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Update No: 106 - (22/11/10)

More talks about talks
During the second half of October as during the first half of 2010 rumours of ongoing negotiations intensified in Kabul, in part due to the desire of Karzai’s regime to convey the sense that it is making progress in starting off negotiation with the armed opposition. Some contacts did indeed take place, but their extent and importance were wildly exaggerated by Karzai’s people and by a world press eager for some ground-breaking news. After the June Peace Jirga, Karzai reached an understanding with the Pakistani military (ISI), featuring the removal of two members of the cabinet known for their anti-Pakistani position (Saleh, head of the intelligence, and Atmar, Minister of the Interior) in exchange for an informal ceasefire in Kabul. Indeed, after Karzai duly complied and sacked Atmar and Saleh, high profile terrorist attacks in Kabul stopped, although lower profile operations by the insurgents continued. For some months Karzai and the ISI seemed to be converging towards the launching of a negotiating process. The preliminary contacts exchanged in October were meant to establish a common ground for negotiations. Unfortunately, such common ground was not found. Karzai and the Pakistanis quite simply want different things: the former would like to lure sections of the opposition to switch to his side, with the net effect of consolidating his hold on power but without ending the war; the latter want a comprehensive deal with all the armed opposition (which they are sponsoring), which would leave the ISI with a predominant influence in Kabul. By October and November, the fact that a convergence could not be achieved was becoming increasingly clear. However, the Pakistanis were in a much stronger position than Karzai: the closure of the Torkham border passage in September-October 2010 showed how Pakistan had the power of rapidly strangling ISAF supplies, particularly fuel. The 11 days blockade was already throwing NATO into panic by the time it was suspended. The Pakistanis received significant concessions: US$2 billion for the army and a reduction of drone raids in North Waziristan.

Transitioning Afghanistan
The big talk in and around Kabul at the moment is transition, that is the Afghans taking responsibility for their own security. It is supposed to start in 2011 and even if the commander of ISAF Gen. Petraeus is not keen, it is certain to go ahead because European governments and Karzai himself want it strongly - now NATO and Karzai have publicly agreed. For the Europeans it is a light at the end of the tunnel: they hope to be handing over one province after the other and withdraw their combat troops rather rapidly. The sooner the better, because the situation in most provinces still covered by the Europeans the situation is still tolerable, but might be worsening soon. Karzai, on the other hand, wants transition to build up his stature of autonomous statesman (i.e. not an American puppet). He really seems to believe that the Afghan security forces can handle it. The Americans, knowing that a failure in Afghanistan will be seen as an American defeat (and not a European one), have some doubts, particularly on the pace of the process and are trying to slow it. This is particularly the case of the military, whose honour is at stake

In the meanwhile in Kabul the usual friction between Americans and Karzai continues, this time over the measures to be taken to reform Kabul Bank, which almost collapsed in September before being rescued by the Central Bank. As a result, IMF funding for Afghanistan is temporarily on hold as the Afghan government resist a proper audit being carried out. The Americans are also irritated by Karzai’s increasing nepotism, as the number of family loyalists in state institutions never ceases to grow.

 

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