are certain elements
within the Taliban structure that do follow al-Qaeda’s international radical religious agendas.
Hence, there is also a need to differentiate between those Taliban that have international security
implications and those that only have internal political motivations and are operating only within
the internal framework of the Afghan conflict.

For the sake of clarity, this paper terms these categories as the radical and non radical Taliban
groups; the radicals are those that have close ties with al-Qaeda and thus have international
security implications; and the non-radical, are those that only have national motivations and thus
only have an impact on the Afghan national security. However, it is important to note that the
link between the two does have an impact on the international security because the non-radicals,
somehow, do support al-Qaeda’s international agenda by disrupting the international
community’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Any strategy for a lasting security and stability; be it military or political settlement, is bound to
fail in Afghanistan, should it fall short on addressing both internal and external complexity of the
current Afghan matter simultaneously. As far as political settlement is concerned in this
discussion, it is important to note whether this settlement should come from within Afghanistan
or should it come from outside? Obviously, it should be the Afghans to reconcile on their
disputes and unite to create an independent and stable Afghanistan; but, given the current
political, social and economic constraints of the country, how feasible can this be; is hard to
measure. In addition to its internal complexity, Afghanistan’s immense association with regional
and international politics makes it even further harder to achieve an internal solution for the
current Afghan war.

Political solution in Afghanistan thus requires commitment on all levels of the Afghan
war/conflict; local, national, regional and international. A settlement is only possible with a
comprehensive national reconciliation strategy with the right internal and external political will
and commitment for a lasting peace and stability in country. This strategy must address concerns
and interests of the entire stakeholders in the Afghan matter. It is important to note that, radical
extremist elements of the Afghan war with international agendas are a stakeholder that is
irreconcilable and should be fought with various military and non-military means until they are

Will there be the right actor to create this strategy with the right commitment on all levels and
resources for its accurate execution? Only time can answer this question, as to who will be this
actor; will this actor be an Afghan government or any other political organization, the
international community or a regional power, remains unclear. Finally, a critical question that
follows is what factors are need to be created whereby such a strategy can be developed and
agreed by all internal and external forces of the Afghan conflict.

2. Political Settlement in Afghanistan:

As the insurgency grows, the insurgents spread uncontrolled between the Afghan-Pakistani
borders and the region as whole; military operations prove ineffective with the absence of a
political settlement in Afghanistan. The insurgents are increasingly showing more resilience and
the current Afghan administration is showing critical signs of being unable to control their anti
government operations.

The future is unclear; it is hard for the Afghan people to see where the Taliban insurgency is
moving to and what the future will be. Will they come back to power or will they be defeated is
what ordinary Afghans don’t know. However, continued and ever growing insurgency has
already made some believe that Taliban can indeed come back to power in Afghanistan, just
because people are losing trust in the Afghan government and the international community. It is
good to know that this factor has been captured in the recent COMISAF’s initial assessment
report by General Stanely A. McChrystal, US Army Commander in Afghanistan:

           “The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for
           granted. Although considerable efforts and sacrifices have resulted in some progress,
           many indicators suggest that overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient
           and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans – in both
           their government and the international community – that undermines our credibility and
           emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes
           Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”

However, General McChrystal’s report is right that “[s]uccess is achievable, but it will not be
attained simply by trying harder or “doubling down” on the previous strategy.” He is very right
to recommend an urgent change in the strategy and the way things have been carried out in the
past. He has stressed a lot on gaining the population support through protecting the people from
both “resilient insurgency and a crisis of confidence in the government and the international

To achieve the support of the people, it is very critical to note that the Afghan Taliban insurgents
are part of the Afghan population; they can’t be excluded. Fighting the Afghan Taliban means

    COMISAF’s initial assessment, 2009, (p1-1)

fighting their families and communities to which they belong. Therefore, to gain the support of
the population, it is very important on how to deal with this issue; a true well planed and
comprehensive political settlement program/ strategy is what that can help achieve this goal.

Karzai’s increased enthusiasm for a political settlement is a good sign of hope and the
international community’s support for reconciliation is a great step forward for security and
stability in Afghanistan. However, Karzai’s increased interest for reconciliation comes at a
wrong time. His government and the international community must realize that this growing
interest for reconciliation can be taken as a sign of weakness by the insurgents and thus may
actually exacerbate tension rather than to promote a settlement.

