INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY Updated: February 3 2010
Sitting at the crossroads of cultures and major trade routes, Afghanistan has known foreign invasion since the time of Alexander the Great. Particular interests in the country may have changed, but foreign intervention and meddling in the country have remained a constant factor in Afghan history. Understanding the involvement of outside states in the Afghanistan conflict is critical to assessing the successes and challenges of the current international effort. Too often, Afghanistan is portrayed as a purely internal conflict, a case of state implosion or failure, and external factors behind the conflicts are ignored.
Pakistan's principle interest is seen as securing its northern and western border to be able to focus its attention on its disputes with India. However, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to be affected by a number of contentious issues such as the border between the two countries (Durand line) and a perception that Taliban militants are using Pakistan's tribal areas as safe havens. Pakistan has denied such charges, but its security officials have acknowledged that local tribal fighters and militants of Arab, Afghan and Central Asian origin operate in its tribal regions. The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan pledged in December 2007 to increase the co-operation of their intelligence agencies and tighten border controls in an effort to crack down on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants. The cordial tone of this latest bilateral meeting contrasted with past exchanges.
In spring 2007, American intelligence officials said the Al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas had become increasingly active. Backed by Al Qaeda, pro-Taliban militants have expanded their influence from the remote border regions into the more populated parts of Pakistan this year and mounted a record number of suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While mainstream media tend to depict bombings as an act of terrorism aimed against individuals, they should rather be considered as part of a political and military strategy by a coherent political group. It should be noted that in December 2007, Baitullah Mahsud, the commander of South Waziristan, reported that the Pakistani Taliban had agreed to a single chain of command under him.
Pakistan appears to be unable to stem the wave of extremist violence. This is surprising, since the United States has spent more than $5 billion (between 2001 and 2007) in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Possibly as a result of the very limited success of its indirect support program in the past, the US has now decided to send trainers from the US Joint Special Operations Command Forces to Pakistan's tribal areas. Encouraged by its success in turning Sunni tribes in Iraq against Al Qaeda, the US now wants to win over the tribals who have been cooperating with militants.
Some argue that President Musharraf's struggle to stay in power inspite of growing pressure from the political opposition, the judiciary and civil society distracted his attention from the threat of militants. Some analysts argue that Mr. Musharraf's authoritarian maneuvers weakened the country's already feeble political institutions and fueled more political turmoil. Mr. Musharraf's decision to end six weeks of martial law (imposed in early November 2007) was long overdue, as was his decision to finally resign his army post and take the presidential oath of office as a civilian. The latest major shift in the dynamics of Pakistani domestic politics occurred when opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. Elections were scheduled for January 8th 2008 but were not held until February 18 2008. Opposition parties PPP and PML-N won a majority of seats and agreed to govern in coalition, committing themselves to restoring democratic rule in the country. Mr. Musharraf's political survival depended in part on his successor as army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
However, the curtain was drawn on Mr. Musharraf's presidency on August 18th 2008 when he decided to step down from power in order to save himself from being impeached by his own government. He was replaced as president by Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of Benazir Bhutto. President Zardari's government was greeted by a major terrorist attack on the Marriot hotel in Islamabad on September 20th 2008. A large truck bomb exploded in front of the hotel, completely destroying the façade and killing 53 people and wounding 266 others. Security sources believe Pakistan's national parliament and the residence of the prime minister were the preferred targets, but the bomber (or bombers) was deterred by a high security presence around those buildings. This was a significant attack on the government and the western presence in Pakistan. The hotel is a major symbol in Islamabad, which was frequented by diplomats, dignitaries, the city's elite and well-off foreign visitors. A little known Pakistani militant group, Fidayeen-e-Islam, has said it carried out the attack. The group, based in Pakistan's tribal areas and connected to leading militant Baitullah Mehsud, said that the aim of the attack was to stop US interference in Pakistan.
Following the bombing, President Zardari addressed the nation saying: "[W]e are determined to clear this cancer [of militancy] from Pakistan." He called upon "all democratic powers" to help save Pakistan against this threat. Many believe the security situation has worsened since the defeat of the allies of Pervez Musharraf in February's general elections.
However, despite the political and economic trouble that the country is facing there has been progress in the fight against the Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal areas. Taliban militants fighting the Pakistan army have said that they are willing to lay down their arms and hold unconditional talks with the government. The government has said that it is willing to meet and talk to these local Taliban. The Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Omar also said that the local Taliban did not want foreign fighters in the country and would work with the government to remove them. His next statement reinforced the primacy that needs to be placed on finding a political solution to the Taliban issue as he emphasized that it would be useless to talk about security without involving the Taliban.
At present the Pakistan Army is looking to reassert the government's control over its frontier provinces bordering Afghanistan. Two areas of concern are the Swat region and the Khyber region. Currently, the Pakistan military is engaged in operations to tackle the Taliban presence in the Swat Valley which, until recently, used to be a popular tourist destination. Though this area does not border Afghanistan it demonstrates the reach of the Taliban who have links with the radical cleric in the area, Maulana Fuzullah. There is a growing concern of the Taliban setting up their own courts in the area and preventing girls from receiving an education. Civilian casualties have been mounting as dozens of state employees and government supporters have been killed and about 200 schools have been destroyed.
