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Update No: 125 - (26/06/12)

The Chicago summit has given some respite to the Karzai regime, clarifying that the US will protect it until 2014 and probably a little beyond that as well, but the succession to Hamid Karzai looks as problematic as ever as even his family is deeply divided internally.

A future (slightly) less foggy
During June the future of Afghanistan, while remaining quite fuzzy, appeared a bit clearer at least as far as the short term is concerned. The NATO summit in Chicago clarified that US President Obama has decided not to push too hard the US military and has abandoned the idea of putting an end to NATO involvement in combat operations earlier than 2014; the military have quietly argued behind the scenes that the Afghan security forces, despite all the rhetoric, are not judged to be ready to take over before that date. The plan as it stands now does not even feature a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan: a significant force will be left behind, perhaps up to 30,000, even after 2014, to provide training, and back-up to the training contingent. Support for the war continues to erode in the US, not to speak of Europe, and betting on the plan being implemented without changes between now and 2020 would be unwise. The French have confirmed that they are leaving and will start withdrawing this July already; in October the small Norwegian contingent will depart. Other Europeans are still considering what to do – the Spaniards have confirmed their commitment, as have the Italians and even the Greeks, but needless to say public opinion in all these countries sees the missions to Afghanistan as a waste of money at a time when huge sacrifices are being demanded at home (and the worse may yet have to come). Also on the negative side, the divergence between president Karzai and his western allies is wider than ever. Despite Karzai’s public claim to have reached an agreement with ISAF over the bombing of civilian targets, ISAF itself has denied it and has clearly stated that the rules of engagement still allow for the bombing of civilian buildings in self-defence. Civilian casualties, although not high by any standard, continue to occur and to enrage Afghan public opinion, embarrassing Karzai.

It’s the economy, stupid
In Afghanistan the greater clarity on the withdrawal schedule gives some reassurance to an embattled government, postponing at least the time when panic will strike. The Afghan government is now actively lobbying to keep the level of aid at substantial levels – they demand US$7 billion of economic aid on top of the already agreed (but not confirmed) US$4.1 billion for the security sector each year. The ambitious plans to develop the natural resources sector are already grinding to a halt, however: the production start date of the Ainak mine has been postponed indefinitely, as the Chinese company owning the contract says that it cannot make a profit there under the present conditions. In the north of the country, the Chinese CNPC is already running into trouble in its efforts to kick-start oil production there, as northern warlords and gangs are lining up to stake claims to the revenue. Chinese engineers report being harassed by local factions and are discovering that being in business with the family of the president is not a sufficient to open the doors of northern Afghanistan.

Hobbes is lurking
The problem of the succession to Karzai remains a hot one, even if the regime appears to have got a little more time to sort it out than the pessimists were expecting. Even within the Karzai family there is now a lot of tension. Qayyum Karzai, one of the President’s brother, is advancing his candidacy, but the family is squabbling over money and power. In particular, two brothers Shah Wali and Mahmud are at odds over money and allegations of fraud. Reaching a consensus on the succession to Hamid Karzai will not be easy.


 


 

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