It is not to say that reconciliation at this stage is not possible; but, is to reiterate the significance
of addressing reconciliation with a strong stand on the Afghan constitution and counter terrorism
objectives of the state and the international community. Only those groups can be included in the
reconciliation process that accept the Afghan constitution and have no radical religious national
or international agendas.

A true reconciliation in Afghanistan is possible; if it is based on:

       the right understanding of the Afghan war, its actors and their motivations; both internal
        and external and what links them;
       addressing both regional and international security implications and political dynamics;
       the right political will and commitment for a true Afghan reconciliation among key
        internal and external players;
       a clear strategy and criteria to distinguish between reconcilable and irreconcilable
        elements of the insurgency; otherwise, reconciliation will risk being lost for larger scale
        considerations of international security concerns and regional politics;
       a systematic economic reintegration of the reconciled; reconciliation without
        reintegration and reintegration without reconciliation is meaningless;
       people’s support and trust in the process; and
       an honest, dedicated and capable Afghan government with the right committed for a
        national reconciliation without any agenda for keeping certain individuals or groups in

The Afghan government plays the central role in ensuring all of the above. To achieve these
factors, the Afghan administration has to be firmly committed for a true settlement with the
elements of the current insurgency, regardless of its political agenda for remaining in power. It
must also be able to create an environment of trust to attract the Taliban for joining the process.
In general, the Afghan administration, through effective governance, must provide all the
necessary political, economic and social conditions whereby all Afghans can unite under a
national reconciliation agenda.

In order to achieve regional and international backing for its internal reconciliation, the Afghan
state must identify and advocate on areas of common political, economic and security interests of
key international and regional powers involved in Afghanistan. Afghanistan can be transformed
from an area of international and regional geo-strategic struggle into an area of economic
interaction between the west and southeast/ central Asia, only if the Afghan government has the
right commitment and capacity to undertake this with a strategic balanced regional and
international political diplomacy.

3. Reconciliation process/ strategy:
It is important to note that the integrity of the process of any political settlement is as crucial to
the stability in Afghanistan as the need for a political settlement itself. Without an integrated
comprehensive national strategy with clear criteria and objectives, the process is bound to be lost
as to who should be included or excluded from the process. The strategy must entail and address
all the local, national, regional and international implications of any political settlement in

The terms and conditions of such a strategy must be based on a common definition and
understanding of the ‘Afghan political settlement’ among all the national, regional and
international stakeholders of the Afghan conflict. The strategy should make a clear distinction
between reconcilable and irreconcilable elements of the insurgency and must present distinct
approaches to deal with the two differently. The methods and means of dealing with the two with
an objective of reaching a sustainable political settlement in Afghanistan should be agreed up on
by all the relevant stakeholders who undertake the reconciliation process.

A comprehensive and strategic criterion for selected the reconcilable and irreconcilable elements
must be agreed up on between the Afghan government and the international community; this
agreement should also have regional endorsement/ backing. These criteria should allow for
reconciliation with all those insurgency elements that have internal political, social and economic
motivations for the Afghan conflict; and should clearly identify the characteristics of those
elements that are irreconcilable. The irreconcilable must only be those groups and individuals, in
the insurgency, that have international radical religious agendas and are closely linked with al-
Qaeda. There should be distinct and strategically selected methods and tools to deal with the two
effectively and in parallel.

For the reconcilable, it is the time to negotiate and reach an agreement with them; this should
have actually been the case right after 9/11 and the international community’s intervention in
Afghanistan. The last eight years of continuous harsh military operations have had a dire impact
on these elements; these operations played a significant role in pushing the reconcilable into the
hands of irreconcilable insurgents. However, it is never late; they can still be reversed and
brought back to a convenient political engagement with the international community and the
Afghan administration.

It is the sole responsibility of the Afghan government to reconcile with this segment of the
insurgency and to convince the international community for the required international and
regional backing. To achieve this goal, the government must approach this part of the insurgents
with a strong commitment for national reconciliation and not with a political agenda. With the
right commitment and a well planed reconciliation and reintegration program this program can
succeed in Afghanistan.

