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Update No: 101 - (25/06/10)

A jealous landlord
The echo of Karzai’s successful reconciliation trip to Washington was barely over, that the news of the sacking of Interior Minister Atmar and security chief Saleh broke out. The episode triggering the sacking was a Taliban attack on the Peace Jirga organised by Karzai to launch negotiations with the opposition. The attack took place while Karzai was talking, which might have particularly upset the President, but the Taliban did not manage to inflict casualties and the attack was contained. Beyond Karzai’s fury, therefore, they might have been other reasons behind the sacking. Both officials were known for their good relations with the West; both were opposed to appeasing Pakistan and negotiating with the armed opposition. Karzai might have wanted to undermine support for policies advocated by Washington and the Europeans within the cabinet and also signal his determination to be in full control. Perhaps more importantly, the sackings might be a concession to the Pakistanis, who had been demanding a move of this kind in order to collaborate with Karzai in bringing the armed opposition to the table.

Jostling for a negotiating position
The attack on the Peace Jirga symbolised the fact that the Taliban are not ready to negotiate yet. Indeed the Jirga was a disappointment from a number of points of view. Hopes had been entertained that the fighting wing of Hizb-i Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, would offer some concrete proposal at the Jirga, but after some negotiations earlier in the year, the flirt with Kabul evaporated. Hizb-i Islami demands the delisting of Hekmatyar from the UN list of wanted individuals in order for the negotiations to proceed. The Taliban, for their part, seem even less in a hurry than Hizb-i Islami to negotiate. The Pakistani military hints that it could get them to the negotiating table, but it wants to play a key role in designing a settlement in its own interest. While Karzai has been going some way towards the Pakistani position, he is still far from having met all the conditions. The time is therefore not yet ripe for negotiations, but it might be so by the late autumn, once the current fighting season is over and the different sides will take stock of their respective position. So far the result of the military operations in Helmand province has been rather disappointing from the ISAF point of view: the Americans admit that Marja is not under control yet, despite the massive concentration of force. The Kandahar operation is being postponed and redesigned on the basis of the lessons of Marja, but unless the Kandahar phase of the offensive delivers more convincing progress on the ground, in autumn Washington’s negotiating position will not be stronger than it was last winter.

Huge mineral resources, but for whom?
Much of the talk in June was about the American announcement that Afghanistan has huge mineral deposits, which if exploited could turn the economy of the country around. In reality all of this was known already, but the American Army seems to have pushed for the official release of the data in order to show that Afghanistan after all, is worth fighting for. Some observers see here a rift between the Army, which wants to fight on in Afghanistan until it can leave with honour, and the Washington politicians, who want to disengage as soon as possible. However, even if Afghanistan’s mineral riches can be dug out, it is likely that it will not be US companies to do it. The 1.8 billion tonne Hajigak iron ore mines bidding process sees the participation of five Indian companies and two Chinese ones. On a separate note the first stretch of Afghanistan’s first railroad has been inaugurated in northern Afghanistan, connecting it to Uzbekistan. Once it becomes fully operational, it will dramatically reduce the costs of transport to and from Central Asia. Completion is expected by the end of 2010.

 

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