Despite setbacks, there is still hope for Afghanistan

China's premier Li Keqiang, right, with Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani in Beijing last month. Kim Kyung-Hoon / AFP
China's premier Li Keqiang, right, with Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani in Beijing last month. Kim Kyung-Hoon / AFP

I have a checkered history of predictions. So, like a sensible analyst who is conscious of his limitations, I attempt merely to explain why one outcome is more likely than another. I am pleased that most conclusions I have reached on Afghanistan have come true.

Afghans across the ethnic divide turned out for the presidential elections this year. Abdullah Abdullah seemed the front-runner but Ashraf Ghani emerged victorious in the run-off, and the two candidates reached a political compromise.

Mr Ghani seems to be more conscious of what is better for Afghanistan’s future than Hamid Karzai, his predecessor.

Mr Ghani’s first international visit was to China, his next was to Pakistan.

He was very well-received in both countries and his attitude in Pakistan was also extremely positive. He went past the blame game and looked at the prospects for economic and military cooperation between the two countries.

Recently, there has been an increase in Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan. Most analysts infer from these that this means there is a greater threat of a full-scale resurgence of the Taliban. But that is not correct. In earlier articles I explained at length why the Taliban initially gained political support and why it has since lost it.

In such circumstances, terrorist activities are merely a sign of frustration. Why else would the Taliban seek to regain their political support by terrorising the population?

Despite its brutal assault on a school in Pakistan on Tuesday, the Taliban era is in its dying throes. The only errors that could give the Taliban a new lease of life in Afghanistan are bad governance and corruption.

The US has offered to extend assistance to Kabul in its war against terrorists. Very interestingly, news of Barack Obama’s decision on this matter became public while Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief, was in the US.

So long as the US operational military assistance helps Kabul achieve what Afghans want, which now seems likely, the US offer is a very welcome development. Indeed, it is likely that Afghan security forces will need help in finally ending the Taliban era.

China’s decision to assist Afghanistan is also welcome. China is already the second largest investor in Afghanistan after the US. While the bulk of US investment has been in military hardware, all of China’s is economic.

China has also decided to include Afghanistan in its commercial corridor flowing from Russia through Central Asia, China, Afghanistan, on through Pakistan and the Middle East to the world. Obviously, this corridor is not intended only for one-way traffic.

Initially, the commercial corridor espoused by the Chinese was to run through China and Pakistan and, apparently, was not acceptable to the US. Its expansion to include Afghanistan is a very welcome development.

Whether it is utilised will depend upon how successful Kabul is in improving the security situation in the country.

But the mere fact that China is willing to spend billions of dollars to develop the communications infrastructure required for it in Afghanistan proves China is hopeful.

Let us also not forget Russia, where this corridor begins. Obviously, Russia will also be a beneficiary, though a relatively minor one.

Shared economic interests are likely to result in shared security concerns for the entire region. If these shared concerns include the three major world powers: US, China, and Russia, it augurs well for its success.

Pakistan is critically important to the success of this corridor. At this juncture, Pakistan’s success in military operations against its insurgent Taliban has certainly returned it to centre-stage, this time in a better light, although Tuesday’s events in Peshawar show there is still much work that needs to be done.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer

Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM


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