Whether the reconcilable insurgents are ready for negotiation or not? The answer is, yes they are.
In fact, these are elements that have long been waiting for an effective and honest reconciliation
and reintegration process in the country. In most cases, they have had no choice but to join the

There are countless cases whereby many former Afghan Taliban members have been forced by
corrupt local security forces to leave their homes and live in Pakistan. While on the other hand,
there are credible reports on Pakistani intelligence ISI systematically identifying these Afghans
and giving them two choices: go back to fight in Afghanistan; or be imprisoned in Pakistan.
These are the insurgents that can easily be drawn into a political settlement, only if there is the
right program and commitment to secure their trust; otherwise, these will continue to be at the
disposal of the irreconcilable radical internal and external terrorist networks.

4. Military and Reconciliation:
For the irreconcilable elements of the insurgency, it is important to understand that no matter
whether the international community and the Afghan government is ready to negotiate with them
or not, they will not talk and it is the same for the international community as well. So now what
is needed to counter act their audacious activities? The answer is straight forward; they have to
be fought until they are defeated. The question that follows is how to fight them effectively? And
most importantly based on the Afghan context, how to differentiate between the reconcilable and
the irreconcilable and how to fight the radical without causing damage to the non-radical, given
the fact of them being so closely intertwined?

There is no military tactic or equipment that can draw this fine distinction in the battle field;
however, this distinction can be made with a set of careful and systematic joint political, military
and intelligence initiatives. Military operations and political reconciliation efforts must
complement each other in order to defeat the radical and reconcile with the non-radical. In other
words, political reconciliation must work on identifying the linkages between the two and try to
weaken them in order to undermine cooperation between the two sides. While, military
operations must strategically pin point and target key radical elements that are trying to sabotage
the reconciliation process for their agendas.

Achieving this objective is simply not possible with the current large scale and uncoordinated
military operations that are taking place in Afghanistan. With the present political and military
capacity of the Afghan government and the complexity of international assistance due to

multiplicity of actors, it is nearly impossible for the current Afghan administration, fraught with
corruption, to achieve this level of precise military and political coordination among all the

Widespread corruption of the Afghan government is a serious obstacle for any positive progress
in the country. It has robustly hindered development and civilian efforts of the international
community in Afghanistan. Thus, it is significantly important to counteract this phenomenon;
and understand how much it endangers political settlement and revives insurgency. An effective,
capable and honest national Afghan government for a political settlement is must. The success of
the international community in Afghanistan is subject to an honest and dedicated national
Afghan government.

Now the question is how to have and create an effective Afghan government? This is a lengthy
discussion; but to cut it short, it is to have the right people with the right commitment and
resources in the administration. Starting with the Bonn process, right after the 9/11, the
international community failed to bring the right Afghan leaders around that table to decide on
the right destiny for the Afghan people. This does not mean undermining the complexity and
urgency of the matters at that time.

However, there were many opportunities afterwards whereby the international community could
systematically press harder for bringing committed Afghan leader into the Afghan
administration. The international community provided Afghans with enormous resources but
because the Afghan government did not have the required institutional capacity and
commitment, unfortunately a large part of those resources are wasted and has reinforced
corruption in the country to an unprecedented level in the country.

Continued military operations can have dire impacts on the success of any proposed political
resolution, if not carried out in a way that corresponds well to efforts of political settlement.
However, military operations are needed in Afghanistan; but, as mentioned earlier, military
operations should be very precise in targeting only those insurgents that are a serious obstacle for
reconciliation in Afghanistan.

It is a fact that human causalities and military presence irritate local Afghans. It is evident that it
creates more sympathizers among locals for the armed opposition groups. War causes more
insurgents and more vulnerability of local leaders and groups to external manipulation for
countering the interests of the NATO and international military presence in Afghanistan. This
factor has to be seriously considered and the international community should try hard to get
closer to the population.

5. Political Economy of the Afghan Conflict:
The economic motivations of the Afghan conflict are quite high and complicated; they exist on
all levels of the conflict: local, national and regional with international dimensions. These

motivations differ across the levels; but are immensely interconnected. Some of the key
economically related sources that fuel the Afghan conflict are: poverty and large scale
unemployment; narcotics; corruption and international lucrative contracts; and Afghanistan’s
location as route for lucrative gas and oil pipeline from central Asia.

