Afghanistan: Outcome of 2007
Afghanistan.ru - 7.1.2008
Victor Korgun (Photo: afghanistan.ru)
By Victor Korgun, Head of the Afghanistan sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, author of dozens of publications on Afghanistan, worked in Afghanistan for along time.
Internal political situation has continued to worsen in Afghanistan in 2007, and this is basically confirmed by the growing activity of Taliban and al-Qaeda, sharp rise in drug production and trafficking, wide spread corruption, slow rate of the country’s economic revival, high unemployment and outstanding issue of refugees.
The activity of key political institutions has been quite ineffective in the outgoing year. Parliament spent much of its time to pass a draft law on amnesty for war criminals of the past years. The document also concerns many MPs, who were field commanders in the past and committed crimes in fighting against the Soviet forces (1979-1989) and during the civil war (1989-2001). It provoked a mixed reaction in the country and this had prompted President Hamid Karzai to draft a compromised version of the document that provides for granting the victims of the crimes the right to institute legal proceedings against culprits. Nevertheless, the President has not signed the document into a law yet.
The Afghan parliament spent a significant time period in its attempt to sack Akbar Akbar as Minister for Refugee Affairs and Rangin Dadfar Spanta as Foreign Minister who were accused of failing to stop forced deportation of Afghan refugees from Iran. However, President Karzai could defend the Foreign Minister at the Supreme Court.
Afghanistan’s political structure has been supplemented by another opposition organization. The United National Front of Afghanistan was founded on the 13th of March. It embraces 14 parties and is headed by the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The front compromises of various politicians from Islamic conservators to former communists. A task of the front is to make amendments to the constitution to transform the presidential system into parliamentary rule.
The Afghan economy has continued to grow in 2007 and the growth has been 13%, while in the previous year it was 8%. The gross domestic product has grown from $6.7 billion in 2005 up to $7.6 billion in the next year. The growth of national revenue has proved to be significant and consisted of $355 per capita. This figure in 2006 was $246. Afghan Trade Ministry estimates the foreign trade volume at $3.81 billion in the finance year ended. This was $2.85 billion in the 2005/2006 financial year.
The construction of infrastructure facilities was given priority in 2006. Among these are communication lines, irrigation systems, power facilities, homes and the food producing enterprises. At the same time there is a growth in local and foreign private investment in the economy. The overall investment in the past five years is estimated at $4.5 billion and $3 billion out of which have been invested in housing, $600 million in the development of communications, especially mobile systems and $600 million in industry. It is expected that this year’s investment will be $1.5 billion.
An important event in 2007 was calling tenders for the development of the copper field in Aynak in Logar province. The reserves of the deposit are estimated at 240 million tons of ore that contains 2.3% copper. Nine companies from the US, Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan and China were involved in the tender. China’s metallurgical company won the bid and is ready to invest $2.9 billion in the project. After the commission of the metallurgical facility with a capacity of 200 thousand tons of copper a year Afghanistan will get about $400 million annually.
The reconstruction of the largest power facilities in the country has been resumed. The US reconstructs and modernizes Kadzhaki hydropower station in southern province of Helmand built by Americans in the 60s, while Russia reconstructs the Nagly hydropower station in the River Kabul, which was built with the Soviet assistance in the same years. Moreover, the US has given $2.6 billion to built power distribution networks and highways. A power supply line is being built to transport electricity from Tajikistan to Afghanistan. The cement factories in Pul-i-Khumri, Jabal Seraj and Heart are being built and reconstructed using local private investment. Several enterprises in food industry have been built too.
Social area also shows notable progress. For one, education system where over 300 schools have been built in 2007 out of 1000 planned. The number of pupils at the beginning of 2007 was 5.4 million, a growth of 12% compared with 2005, out of which 37% are girls. There are 8 400 various kinds of schools in the country. Taliban activity causes great harm to education system. Its militants set fire to 186 schools in 2006 alone, and 396 schools have been closed owing to threats by extremists, and consequently, about 200 thousand pupils have denied access to education.
The situation in healthcare system has slightly improved. Currently, 82% Afghans have an access to basic medical services and child mortality has reduced 18%. However, the country experiences an acute shortage of qualified medical personnel. There are only 5 640 physicians for the 28-million population or a doctor for 4 964 people. In fact, a large number of physicians work in cities.
Drug production and trafficking remains to be a serious issue. Despite all efforts by the Hamid Karzai government and the international community drug production grows rapidly. For one, 6 100 tons of opium was produced in 2006. In fact, it is worth mentioning that 15 thousand out of 165 thousand hectares were destroyed across the country in 2006, 700 drug dealers were arrested and 420 laboratories that make drugs were destroyed.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says that currently, opium is being grown on a territory of 193 thousand hectares in Afghanistan, a growth of 17% compared with 2006. It is intended that Afghanistan produces 8 200 tons of opium in 2007, which is 93% of the world supply of opium. Proceeds from drug sale were estimated at $3.1 billion in 2006. However, there is a need to take into account the fact that drug production is an important social factor that guarantees the existence for 2 million people when the unemployment rate in the country is 40%.