Moving further west and into the Khyber region which borders Afghanistan, the Pakistan military has begun an offensive to root out militants who have been attacking supply convoys destined for coalition and ISAF troops. 75 percent of all supplies for the nearly 65,000 foreign troops pass through the Khyber Pass. This is a vulnerable route that the militants have taken advantage of to inflict as much damage as possible to the war effort in Afghanistan. This route has been a source of concern for a while, as supplies have to travel by land to reach the troops in landlocked Afghanistan. This has prompted NATO to look for alternatives and at present the likely option is through Central Asia and into northern Afghanistan.
Though Operation Khyber Agency has received a positive response from the United States, tensions are already mounting between the Pakistan government and the new American administration. The new American president looks to be keeping his promise on taking a tough stance against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan's border region. During the election campaign, President Obama emphasised that he felt that the Bush administration's major mistake was in switching the focus of the 'war on terror' to Iraq instead of focusing on Afghanistan and its border region with Pakistan. Obama has repeatedly stated that if he does receive credible intelligence of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity in border tribal regions of Pakistan he would authorize air strikes. Only four days into his presidency, Obama authorized what could be the first of many strikes into the Pakistan. The two strikes claimed about 18 lives. The US strongly believes that a major thorn in their plans is the presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan. In fact, in the last year in 2008, the US military has launched 30 strikes inside Pakistan territory which have claimed 200 lives.
Looking at current events it is difficult to predict how this new relationship will evolve. Both countries have new regimes, Obama in the US and Pakistan's Zardari, who have to prove a point to their respective peoples regarding their leadership. President Zardari has already warned the US administration that air strikes are counterproductive to cooperation in the war on terror. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said that the Pakistan government hopes that the US would adopt a more integrated and holistic approach towards terrorisn and extremism. While Pakistan is willing to aid the US in its war on terror it is not willing to allow continuous US incursions into its territory. Therefore, only time will tell how both governments will be able to resolve this conflicting relationship.
In recent developments Pakistan's relationship with the US and its participation in the War on Terror have taken another twist. In order to bring peace to the Swat region the Pakistani government has begun negotiations in what could be a permanent settlement with the Taliban. The Government of Pakistan announced a "permanent" truce in February 2009. A week before, a ten day ceasefire was announced. Included in this deal was an agreement for the imposition of Sharia Law in this region. This is primarily what the Taliban in the region have been waging their violence campaign for. Mr Javed, the commissioner of Malakand, has elaborated that the agreement would mean that the army would scale back operations in the area and residents who fled will be encouraged to return. Also, schools for boys would be reopened while those for girls would remain closed. Thousands of people have been displaced and over a thousand have been killed in the Swat area since the Taliban began its insurgency in 2007. The agreement is hardly the best possible outcome, but the end of hostilities will at least being a temporary peace for the residents of the Swat area.
The deal which has been struck between the Taliban and the Pakistan government has increased the concerns of the international community regarding the situation in Pakistan. BBC's Pakistan analyst Owen Bennett-Jones has commented that this amounts to nothing short of capitulation by the Pakistan government. His sentiments were echoed by Richard Holbrook, the US's newly appointed envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Voicing his concerns, Holbrook said that this might lead to surrender. He elaborated saying that it was hard to understand the nature of this deal. He also said that President Zardari has given assurances that this deal is only temporary. However, this contradicted earlier reports about the permanency of the Pakistan government's arrangement with the Taliban in the Swat Valley especially since they have allowed the Taliban to impose their interpretation of Sharia Law on the people in the region, giving them another foothold in the fragile frontier regions of Pakistan. The international community is still coming to terms with the implications of this agreement and it will certainly be the main topic of discussion when an Afghan and a Pakistan delegation arrive at the White House. However despite the international implications of these developments, the deal is good news to the residents of Swat. Many of them welcome the new peace agreement after living with violence and seem be happy to live under any system that would guarantee them peace
The Taliban's encroachment into the Swat region is indicative of its growing control along Pakistan's frontier regions. The presence continues to grow in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and seven administrative districts bordering Afghanistan. There they have taken advantage of the fragile tribal structures and assumed control of the areas. A report by International Crisis Group in October 2008 explains that this take over by the insurgents are not a result of tribal traditions or resistance but that of "short sighted military policies and a colonial-era body of law that isolates the region from the rest of the country."By isolating the region the Pakistan government was denying the population their political freedoms and economic opportunities. These faults were easily taken advantage of by the insurgents to create a strong foothold in the area. Poorly run military operations and appeasement deals have helped the Taliban's position. ICG recommended that Pakistan need to conduct broader institutional, political and economic reforms in the area and called on the international community and the US in particular to direct aid towards that region through accountable channels.
