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AFGHANISTAN


  
  



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Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai

 



Update No: 048 - (28/11/05)

A parliament to deal with
Afghanistan finally has an elected parliament and the focus of the political debate is now moving towards its relationship with President Karzai. Most commentators believe that his supporters have a slight majority within it, but it is likely that a lot of horse trading will take place before Karzai can secure a working majority. For example, a new minister of interior has not been appointed yet, after the resignation of Jalali, and there are at least two major candidates for the job, a conservative jihadi and a reformer. Since Karzai has support both among conservatives and reformers, any choice for this important and wished for position might alienate some supporters and endanger the solidity of the parliamentary majority. Similarly, there are several candidates to the position of parliamentary speaker, a highly visible and symbolic one. In the Karzai camp, the leading candidate is Prof. Rabbani, a conservative former president, although a woman, Shukria Barakzai, is also a candidate. In principle, from the ideological point of view Rabbani should have much wider support in the Parliament, but he is not popular among Pashtuns, some of whom might prefer their fellow Pashtun, Shukria Barakzai, even if as a liberal and a woman she might not be immediately appealing to conservatives. In the opposition camp, the two main candidates are Yunis Qanuni and Mohammed Mohaqqeq, both former presidential candidates. Mohaqqeq's chances are slim, despite the fact that he was the most voted candidate in the parliamentary elections, because he belongs to the Hazara minority and as such is unlikely to receive many Pashtun or Tajik votes. Qanuni seems to have better chances, at least as a Tajik he could be able to unify most of the non-Pashtuns in the parliament. All considered, Rabbani remains the favourite.

Russia raises its profile
After some manoeuvring behind the scenes in recent months, Russia came forward openly for the first time at the end of October, as Putin's envoy for international organized crime asked for a greater role in Afghanistan, within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Although the request was officially linked to the issues of security and drug trafficking, this move can also be seen in the context of the recent joint Chinese-Russian counter-offensive against US influence in Central Asia. Russia's renewed interest in Afghanistan was underlined in November by new deliveries of military hardware to the Afghan army and air force, likely a way to tell to Russia's allies within the Ministry of Defence that Moscow has not given up Afghanistan yet. The Russians might be trying to undercut the virtual freedom of action that the Americans have enjoyed over the last few years in Afghanistan, in order to extract a friendlier American attitude elsewhere.

A future in the WTO?
The main initiative on the economic side was Afghanistan's application for membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where at present the country only enjoys observer's status. Afghanistan's trade law is still incompatible with WTO requirements, so that a major hurdle for the success of WTO membership negotiations will be the willingness of the new parliament to change the law. 
Other November headlines included the inauguration of the new 5-star Serena hotel in Kabul, which is the first luxury hotel to open in the Afghan capital and is expected to cater for businessmen and VIPs, when and if they will start flocking to Afghanistan in order to invest there. In the meanwhile, more economic data emerged to confirm that 
demand in Afghanistan is still growing, but not as fast as last year. In July-September, imports from Pakistan grew by 14.4%. 

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