The government’s inability to cope with drug trafficking has led to the resignation of the Counter Narcotics Minister Habibullah Quderi in August 2007. He came under pressure not only from the President but also from abroad. The drug trafficking issue is becoming quite urgent since the Islamic militants get 40% of money from the proceeds of drug sale.
Fighting has escalated between the Afghan government forces and forces of the international antiterrorist coalition, on the one hand and Taliban and its allies, on the other in 2007. The US, Britain, France, Spain and several other countries are involved in forming the Afghan army, which will consist of 57 thousand servicemen by the end of 2007. According to the plan of 2008 this number will be increased up to 70 thousand. However, the Afghan army is still incapable of carrying out operations independently and operates together with NATO units.
The number of NATO servicemen, including the American in Afghanistan in the outgoing year is 41 thousand from 37 countries. Among these are 8 thousand Americans, 7.7 thousand British, 2.7 thousand Canadians, 2.5 thousand Dutch and 1.1 thousand Australians who fight against Taliban under the NATO command in the south-west and south of Afghanistan. Moreover, 13 thousand Americans wage war under their own command in the south-east. The rest, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Turkish and other forces are deployed in the central and northern provinces where the servicemen guarantee security and are engaged in the reconstruction of the economy and social area.
Taliban and its allies still remain a quite impressive military structure and have strengthened their influence in several provinces. Their strength is represented by the backing of certain local residents who are frustrated by the policy of the Karzai government, which has failed to guarantee security and improve living standards. Despite growing losses suffered by Taliban, it has managed not only to put under its control several regions and settlements in southern Afghanistan but also establish temporarily more effective rule than that of the government. As the fighting gains momentum the losses among Taliban militants, Afghan servicemen, forces of the international coalition and civilians grow rapidly. The overall losses in fighting in 2007 have been estimated at over 6 thousand people. In fact, Mullah Dadullah, a high rank field-commander who headed the extremists in southern Afghanistan was killed 2007. Americans sustained the largest losses, 106 people, while in Iraq the US lost 860 servicemen in the same year.
According to experts at the Senlis Council international policy think tank, Islamic extremists have been functioning on 54% of Afghan territory in 2007.
Afghan-Pakistani Peace Assembly held in August was a significant event. It was held after long and painstaking preparations by both sides. The Idea of the jirga or assembly was put forward by President Hamid Karzai in September 2006 when he met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Washington. Among some 650 delegates gathered in Kabul were ministers, politicians, Pashto tribal leaders and clergy. The gathering focused on improving relations between the two countries, factors promoting terrorism, making changes to the mechanism of fighting extremism, refusal of granting refuge to militants, cooperation in ending the growth of narcotic herbs and working out confidence building measures among peoples.
The Afghan government pinned high hopes on the jirga or assembly, of course. However, skeptic prevailed around the event since the Taliban was not invited and boycotted it. Analysts believe that jirga could not be successful without the involvement of the Taliban movement. Moreover, Pakistan’s radical Islamic parties that dominate in parliaments of North-Western border province and Belujistan and also Pashto tribal leaders of these provinces refused to attend the assembly.
However, optimists insist that the calling of the representative assembly is undoubtedly a success in fighting terrorism. The Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf addressed the assembly and appealed for closer coordination in fighting against common evil, terrorism. Afghan President expressed hope that Taliban and al-Qaeda could be defeated by common efforts. The outcome of 2007 is far from optimistic as a whole. This shows the results of an opinion poll conducted among 1576 respondents by the Environcs Company for the CBS channel and The Globe and Mail and La Press news papers in September. According to the opinion poll, 60% of the population perceives positively the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan, while this figure was 80% in 2006 and 16% negatively and 14% demand for an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. At the same time 43% believe that NATO forces should stay in the country until the Taliban is not defeated completely. 73% respondents reject Taliban and 51% believe that the country is on the right track, while this figure was 55% in 2006.
Kabul has pursued previous foreign policy aimed at attracting more foreign financial aid in 2007 too. President Hamid Karzai has focused on the issue during his visits to the US where he addressed to the UN General Assembly, Canada and Britain. The international community on its part also has drawn attention to the issues and needs of Afghanistan at the Conference on Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups in Tokyo in June, Conference on Rule of the Law in Afghanistan in Rome in July and Conference in Ottawa in December devoted to security, reforms in the mandate to fight illicit drugs, reconstruction and the development of the country. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Afghanistan in June.
Current developments in Afghanistan show more complicated military and political situation in the country could be anticipated in 2008. The scale of fighting will grow as it spreads across the country. Clashes with Taliban will spread to the northern provinces of the country. The forces of the international coalition in the north will somehow be involved in fighting. ISAF, forces of the international coalition in Afghanistan will be increased by 15-20 thousand at the expense of US forces pulled out from Iraq. However, these moves will hardly help making a breakthrough in the current deadlocked situation.
There will be a progress in economic development. The economic growth will be 9-10%. There will be a boom in construction, banking sector and foreign trade. Power generation will grow rapidly. The level of social services, especially healthcare will be upgraded.
As a whole, no one should expect that a breakthrough will be achieved unless an alternative to a military solution will not be found to resolve the Afghan crisis. Both the Hamid Karzai government and the international community have been making efforts in this direction.