In addition to these factors, Afghanistan’s flow of rivers into the neighboring Pakistan, Iran and
some central Asian countries is another main source of fueling the Afghan conflict. All of these
countries directly benefit from the Afghan conflict. With an ongoing conflict Afghanistan will
never be able to have a controlled trans- boundary water management mechanism.

        a. Poverty & Unemployment:
Poverty and unemployment is a great source of recruitment for the Taliban insurgency. In the
rural areas, especially those of the southeast region, continuous combat operations have seriously
diluted local economic activities that have resulted in large scale unemployment. Afghanistan
has a large number of young populations who, due to war, are unable to engage in either
education or economic activities. Most families have either left their homes to larger cities in the
country or have left the country to live mainly in neighboring Pakistan. This has created an
outstanding opportunity for the Taliban to recruit disparate Afghan young men with very little
financial compensation. In many cases, young Afghan men simply join the Taliban for shelter
and food alone; and to use the Taliban power as a tool to extract resources form the villagers
under the name of support for jihad.

Thus Taliban insurgency is indeed an illicit source of income for many poor Afghan young men
who will not support any reconciliation on a grassroots level, if not provided with an alternative
economic solution. Government has seriously failed to absorb these individuals and provide
them with alternative livelihoods. While insecurity has entirely halted access to these areas by
international aid organizations, these individuals have no other substitute but to join the

        b. Narcotics:
Rampant poppy cultivation and drug production is one of the key economic dimensions of the
current Afghan conflict. Insurgency is the main source of security for poppy cultivation and
production in the country. Taliban insurgency does not allow government or its international
allies to conduct counter narcotic operations in the areas of active insurgency. Taliban
insurgency also provides security for both in country and outside drug transportation.

However, poppy cultivation is not an internal economic factor for the Afghans alone; it is not the
poor Afghan farmer that makes the real profit; they barely mange to maintain their survival
needs by farming this illicit crop. The actual profit goes step by step higher and higher starting
from local village level traffickers to district, provincial, national, regional and international level
drug traffickers/distributors. Farmers are producers while small local traffickers are facilitators
for an organized circle of national, regional and international drug trafficking. This circle is

directly involved in the Afghan war; they are members of the Taliban, the Afghan government
and states in the region and the world.

Unfortunately, international market demand for narcotics is rapidly growing; it is one of the
largest lucrative illicit businesses in the world. To fulfill the requirement of such a large demand,
there is obviously a need for large production. Opium production is obviously not possible in
developed counties; thus, war-torn counties like Afghanistan, with its suitable environment for
opium cultivation provides a perfect setting for such a production. Drug traffickers play a
significant role in fueling the Afghan conflict for their economic interests; and thus they are
indeed a critical stakeholder in the Afghan political settlement. A conflict free Afghanistan with
a strong national state will automatically have an impact on reducing poppy production in the
country which is obviously against the interest of the drug mafia. Achieving any political
settlement in Afghanistan will extremely be hard without a comprehensive strategy on taking
Afghanistan out of the hands of this regional and international drug mafia.

       c. Corruption & Lucrative Contracts:
High level of corruption is one of the main characteristics in conflict driven countries like
Afghanistan. Corrupt government officials greatly benefit from the chaos created by violence
and insurgency. Thus, any political resolution that can end the conflict and its associated chaos is
extremely against the interests of these officials that hold key state positions. In Afghanistan, this
is exactly the case; many of the Afghan government officials are involved in high level
corruption and are thus not inclined to support a political settlement.

The international community injected billions of dollars into Afghanistan without assessing and
evaluating the Afghan public and private institutional capacity for appropriate utilization of these
funds. This has resulted in wide spread corruption on all levels of the Afghan government to an
unprecedented extent in the Afghan history. Economic liberalization and market based economy
has seriously backfired in Afghanistan; lack of government capacity and commitment in
formulating and executing the necessary laws and principle of a free market economic system
has resulted in plunder of large sums of money by some Afghan officials in partnership with
some foreign corporations and firms such as private security firms and construction companies
who received large security and construction contracts from the international community.