The Taliban's strong presence in the area has led to growing fears of a further influx of fighters once the 30,000 strong US troop surge begins in the area. The rise in militants would therefore increase the level of violence on Pakistan's side of the border. US officials deny this possibility. One can point to a recent offensive in the Helmand province in summer of 2009 which did not see a major influx of militant as was feared. On the other hand going further back to the initial invasion of 2001, Pakistan's tribal region did see a massive influx of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. As Pakistan continues to focus the bulk of its forces along the border with India, its forces in the east are stretched due to ongoing operations in South Waziristan and other tribal areas. US officials could request that Pakistan pull some of its troops from its Indian border to bolster its forces in the west.
The success of the US's troop surge was dealt another blow on January 21st 2010 when the Pakistan Army announced that it would not launch any new operations along its Afghan border for the next six months to a year. This halt in new operations is to allow for the Pakistan military to consolidate gains it has made in recent campaigns in the Swat and South Waziristan areas. The military cited a lack of resources and the risk of public disapproval of the killing fellow Muslims. For now, the US government has accepted Pakistan's decision. However, consideration has to also be given to the wave of retaliatory strikes the Pakistani people have had to suffer as well. Terror attacks in response to an October 2009 military offensive claimed the lives of 600 people. These attacks are not just limited to the tribal areas but are in major cities such as Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi. This adds to the fear and uncertainty spreading throughout the country.
India began cultivating its presence in Afghanistan through funding Northern Alliance forces fighting against the Taliban. After the Taliban's fall, India opened consulates in Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif. India has offered $1.2billionin assistance to Afghanistan, and Indian firms have been heavily involved in road construction and other projects. In Jan 2009 the Zaranj-Delaram highway was completed in south west Afghanistan near the Iranian border. Also under construction is Afghanistan's new parliament building set for completion in 2011. Indian is also constructing the Salma Dam in Herat province. India's Border Roads Organization has played a major role in construction projects, and some have alleged the BRO is effectively a branch of the Indian army.
In addition to funding and construction projects, India is also playing a role in the training of police, diplomats and civil servants. It is also lending its expertise in the areas of health, education, transportation, telecommunications and power. Shashi Tharoor, former under-secretary general at the United Nations pointed at India's greatest asset is the soft power it wields in Afghanistan. Tharoor explains that Indian television and films are very popular in Afghanistan and much of it is due to the fact it is not propagandist in nature and engages the needs of the population directly.
India has an interest in the construction of two gas pipelines running from Central Asia to India and From Iran to India. It sees Afghanistan as a potential gateway to trade with energy rich Central Asia. Afghanistan sees its relationship with India as a counterweight to Pakistan. India defends its interests in Afghanistan along economic lines, playing down regional power struggles. However, some commentators have referred to Indian-Pakistani rivalry as a new version of the 'Great Game.'
The London Conference on January 10th 2010 provides an opportunity for India and Pakistan to make enough progress on their differences so as to allow for a regional solution to be realized. Mark Sedwill, the British ambassador to Afghanistan has already said that the Great Game was over and that it was time for Afghanistan to be a point of stability in the region. Steve Coll of the New American Foundation commented that the US will have to achieve results in Afghanistan by 2011 but this does not take into account the longer timeline followed by the India/Pakistan rivalry. He also added that India's aversion towards outside help in its relationship with Pakistan will also make it difficult for the US to quicken the pace of any negotiations between the two states. Without the presence of some form of compromise there is always the risk of each party backing opposite sides in a possible renewed civil war following the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.
Iran's overarching foreign policy objective with regard to Afghanistan is to consolidate its influence in order to gain enough leverage that, once NATO forces leave Afghanistan, it can affect political outcomes there. Even though Iran is an important ally of President Karzai, if he loses power and authority, Tehran will support other actors in order to maintain its leverage in Afghanistan. Iran hopes to position itself most advantageously to protect its national interests, regardless of how Afghanistan eventually evolves. This seems to have lead to a contradictory strategic outlook, due to the necessity of having a stable Afghanistan for its internal security, social and economic concerns and, in the meantime, trying to weaken the U.S. position in the area. As a consequence, Iran's policy toward Afghanistan is multi-faceted, including elements of cooperation and subversion. Early in 2008 at a meeting with government analysts, academics and journalists the Afghan ambassador to the US, Said Tayeb Jawad openly stated that "Iran has become more and more a hostile power."
The constructive face of Iranian policy favours a stable Afghanistan, for instance through infrastructure projects, promotion of trade and investment, labor migration, cooperation of law enforcement agencies and support to certain ethnic or religious groups. Iran has been a supporter of the Northern Alliance and played a role in the brining about the fall of the Taliban. The Iranian government has also contributed millions of dollars to the reconstruction of Afghanistan's western provinces. These funds have helped in the building of road, electrical grids, schools and health centres. The subversive side of this complex bilateral relationship is currently focused on measures to deter American goals in the region. There is growing evidence that Tehran has recalculated its strategic interests in Afghanistan as tension rises with the United States over its nuclear ambitions. Iran is prepared to undermine US interests in the country should relations between Washington and Tehran deteriorate substantially.
