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Books on Afghanistan


Update No: 112 - (26/05/11)

Missing Osama
The departure of Osama bin Laden might have been wildly greeted in the USA, but not everybody has good reason to be happy about his physical elimination. The Afghan Taliban will not miss him so much as a friend, but certainly see their leverage in potential negotiations go down because they can no longer offer to drop any relationship with him as a reward for American acceptance of the Taliban. Paradoxically, however, those most worried by the killing of Osama are America’s allies in Afghanistan, who fear that now American disengagement cannot be delayed any longer. American public opinion was increasingly wary of the war before Osama’s killing and will be even warier now. How long can the Obama administration lag behind public opinion/plus, many believe that Washington was already looking for a way out and now has got it. The leverage of the Karzai administration vis-à-vis Washington is therefore greatly reduced. The Pakistani invitations to Karzai to get closer to China, which were deliberately leaked to the Pakistani press in April, were mainly meant to threaten the Americans and put pressure on them to accept the Pakistani peace plan. However, the very fact that Islamabad felt such an invitation could be plausible highlights the spreading perception that Kabul and Washington are more and more on diverging paths.

Pakistan’s credibility has certainly been damaged by the raid which killed Osama, but it will take some time to understand how the episode has affected Kabul-Islamabad relations. Recently Karzai had appointed a confidante and known pro-Pakistani Dawlatzai, as ambassador to Pakistan, a move understood to appease the Pakistanis. Dawlatzai was replaced in the important position of Karzai’s chief of Staff by Khurram, another pro-Pakistani element. But this was all before Osama’s death; at least some lull in the preparation of talks should be expected. Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks have intensified in recent weeks across Afghanistan, suggesting that the Pakistanis still want to close business on their peace plan this season. In substantial terms, therefore, little might have changed.

Turkish challenge
Among the countries which have been showing growing interest in Afghanistan in the wake of (expected) American disengagement is Turkey. The Turks have in recent years intervened more and more heavily in Afghan politics, paying political parties and leaders for example, as well ending troops to the country. However, Turkish troops are strictly staying out of the fighting. Considering Turkeys’ recent past, this is not likely to be due to fear of violence; the Turks are trying to positions themselves as mediators in Afghanistan, in rivalry with Pakistan. The Turkish offer of a political office on its soil for the Afghan Taliban created a major rift between Pakistanis and the Taliban, with the latter being keen to accept and the former fearful of losing control over their clients. The Pakistanis tried to resist the offer, but eventually had to agree to it, re-launching however with the offer to open a similar office in Pakistan as well, perhaps in the hope of making things more complicated or of being able to manipulate the situation to their advantage later. The Turks are also exploring business opportunities in Afghanistan and have shown interest in the mining sector, particularly copper and oil/gas, and in the production of cement.

On the economic front, food prices remain under pressure. Imports of wheat in particular are pushing prices up, because local production fetches lower prices than imports. The bad internal road networks make it cheaper to import than to move wheat across long distances inside Afghanistan, so that over-production in an area does not translate necessarily into increased internal trade. The inefficient allocation of internal production compounds therefore food inflation.

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