The illicit benefits of these contracts have also reached Taliban members; for instance, there are
credible reports on some security firms and construction companies paying large sums of money
to Taliban for securing road constructions sites and or securing safe passage for fuel and other
logistical supplies of both national and foreign army bases. Nearly all of these companies are
owned by close relatives of ministers or higher government officials and have foreign
counterparts. In other worlds, corruption in Afghanistan funds both sides in the war with the
resources provided by the international community.

On local level, corrupt government officials directly benefit for the Afghan conflict on various
natures. For instance, starting with the Afghan security forces, arrest and detentions of alleged
Taliban members in rural areas with high level of insurgency is a great source of bribery for
ANSF, especially for the ANP. Many local police chiefs arrest alleged Taliban members and
later release them in return for large sums of money. This is happening on a large scale in
southeastern region of the country.

In addition, corruption is closely linked with drug trafficking each reinforcing the other; while,
both together systematically foster conflict in one way or the other. Corruption is a critical factor
in most of the current problems in Afghanistan which needs to be tackled. A political settlement
that can end the conflict and bring law and order to the country is neither in the interest of
corrupt government officials nor the drug traffickers. Thus, it is significantly important for any
political settlement to effectively contain corruption in order to mitigate its dire impacts on a
national reconciliation initiative.

        d. Pipeline Routes:
Afghanistan provides an excellent route for a number of rewarding oil and gas pipelines from
central Asia to some states in south Asia who are in dire need of the vast natural gas and oil
reserves of central Asia. Central Asia currently has the world’s largest natural energy resources
and is a land locked region. Roughly, sixty percent of its borders are with Russia and China; the
remaining 40 percent are 5% with Azerbaijan; 20 percent with Iran and 15 percent with
Afghanistan. Russia has long been the main access route for central Asian oil and gas pipelines
into Europe; it is still strictly watching for any potential pipeline that may go out of the region.
China as well has very high interests in the central Asian energy resources and already has a
pipeline from Kazakhstan.

Apart from Russia and China, central Asian has three other possible pipeline routes namely
Azerbaijan, Iran and Afghanistan. Russia and Iran has enormous influence over Azerbaijan and
thus controls any possible pipeline deals through this country. Now there is only Iran and
Afghanistan left as potential alternative pipelines over which Russia and China don’t have much
influence. Iran is an independent player with some Russian influence in the pipeline politics.

It is only war-torn Afghanistan that is now left as a potential pipeline route with no independent
say in the pipeline politics and is thus subject to foreign manipulation for this economic prize.
For instance, Iran is the main competitor of Afghanistan; it is increasingly trying to sabotage any
pipeline project from central Asia that may pass Afghanistan into south Asia. Continuous
conflict and insecurity is a serious obstacle for any pipeline project through Afghanistan which
may finally allow Iran as an alternative to the Afghan route

However, it is not only Iran that is involved in this pipeline politics in the region; the current
international and United State’s presence in Afghanistan is also seen as military and political
maneuver for central Asian energy control by many regional states, especially China and Russia.

Many regional states have critical interests in the continuation of the Afghan conflict for this
specific economic reason; thus it is imperative for any political solution to address this issue
because a settlement in Afghanistan will automatically put at risk the pipeline interests of many
states in the region.

       e. Trans-Boundary Water Issues:

Afghan waters are another key source of regional economic interest in the Afghan conflict.
Afghanistan has three main rivers with enormous volume of water that flows to Iran in the west;
Pakistan in the east and central Asia in the north. This issue has seriously been neglected in the
current Afghan politics. There are credible reports on the involvement of some key Afghan
leadership figures in an illicit economic deal with Iran and Pakistan for not raising this issue.

Afghanistan is a mountainous country that has great potential for hydraulic water dams that is
beneficial both in terms of water catchment for agriculture as well as power generation. These
water dams can be built in accordance to international water treaties allowing for a legal amount
of water to flow into the neighboring countries and retaining what is the legal right of
Afghanistan. But, years of war have prevented Afghanistan to implement such a project with a
clear trans-border water management system.

It is highly important to understand the role of the Afghan waters in fostering conflict between
Afghanistan and its neighbors; this inter-state water conflict has, in fact, caused many security
issues on a local level in Afghan border areas with Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. There are
several reports on Iran’s involvement in attacking the Salma dam that is currently being built on
the river in western Afghanistan that is flowing into Iran.

