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Update No: 069 - (22/08/07)

Karzai begins to distance from US
The event of the month in August was the Peace Jirga held in Kabul, where delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan met to discuss security issues between the two countries. Since these were mostly handpicked delegations, unsurprisingly nothing really shocking happened there, despite a 10-month delay in holding the event. However, the Jirga ended with a call to negotiate with the Taliban, which certainly suits Musharraf as he has been strongly pushing for such negotiations in recent months, even going as far as explicitly asking for the withdrawal of US and British troops during unofficial communications. However, since the call for negotiations has been endorsed by both the Pakistani and Afghan delegations, Karzai must have supported it too. This might be a signal that Karzai's thinking is evolving and that he is distancing himself from the Bush Administration. Another sign of Karzai's growing recognition of the need to engage more with regional powers and put some distance between his government and Washington was the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Kabul in August. Karzai's friendly reception and his definition of Iran as a 'helper' was seen by many as a snub to Washington, at a time when American officials are involved in a public relations campaign to convince the world that Iran is actively working to destabilise Iraq and Afghanistan. Karzai is distancing himself from the Americans on a number of other points too. He has criticised them and NATO for the reliance on air strikes, which is inflicting high civilian casualties. He is also unwilling to wield to US pressure for more radical measures to be taken on the issue of poppy eradication. 

Iran slows expulsions
Possibly in response to Karzai's refusal to participate in the Iran-bashing campaign orchestrated by Washington, during the last two months expulsion of Afghans illegally resident in Iran has considerably slowed down, from 50,000 a month in April and May to less then 30,000 a month now. The Iranian authorities have also stopped talking about the aim of expelling one million Afghans, suggesting that they might stop short of that. The expulsions are now taking place with some greater concern for the dignity of the deportees. Voluntary returns to Iran were drying up this year following the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. In 2004, almost 400,000 retuned. This year less than 5,000 have done so this far.

Paradoxes of counter-narcotics
Aware of their own isolation on narcotics policies, the Americans released in August a new counter-narcotics strategy. The plan is to offer US$25-50 million to provincial administrations which do best in their eradication programs. The plan is based on the conviction that progress made in the north last year in the eradication of the poppies was due to the involvement and commitment of a number of provincial governors. The new plan hopes to double the number of poppy-free provinces to 12. It will probably call for a lot of slide-rule work at gubernatorial palaces, as to whether or not they will make more money the American way. 

However, such a plan suffers from the same contradictions as the previous one. If the rationale is to weaken the economic base of the insurgency, eradicating regions where the insurgency is not active (such as in the north) will only increase the production in those were the war is going on, either because production will shift there or because prices will go up, paradoxically benefiting the insurgents. Whilst demand remains constant, as it does, the process is comparable to squeezing a balloon.

The growing desperation to show that something is being done to address the issue of narcotics does not affect just the Americans; Kabul is now claiming that efforts should be focused on preventing a further spread of the cultivation of the poppy, seemingly forgetting that Afghanistan already produces more than the world is able to consume each year.

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