Afghanistan: Sans Master Plan
BUMBLING, WITHOUT WAY OUT?
By Monish Tourangbam
Research Scholar, School of International Studies (JNU)
New Delhi, July 16 : Afghanistan is set to get $16 b in civilian aid over the next four years, pledged by world leaders and various international organisations at a donor conference held in Tokyo recently. This aid is over $4.1b in military assistance to the armed forces agreed by NATO leaders in Chicago May last.
This follows the World Bank’s noting, “international experience and Afghanistan’s own history show that an abrupt cut-off in aid can lead to fiscal crisis, loss of control over the security sector, collapse of political authority, and possibly civil war.” The latest Asian Development Bank outlook also states the planned foreign troop pullout by 2014 might lower growth by at least 2-3 percentage points.
True, the process of handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan national force is already underway in many provinces amidst prevalent security concerns. Major aid donors want to ensure that a semblance of stability and security is in place before NATO-led international forces transfer combat command to Afghan forces by mid-2013 followed by withdrawal of combat troops by 2014 end; after which only training units would remain.
Importantly, donor countries are hugely concerned about endemic corruption whereby Afghanistan in just before Myanmar in Transparency International’s 2011 “Corruption Perceptions Index.” Predictably, the reconstruction and development funds come with new conditions and framework of accountability to fight corruption in the country. These include, money being withheld if the benchmarks for improving governance and finance management are not met, safeguarding the democratic process, rule of law and human rights of women.
Notwithstanding, training of Afghan forces, uncertainties and doubts abound regarding Afghanistan, post NATO forces withdrawal. Even as the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) size has considerably increased over the last 18-24 months, it continues to be plagued by poor training and organisational weaknesses.
Add to this, Western countries facing economic recession and a public backlash at home, want to decrease their continuing commitment to the Afghan theatre. But at the same time realise, Afghanistan cannot be left in the lurch and concerns regarding its future and impact in the region and beyond have made them look for an elusive “master plan”.
Indeed, long years of civil war and the consequent lack of security have killed business opportunities thereby keeping the Afghan economy heavily reliant on international development and military assistance. The strategic partnership that the US signed with Afghanistan ensures that Washington would continue to support the process of reconstruction and development, post the withdrawal along-with the recent status of “major non-NATO ally” given to Afghanistan, a way to assuage fears of losing Western support too soon.
Pertinently, India has pledged $2b civilian aid in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The projects cover a wide spectrum from infrastructure to capacity building. New Delhi now envisions the private sector playing a vital role in the strife-torn country’s economic development to usher in a positive shift in the way Afghanistan is perceived and how Afghans see their future.
Undeniably, seen as a major economy, India is viewed as possessing all the necessary attributes that could help Afghan business ventures start-ups and sustain them. At the ‘Heart of Asia’ Ministerial summit held in Kabul this June, participating countries agreed to initiate eight Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with identified lead members responsible for their implementation. India would lead in Chambers of Commerce CBM and the Commercial Opportunities CBM.
Towards that end, the Government in partnership with Afghanistan’s Government and the Confederation of Indian Industry organised the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan recently. Besides Government leaders, over 270 private sector firms from both countries and others participated. The effort was to emphasise the economic dimension of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, and tone down voices of suspicion and fears among other regional stakeholders worried about New Delhi’s influence in the region.
Notably, Afghan entrepreneurs want to ensure that their businesses develop strong foundations to be able to tolerate the strategic changes sweeping across the country in the wake of the Western forces’ pullout. The businesses sustainability, especially small and medium scale is crucial for the development of a self-reliant Afghanistan. In fact, infrastructure, telecommunications and financial and business services have grown but apprehensions linger regarding crucial security and sustained investment issues.
Asserted, Foreign Minister Krishna, “Military interventions and foreign aid are to a large extent influenced by public opinion and prevailing economic conditions. We need something more enduring, something based on self-interest rather than generosity that can move the country towards greater self-reliance and inter-dependence.”
Interestingly, Afghanistan’s mineral deposits are a potential source of major investments. Whereby, Indian companies have won an over $10 billion deal to mine iron ores. Moreover, Afghanistan is strategically located to serve as major corridor for trans-border trade, thus putting a premium on its stability and security.
Towards that end, Washington is now concentrating on a new active role for India in Afghanistan. No matter, its earlier aversion to New Delhi playing an overt role there. Primarily because it did not want to annoy its ‘War on Terror’ ally Pakistan. With Washington-Islamabad ties worsening, the US has softened its stand on India’s Afghanistan policy.
Undoubtedly, New Delhi must use US’s changed strategy to build our economic and civilian ties keeping in mind our strategic and security interest with Afghanistan for Indian businesses to function effectively in consort with its Afghani counterparts. Specially, post the withdrawal of the NATO-led forces. With India training Afghan forces New Delhi’s security ties would gain momentum.
Simultaneously New Delhi must concentrate on talking to the Taliban. Given that it would, in some form or the other, be a part of Afghanistan’s political future. Thus, an understanding of the Taliban as a political entity is imperative. So far, knowledge about it is scant. Compounding India’s problems, talks with certain factions of the terror outfit have failed to yield results. Further, New Delhi is clueless about Taliban’s Doha office.
Making matters worse, Afghanistan has no ‘Master Plan’ in place, only a comprehensive strategy wherein different components of conflict resolution and post conflict development complement each other. Whether this is enough and will make headway, remains to be seen. —– INFA
(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)