Apparently Tehran has been increasing its operations in Afghanistan over the last few years, e.g. by financing and providing weaponry to various militant groups. Since May 2007, Coalition officials have repeatedly reported they had intercepted Iranian-made AK-47s, plastic explosives, mortar grenades and explosively formed projectiles (EFP). The EFP is similar to the weaponry the US says Iran has provided to militants in Iraq. However, there remains uncertainty over whether recent seizures of weapons along the Iranian border represent the work of the Iranian state, dissident elements within it, or a failure to control the movement of black market weapons.
Another point of contention in Iran over the Afghanistan conflict is the high number of Afghan refugees that have crossed over into Iran to escape the conflict. There are about 1 million UN-registered Afghan refugees in Iran and an additional million unregistered. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 Iran has experienced a massive influx of refugees and believes that it should not be baring the burden of a conflict caused by a third power. Observers say that Iran continues to violate its promise not to forcibly remove refugees. Afghan Refugee Affairs ministry spokesman Shams-u-din Hamid said that Iran had already deported 9000 refuges at the start of 2010.
Iran continues to maintain that a stable Afghanistan is in its and the region's best interest. Iran's first vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi emphasised that there is no military solution to Afghanistan's conflict before he left for Istanbul to attend a conference on Afghanistan on January 26th 2010. Iran has also agreed to attend the London Conference on Afghanistan on January 28th 2010 provided that attention was given to its concerns. Iran continues to call for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and for the countries own security forces to take control of the situation.
Russia and the Central Asian Republics
While Iran and Pakistan's rivalry were the principle external factors fueling the war, Russia and the Central Asian former Soviet republics also supported the United Front, based on Russia's policy of keeping radical Islam away from its southern borders. While levels of military assistance reminiscent of Russia's aid prior to the fall of the PDPA were not nearly reached, the ISA and later the Northern Alliance were able to use Tajikistan as a shipping route for arms and other supplies. The collusion of the Russian border guards stationed in Tajikistan was necessary for this activity. The fact that Kuliob, a major Russian base in Tajikistan, was used as a shipping hub indicates the involvement of the Russian government in re-supplying the Northern Alliance prior to the American intervention in 2001. Uzbekistan, until the defeat of Junbish in 1998 at Mazar-i-Sharif, provided military aid to Dostum's forces. Afterwards, Uzbekistan reduced its support for any party in the country, though it turned a blind eye to the continued shipment of Iranian arms to the Northern Alliance through its territory.
In an extraordinary turn of events Russia is looking to step up its engagement in Afghanistan. In June 2008 at the 16th United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG) an agreement, in principle, was reached that Russia would supply arms to the Afghan National Army (ANA). However, the possibility of Russia sending troops seems highly unlikely given Moscow's history with Afghanistan. In March, rumours of Russia contributing troops sparked public demonstrations in the Afghanistan. All this comes at a time when there is a growing sense of frustration among the NATO members who feel that more troops are need and that many nations are involved simply to keep up appearances. A German NATO general stated that 6000 additional troops are needed in the war effort. Currently, the US wants to limit Russia's contribution to the Afghanistan operation to intelligence sharing.
In January 2009 the Russia-NATO Council met to discuss the war in Afghanistan. One of the major issues is the securing of alternate supply routes into Afghanistan. Currently American and coalition forces rely on routes through Pakistan. These routes, like the Khyber Pass, are vulnerable to insurgents who have used the opportunities offered to ambush supply convoys and hamper the coalition efforts. Thus the US is looking to Central Asia, Russia's backyard, for alternative routes. However, negotiations with Russia have not been very straight forward. Recently Russia has announced a number of defense agreements with countries that are unfriendly towards America, especially Iran. Once the US began talking to Central Asian countries without consulting the Russians, Russia countered this by having its own meetings with the Central Asian countries. This seems to be another area where the US and Russia are engaged in a power struggle as Russia looks to assert itself in its own backyard. It is thought that the meeting of the Russia-NATO council might not bring about a resolution to this issue as Russia is expected to demand a high level meeting i.e. with President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the moment Russia would feel that they have the upper hand as it is the Americans who are in urgent need of finding alternate supply routes.
Russia could yet have a further role to play in Afghanistan. With February 15th 2009 marking the 20th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country continues to be a concern for Russia with the ever growing drug trade and spreading insurgency. The international presence is unable to control either. The US government is seeking Russia's help in supplying equipment to the extra troops it plans on sending to Afghanistan. While Russia is also concerned with the instability in Afghanistan it is also in a tug of war with the US concerning influence in Europe, specifically concerning the missile defense shield. Therefore the US's need gives the Russians a bargaining chip. In the years after the 2001 attacks Russian hope for a relationship of equals with the US never materialized as the US unilaterally engaged in Central Asia, which Russia sees as its sphere of influence. Russia hopes for a change in the nature of their relationship with the new Obama administration. Last month the US announced the closure of an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Russia denies any role in this decision. However, the government of Kyrgyzstan was recently able to secure a two billion dollar loan to help its economy.