6. Population Support:

Afghans are famous for defeating foreign troops on their soil to an extent that contemporary
academics and journalists call it “the graveyard of empires”. This is a wrong mentality and has
serious negative impact on the current international community’s presence and success in
Afghanistan. If the international community is to win people’s heart and mind, this perception
has to be addressed among both the Afghan population and the international community.

It is true that Afghans have bravely fought every foreign invader which is admirable and should
be respected. For the current, international community intervention, it is of a vital significance
that both the Afghan state and the international community effectively advocate among ordinary
Afghans on the goals and objective of the current international presence in Afghanistan so that
Afghans can differentiate between a foreign invasion and cooperation. Afghans must realize how
vital it is for Afghanistan to be an integrated part of the international community; the
international community must also know and advocate for the role that Afghanistan can play in
regional and international economic and security cooperation. In other words, both sides must
trust that a true cooperation is indeed possible between Afghanistan and the international

community. This understanding can significantly improve the current fading relationship
between Afghans and the international community to a larger extent.

How can this perception be changed? The Afghan people after decades of war and brutal Taliban
regime were extremely supportive of the immediate post 9/11 international community
intervention in Afghanistan led by the United States. In fact, many Afghans believed that this
was the end of their long misery and turmoil; a lot was promised by the international community
and the Afghan people simultaneously expected enormous positive changes in their lives.

 However, unfortunately, high Afghan expectations and the failure of the international
community to deliver on their promises – in the following years after the 9/11 – has resulted in a
slow but sure decline of the population trust in the international community’s intentions in

Taliban have been removed from power; but their insurgency is ever growing with dire impacts
on the lives of the ordinary Afghans; in other words, political instability and insurgency
continuously increases and exacerbates. Economically, the international community, especially
the United States, have poured enormous amounts of money into Afghanistan without ensuring
the right institutional capacity in the country for proper utilization of the international assistance.
This factor has created rampant corruption in the country to an extent unprecedented in the
country’s history. It is of a significant importance to note that Afghans equally suffer from both
the insurgents and the Afghan government.

The international community’s failures have had dire impacted on the Afghans; this wrong
perception of Afghanistan being the ‘graveyard of empires’ has been reinforced. Afghans are
pushed to believe the no foreign state/ power can or want to bring the stability and peace that
they initially claim with their intervention in Afghanistan. This has indeed created a kind of
resentment among Afghans against all foreign troops in the country.

Finally, it is important to understand that it is not purely an Afghans willingness to turn
Afghanistan into a grim and harsh place for foreigners; in fact, it is the behavior and attitude of
the foreigners themselves that have made Afghans hostile and extremely sensitive against any
foreign intervention in the country, be it for good or bad. Afghans don’t have a good past
experience with foreign invasions; none of them brought any positive change to the country,
instead they destroyed what Afghans have painstakingly acquired for a better life.

Security concerns of the foreign troops in the country are understandable; foreign troops are
indeed facing a challenging environment of complex IEDs, VBIEDs and suicide insurgent
attacks. Civilian causalities in any war are a hard military challenge; in the Afghanistan case, it is
perfectly understandable that it is hard to mitigate this challenge entirely. But, it must be kept
within a minimal range, if the international community is to win the heart and minds of the
Afghan population.

The international community must radically change its approach and strategy in Afghanistan; the
Afghan war can’t be won by more military and more armored equipments. More military means
more violence and more violence means more hatred and disgust. The Afghan people are tired of
fighting and are more than any other time ready to cooperate with an effective honest
international intervention for a lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Will the international
community be able to create that sort of a trusted environment for an effective Afghan
cooperation with the international community? Yes they will be, only if they shift from only
fighting the insurgents to addressing the basic human needs of the Afghan people as well.

It is not to say that the international community has not done much to address peoples’
development needs; but is to say that there is still more focus on military than addressing the
needs of the population. Afghanistan still remains one of the poorest countries in the world
despite billion of dollars of aid that it received.

The main challenge for the international community in Afghanistan is that of brining security
and development into the country in order to ensure population support. The complexity of the
matter is which of the two comes first: development or security? Both are fundamental in gaining
the population support and should be addressed simultaneously. The practice in Afghanistan, so
far, has failed to achieve significant tangible positive changes in the lives of ordinary Afghans,
both interns of security and development.

