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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: 060 - (28/11/06)

America in Afghanistan: sunset boulevard?
Following the beating taken by the Bush administration in the mid-term elections, and indeed even sooner than that, the consensus on the Afghan policies of the Bush team started eroding fast, even within the Republican party. After Senator Frist's advocacy for a political settlement in October, in November Senator Inhofe broke ranks by raising the issue of the corruption of the US-supported regime and by advocating the recruitment of a larger Afghan army. Senator Lugar also broke ranks recently with the image of optimism that the Bush Administration has been trying to portray for Afghanistan, stating that the situation was so "daunting" that the feeling was of "general despair". Different US think tanks have now radically diverging views on whether to negotiate with the Taleban, while the Democrats are now turning into hawks and accuse the softening Republicans of "ignoring 9/11". 

The biggest obstacle on the road to a negotiated settlement is in any case likely to be the fact that a deal would be very divisive for the anti-Taleban factions, not least because it would entail a re-distribution of power. The Afghan government might not even survive serious negotiations with the Taleban. The disintegrating consensus on Afghanistan concerns the relationship between the US and the UN as well. In mid-November Special Representative Koenigs openly criticised the militaristic approach of NATO and the US in dealing with the insurgency, warning that with this approach the international community will be out of Afghanistan in 3 years. A sign of the drift towards a purely military solution can also be seen in the appointment of US General McNeill as future head of the NATO mission. McNeill has already served in Afghanistan before and was then known for his difficult relationship with the civilians. 

As US fade away, Pakistan grows ever more assertive
Despite all the debates, reports from Washington suggest that the interest of the Bush administration in Afghanistan is in decline. This is confirmed by the trend in the allocation of cash to the reconstruction of that country. In fiscal year 2005, US$4.3 billion were given. This year, the amount is down to US$3 billion. The administration is now requesting just US$1.2 billion for next year. Karzai's archenemy Pakistan's Musharraf seems therefore to have good reason to feel emboldened. In September he was openly accusing Karzai of putting himself before his country. Now Islamabad is even accusing the Afghans of planning to destabilise Pakistan (!). They accuse Afghan diplomatic staff (Tajik and Uzbek members of the northern groups) to have carried out a bomb attack in Quetta at the beginning of November. This is likely to be a reaction to Karzai's restoration of monthly stipends for the elders of some Pashtun tribes living across the border in Pakistan. The stipends are an old tradition, which had stopped in 1992 when the leftist regime was overthrown. 

Investment comes in, allegedly
According to official statistics, US$1.5 billion were invested in Afghanistan over the last year. Some observers doubt whether this figure is correct as numbers do not seem to add up. The main visible investment target is the telecommunications industry, which however accounts for just 10% of that total. There are now over 1.4 million sim cards in circulation in Afghanistan and despite increased competition market, leader Roshan has strengthened its leadership and now has a 70% market share. 80% of the alleged US$1.5 billion came from Afghan investors, with foreign investors are still too uneasy to show up. Some Iranian, Pakistan and UAE businessmen have tried to start businesses in partnership with Afghans, but have mostly given up rather quickly. Even many Afghan investors seem increasingly dispirited by government corruption, more and more out of control. On the positive side the government has started selling mining rights to private companies and a coal mine in Baghlan, a fluoride mine in Uruzgan, a gold mine in Herat and a precious stones mine in Nuristan have already passed into private hands. 

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