Russia's actions concerning the war in Afghanistan and relations with the West are based on its desire to be the major power in Central Asia. Professor Stephen Blank, from the Strategic Studies institute, said that it is beyond Russia's ability to sustain hegemony in Central Asia. Russia continues to make financial promises to Central Asian states it cannot keep and its military is not capable of winning in Afghanistan. However, it is this desire for empire that Prof. Blank says is blocking any serious reform of cooperation with the West. Further evidence of Russia's lack of interest in cooperating with the west was on display in December 2009 when NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen failed to gain a commitment from Russia to send helicopters to Afghanistan and help train the Afghanistan air force. Analysts say that the three-day visit by Mr. Rasmussen did indicate a thawing in relations between NATO and Russia since the Russo-Georgian conflict in 2008. Also, in December 2009 the NATO-Russia council met for the first time since that conflict.
Post 2001 Relations with Neighbours
On 22 December 2002, the six nations neighboring Afghanistan signed the Kabul Declaration. In this document, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan claimed to "solemnly reaffirm their commitment to constructive and supportive bilateral relationships based on the principles of territorial integrity, mutual respect, friendly relations, cooperation and non-interference in each other's internal affairs." This agreement was endorsed in Security Council Resolution 1453 of 2002.
Despite Pakistan's official support for OEF and the international effort in Afghanistan, President Karzai continues to accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and trying to assert its influence in Afghanistan. The lawless border region of North Waziristan in Pakistan has been a haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fleeing coalition and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has in recent years deployed "tens of thousands" of soldiers there to conduct combat missions against militants, though often their efforts are criticized as being insufficient. Reports suggest that the Taliban and Al Qaeda presence there is larger than the Pakistani government is willing to concede. Some observers assert that US pressure is needed to help improve Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, and that limiting the control of the military in Pakistan's internal affairs is also essential. Development in the border areas is also a crucial element in reducing support for the insurgency in these regions.
Pakistan continues to remain deeply intertwined with events in Afghanistan. Forces hostile to the Afghan government use Pakistani territory as a supply base and refuge, and also as a recruiting ground. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency has in the past worked closely with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and some assert that there is a continuing relationship between the ISI and the Taliban. However, the government denies any links to militants, while critics accuse the government of not doing enough to confront militants in Pakistani territory. Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been one of the most vocal voices calling for increased Pakistani action, while President Musharraf steadfastly denies accusations that Pakistan is not doing all it can. Former ISAF Commander General David Richards gave some public support to Musharraf, claiming that Pakistan's army has done "great work" in the border region. Richards did not deny that the Taliban uses Pakistan as a base, but claimed the 1,800 kilometer border is very difficult to control. On 5 September 2006 President Musharraf signed an agreement with tribal representatives in North Waziristan ending conflict between tribes and the Pakistani government. Some criticize this measure as allowing a total safe haven to Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists, while others claim that this is a step towards achieving stability. Part of the deal was for militants to end attacks within Pakistan, and to stop crossing the border into Afghanistan. Musharraf threatened a renewal of the use of force if the militants broke the truce. However, since this deal cross-border attacks have tripled. The United Nations Report of the Security Council Mission to Afghanistan (December 2006) quoted ISAF statistics that show a 70% and 50% increase in insurgent attacks in the two provinces that border on North Waziristan, Khost and Paktika. This report restated the need to address the safe haven the Taliban finds in Pakistan in order to improve Afghanistan's security situation, though not necessarily through military means. Cross-border jirgas have been encouraged by President Karzai and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Khan, though as of January 2006 they have not occurred.
Sources in Pakistan continue to provide funding to the Taliban, whether they are businesses run in the frontier province of Baluchistan or individual contributors. According to reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, money also continues to be laundered through the United Arab Emirates. Tribal allegiances also play a significant role in financial support for the Taliban.
Accusations of Iranian involvement in stirring insurgency in Afghanistan are surfacing. Though Iran has a history of being against the Talibanization of Afghanistan, some analysts suggest that the shared goal of reducing American influence is leading Tehran to partner with more diverse groups. Increasing incidents of violence in the provinces bordering Iran have been attributed to Iranian support for insurgents there. US General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, has accused Iran of supplying Afghans with weapons, a charge which Iranian officials have denied. Identifying an Iranian government role in supporting insurgency in Afghanistan is made more difficult by Iran's clear record of support for President Karzai. Iran is caught between its strategic interests of maintaining a stable eastern border, combatting drug trafficking, and trying to reduce US influence in the region. See "Afghanistan's Role in Iranian Foreign Policy," "Amid tensions, US, Iran both give life to Afghanistan city" and "Arrested in Afghanistan" for more information on Iran's interests in Afghanistan.
Regional integration is beneficial for Afghanistan. Given its geographical location, it can serve as a vital trade hub for transporting resources from Central Asia to ports on the Arabian Sea in Iran and Pakistan. Economic integration with neighbors is essential to creating regional stability. A beneficial trade agreement has been signed with Iran. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have signed protocols agreeing to the construction of a trans-Afghanistan pipeline, but poor infrastructure and a slow pace of construction have hindered progress on this project.