7. The Future:

The situation in Afghanistan is complex and volatile; however, success is still possible, if there is
the right determination, commitment and trust among the Afghan people and the international
community. President Obama’s strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda
and prevent their return to Afghanistan is only achievable with a true support of the Afghan
people for a brighter peaceful future in the country.

For the international community, gaining the trust of the Afghan people is subject to an effective
and honest Afghan administration. The Afghan government is the face of the international
community for Afghans. The main problem of the Afghan people is corruption and lack of
effective governance. The growing Taliban insurgency is not due to their increased power, it is
due to the Afghan administration’s increased deficiency.

The international community spends billions of dollars in Afghanistan and sacrifices its soldiers
to defeat al-Qaeda; but serious corruption and ineffective Afghan governance strongly
undermine what the international community achieves in the country. For instance, coalition
troops conduct numerous military operations to remove Taliban forces from areas across the
country but just within weeks the Taliban are back. Why is this? It is simply because the
international community wins the fight but the Afghan government fails to effectively administer

these areas after the fight. In other words, the international community brings the initial security
by fighting the Taliban but the Afghan government is unable to maintain it.

Sustained security will not be achieved, no matter how hard the international community fights
the Taliban, if there is not an effective Afghan administration to provide the necessary
administrative services that can maintain and build on it. With current Afghan administration,
this cycle of internationals troop bringing security and the Afghan government ruining it will
continue taking billions of dollars and lives of many for no solid outcome at the end. It is a
vicious cycle that needs to stop evolving immediately in order to save lives and resources. The
Afghan government must understand the sacrifices of the international community and must
soon improve to be an effective national partner to sustain and maintain what the international
community brings to this country with their lives and money.

Without security it is nearly impossible to achieve progress and development on any front, be it
political, economic or social. Thus, any political settlement with the Taliban and other insurgents
will be subject to failure, should the Afghan government remain ineffective in maintaining
security as it is now. This inability of the Afghan government has already reinforced the
Taliban’s moral; they now know that foreign troops will win the military operations but the
Afghan government will not be able to maintain that success. With this mentality, it will be very
hard to reach to a political settlement with the Taliban. It is the Afghan weak governance that is,
indeed, pushing the Taliban into the hands of radical external religious groups such as al-Qaeda
and others in the region that further supports them for revived insurgency.

While effective governance is fundamental in resolving the Afghan internal problem; to address
the external dimensions, the following two preconditions are proposed for an internal settlement:

      An international and regional political commitment and will for a true peace and stability
       in Afghanistan;

In the absence of regional commitment and political will for a settlement in Afghanistan, the
following is proposed:

      A true Afghan partnership with key international actors to strengthen the Afghan internal
       political and military capacity in order to firmly observe and secure its borders to prevent
       any regional manipulation in the national reconciliation process.

And a precondition for both of the above is:

      An honest, capable and effective Afghan government with the right dedication and
       commitment for a settlement irrespective of any political agenda for keeping certain
       groups or individuals in power that is able to gain the required population support
       through providing adequate security and economic services to a good number of the
       general population;

The first precondition is unlikely to be achieved simply because of the political dispute among
some key regional and international powers over the Afghan matter for geo-strategic and geo-
political reasons. The second is more feasible; but is highly dependent on the Afghan internal
dedication and commitment for peace and stability to achieve the required international
commitment and backing for such a strategy and approach. It is important to note that both are
nearly impossible for Afghans to achieve without a strong long term commitment of key
international actors. International actors should provide the necessary initial conditions for
Afghans to build on in order to gain an effective national government.

A political settlement without either both regional and international cooperation or international
backing alone with a strong internal commitment and dedication is unlikely to be achieved.

I strongly believe that a committed national Afghan government with the right political will and
capacity can indeed acquire the necessary political and economic backing of key international
actors for an integrated reconciliation. Achieving this goal is possible with an effective political
diplomacy that can create and advocate for critical long term common political, economic and
social cooperation of Afghanistan with key international players.

The current failure of the United States and its international allies in Afghanistan strongly
indicates that there is a serious lack of trust between the Afghans and the international
community. For gaining this trust, the two sides, especially the United States and Afghanistan,
have to identify areas of long term security, political, social and economic cooperation and truly
believe in a long term strategic cooperation between the two nations.


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