THE UNITED NATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN
Lakdar Brahimi, the Secretary General's Special Envoy to Afghanistan from 1997 to 1999, arrived in Kabul on 21 December 2001. He and his staff absorbed and replaced the former UN mission in the country, the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan, and established the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA has overall responsibility for all UN activities in the country.
Its mandate, which had to be re-examined after the completion of the Bonn Process, was defined in Security Council resolutions 1662 (2006) and 1747 (2007) and elaborated on in resolution 1806 (2008). On March 23 2009, the Security Council extended the UNAMA's mandate in resolution 1868. UNAMA is tasked to lead the international civilian efforts to:
promote more coherent support by the international community to the Afghan government;
strengthen the cooperation with ISAF in order to improve civil-military coordination;
provide political outreach, promote at the local level the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact, the ANDS and other strategies;
provide good offices to support the implementation of Afghan-led reconciliation programs;
support efforts to improve governance and the rule of law and to combat corruption;
play a central coordinating role to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
continue to assist in the full implementation of fundamental freedoms and human rights;
support the electoral process;
support regional cooperation to work towards a stable and prosperous Afghanistan;
UNAMA's current mandate will end in March 2010.
UNAMA is headed by Mr. Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG). He succeeded Lakdar Brahimi (2002-2004), Jean Arnault (2004-2006) and Tom Koenigs (2006-2007).
The Mission consists of two main pillars, headed by the SRSG's two deputies. The first is a political pillar, monitoring the political and human rights situation in the country. It also maintains contact with Afghan leaders and the international community. The second pillar is focusing on relief, recovery, and reconstruction. There are currently more than 1,200 staff, most of them Afghan (209 international civilians, 959 local civilians, 16 military observers, 3 civilian police, 30 UN volunteers). The headquarters is in Kabul, with 9 provincial and 8 regional offices throughout Afghanistan.
Review of UNAMA's role
Initially, UNAMA endeavored to adopt a 'light footprint' approach, as suggested by its first SRSG Brahimi in 2002. The UN's role was supposed to be to provide the government with support and assistance - not to seek to govern in its place. However, in the absence of leadership from the Afghan government and in view of ineffective international development efforts, an increasing number of countries decided that a high-profile representative was required to take a more prominent role in coordinating donor activities and guide reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Various countries expressed their desire for a stronger UN role, possibly by appointing a high-level UN envoy who would will play such a coordinating role.
On 10 March 2008, Kai Eide was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA. During his first few months in office, he focused on reaching out to all key players and engaging them in discussions on a more coherent approach, notably through a number of visits to countries such as the US, Canada, Iran and Pakistan as well as his participation in the NATO summit in April 2008 and the international donor conference in June 2008. Having received strong verbal support from all sides, he believes that he possesses the tools needed for a successful UN role in Afghanistan. While pushing donors to accept being coordinated and move from process-oriented to delivery-oriented consultation mechanisms, he also recognizes the urgent need for the Afghan government to combat corruption and improve governance.
One of the biggest scandals that Kai Eide had to deal with in his term as head of UNAMA was the presidential election fraud of 2009. UNAMA did not monitor the elections but supported the work of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). Though it did play a major role in planning, preparations and logistics through the UNDP's Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (ELECT).The election was rife reports of intimidation, ballot stuffing, ghost polling stations and interference of IEC employees. Once evidence of fraud emerged it cost UNAMA, the US and EU credibility with the Afghan people for declaring the elections a success. With nearly a quarter of all votes being disqualified the election was set for a runoff between President Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah. However, Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the contest and Karzai was declared the winner.
The election affected Kai Eide personally as he was accused by a former colleague Deputy Special Representative Peter Galbraith of supporting President Karzai and allowing fraud to take place unchallenged. This was an accusation he strongly denied. As his term ends in March 2010, in his final formal address to the UN, Kai Eide warned of the negative trends that could undo the reconstruction work being done Afghanistan. He was concerned about the growing strength of the insurgency and the frustration of the Afghan people that their expectations had not been met.
UNAMA's role has been harshly criticised in a January 2009 report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), a newly established Kabul-based rights watch dog. According to the report, entitled "The Plight of the Afghan People in 2008", the UN and other aid agencies have failed in reaching and delivering aid to the neediest of communities. The report went further in accusing the UN and other aid organizations of retreating to the security zones in Kabul and other major cities. It urged the UN to maintain its neutrality and venture into the more volatile areas of the country in order to assist those affected by the ongoing conflict. ARM also states that civilian casualties are underreported and that the problem is worse than it has been made out to be. The report estimates that about 3,917 civilians were killed, over 6,800 were wounded and about 120,000 were forced out of their homes. These figures are said to be higher than those reported by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA. All sides in the conflict were charged with "repeated and systematic" violations of international human rights law, the Geneva Conventions and Afghanistan's laws regarding conflict. However, the UN has strenuously refuted these allegations. Dan McNorton, a UNAMA spokesman responded to the reports by saying that the report overlooked UNAMA's regional and provincial presence. He cited the thousands of road missions, immunization programs, returnee assistance projects, food assistance and disaster relief efforts that the UN has undertaken. The report was labelled as "superficial and deeply uninformed." Despite this dismissive response from the UN spokesman greater analysis is needed to ensure that aid is reaching the neediest of Afghans and that the UN and other organizations are having the greatest possible impact on the majority of Afghans.
Discussions about a separate OCHA office
In recent months aid agencies providing assistance in Afghanistan have been advocating for the re-establishment of an independent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) outside the UNAMA mission structure. They believe that the neutrality and independence of humanitarian assistance is at risk as long as its coordination is part of the mandate of an integrated UN mission with a clear political mandate to support the Afghan government. UNAMA, however, is concerned that establishing a separate OCHA office could be counter-productive because it would fragment the coordination effort at a time when donors are trying to improve coherence.
In addition to UNAMA, there are nearly twenty other UN agencies and programs operating in Afghanistan. In 2006, all UN agency program plans were harmonized to operate on a three year cycle, from January 2006 to January 2008.
UNDP - United Nations Development Program
Related Non-UN Agencies: IOM
UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. In Afghanistan, the Program operates within the framework of the integrated UNAMA mission and within the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Together with the Government of Afghanistan, it is focusing on three development areas:
Faced with a long reconstruction process, national government services lack sufficient resources to meet all priorities. UNDP focuses on strengthening institutional capacity to enforce the rule of law and provide public administration services to Afghans. In its support to public administration, UNDP provides public sector management, information management, aid coordination and tracking of resources.
Good governance is one of the most important factors in eradicating poverty and promoting development. In line with the Bonn Agreement and the Millennium Development Declaration, UNDP is supporting the Government of Afghanistan in its efforts to consolidate its institutions, to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and to promote human rights and gender equality.
UNDP is providing training, employment and investment opportunities that assist Afghan communities to continue the physical reconstruction of their country, to remove the remnants of war and reintegrate former combatants, and to face future human development challenges.
UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Since major repatriation operations to Afghanistan resumed in 2002, more than 5 million Afghans have returned to their country, mostly from Pakistan and Iran. Another half million internally displaced people have gone back home. However, approximately 3 million Afghans still remain in the two neighboring countries alone. Localized conflict continues to displace some communities within Afghanistan, while poverty and lack of job opportunities oblige many Afghans to seek employment abroad.
After the huge return movements of 2002-2004, the pace of repatriation has dropped in the last three years. Nevertheless, Afghanistan has been UNHCR's largest repatriation operation worldwide for six consecutive years. Voluntary repatriation will continue to be the preferred durable solution. In 2007, UNHCR has adjusted its support for initial travel and reintegration assistance to bring it more into line with recent cost increases. It will continue to support a shelter program - with an additional 10,000 units in 2007 - that has built new homes for more than a million returnees since 2002. Cooperation with the Afghan authorities to allocate land for poor and homeless returnees and local people will be intensified. Moreover, UNHCR will continue to work closely with the Afghan government and its international partners to identify new opportunities to address employment, livelihood, and social sector requirements.
UNICEF - United Nations Children's Emergency Fund
UNICEF's priorities in Afghanistan are education, child health, and the demobilization of child soldiers. In 2006, UNICEF will provide $61 million to various ministries for health, education, and protection of women's and children's rights. This is part of a new three year deal signed in February 2006 with the respective ministries. Specifically, UNICEF will focus on community-based education, curriculum development and teacher training, women's literacy, hygiene courses, immunization, training of maternal health workers, and policy-level support for child labour and trafficking initiatives. UNICEF has shifted from implementing projects to supporting government agencies in implementing projects. UNICEF has also been heavily involved in disaster relief.
WFP - World Food Programme
Since the establishment of a transitional government in June 2002, WFP's operations have shifted from emergency assistance to rehabilitation and recovery. The current program aims to provide 520,000 metric tonnes of food aid to 6.6 million Afghans between January 2006 and December 2008 - at a cost of US$ 372 million. On average, WFP will distribute food to 3.5 million people each year, primarily in remote, food-insecure rural areas. In 2007 along, the UN expects to deliver about 225,000 tonnes of food.
WFP will target chronically poor and food-insecure families, schoolchildren, teachers, illiterate people, tuberculosis patients and their families, internally displaced persons and ex-combatants - with a particular emphasis on vulnerable women and girls. WFP will provide assistance to its beneficiaries through a range of relief and recovery activities, including food for work, food for training and food for education. These projects will be implemented in partnership with the Afghan government, other UN agencies (notably UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, FAO and UNHCR), Community Development Councils and non-governmental organisations.
In the recent past, WFP has increasingly been affected by insecurity in its areas of operation. Especially in southern Afghanistan, its convoys carrying food donations have repeatedly coming under attack. The Program has lost more food between October 2006 and October 2007 through those attacks than in the previous three years. About 1,000 tonnes of wheat, beans, cooking oil and fortified biscuits have been waylaid or vanished since January. About 30 attacks on local Afghan trucks moving the food between volatile southern districts are blamed on insurgents who resent foreign intervention, or sometimes on bandits who later sell donations meant to sustain the poorest families.
FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization
"The mandate of FAO in Afghanistan is to support agricultural and environmental rehabilitation and assist the country to become a food secure and self-reliant nation in accordance with the principles of the National Development Framework of the Afghan Government." FAO works in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, the Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and the Environment and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. The main office of FAO Afghanistan is in Kabul. As agriculture and animal husbandry support an estimated 85% of Afghanistan's population, the FAO established a Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Information Management and Policy unit (FAAHM) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in July 2003, with US and German funding. The FAO runs several programs concerning food security, livestock, crops and seeds, forestry, and institution building, all in cooperation with ministries and local communities. The FAO is also involved in veterinary services and the fight against avian flu in Afghanistan. Information on FAO budgets in Afghanistan is not available on any FAO websites.
FAO Afghanistan website:
WHO - World Health Organization
UNHABITAT/UNHCS - The United Nations Human Settlements Program
UNHABITAT was formed in 1978 with a vision to alleviate the problems associated with mass urbanization. It is a development agency, focused on poverty reduction and sustainability. UNHABITAT has been in Afghanistan since 1991. It worked with communities during the Taliban years to foster democratic methods of governance. This was called the Community Forums Programme. UNHABITAT works with the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. UNHABITAT drew on its lessons from the Community Forums programs to draft the National Solidarity Programme (NSP), the Afghan government's principle community development/project implementation program. The NSP will be coordinated with the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development. UNHABITAT works with municipal governments as well to conduct projects to improve urban infrastructure. This is done in partnership with various NGOs and civil organizations. In 2003, US$15 million was spent on infrastructure projects. One key project was a Municipal Solid Waste Management Programme. This involved waste collection, education and awareness, and disposal.
UNHABITAT Afghanistan website:
UNIFEM - United Nations Women's Fund
UNIFEM began operations in Afghanistan in early 2002, consulting with Afghan women to formulate its strategy. Its goal is to increase options and opportunities for women through making overall development more equitable. The two principle aims are to strengthen capacity and leadership of women's networks and gather political and financial support for women. This is done by supporting capacity-building in the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and supporting other women's groups. Protocols have been arranged with the ministries of education, health, commerce, planning, and justice to ensure mainstreaming of gender into their areas of operations. Women's Development Centres have been established at the provincial and community levels. Working with NGOS, they provide literacy and health education, computer skills and English training, and income generation workshops. Seven of these centres have been opened as of March 2006. UNIFEM also works to promote women in the Afghan media, and to raise awareness of women's rights and violence against women. To this end, UNIFEM works with UNESCO, MOWA, and the Ministry of Information and Culture. Principle donors include Italy, Japan, Denmark, Finland, the USA, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Belgium. UNIFEM efforts have resulted in President Karzai announcing an inter-ministerial Task Force to Eliminate Violence Against Women (VAW) on 6 June 2005. Support for this initiative came from the government of Italy. There are currently about 30 UNIFEM staff members in Afghanistan. In March 2005 UNIFEM began publishing the newsletter "Gender Advocacy in Afghanistan."
UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
UNESCO formed the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage in 2002. It works to protect sites like the Minaret of Jam and the Bamian statues, and also supports the restoration of the Kabul museum. UNESCO provides literacy training and scientific training, and also supports NGOs involved in recovering cultural artifacts removed from the country.
UNODC - United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The UNODC cooperates with the Afghan government's Ministry of Counter Narcotics to maintain an opium monitoring system and to conduct annual opium surveys. It conducts the annual surveys using satellite imagery and ground surveys. UNODC runs several other projects besides monitoring, including a drug demand reduction training program for women in refugee camps in Pakistan, training and capacity-building with the Counter Narcotics Directorate, infrastructure activities as an alternative to opium cultivation, and training a drug law enforcement unit. A list of projects and updated publications by UNODC are available on the UNODC website.
UNEP - United Nations Environment Program
UNEP aided the passing of crucial legislation designed to protect the environment in January 2006. As 80% of Afghans rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, this was an important contribution. Called the Environment Act, it provides for sustainability and laws that allow the government to enforce the Act. UNEP also conducted the Post-Conflict Environment Assessment and Capacity Building Programme, and published the "Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment" in 2003. Canada provided nearly a third of the funding required for the Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment with a contribution of €248,020. UNEP worked with the Ministry of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment's (MIWRE) National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) on that project. The project was started in 2002, after the Emergency Loya Jirga. Since the report, at the request of the MIWRE UNEP has been working on increasing the capacity of the Department of Environment. UNEP provides training to NEPA personnel, gives technical assistance and advice on an as-needed basis, and supplies office and field equipment, while NEPA is the final decision-making body. UNEP works to improve assessment and enforcement, and is working to develop educational programs at Kabul University and Kabul Polytechnicum to train environmental experts. The UNEP Capacity Building and Institutional Development Programme for Environmental Management was launched on 28 October 2003. The purpose of the program is to develop a stand-alone NEPA. The program is now expected to continue until 2008. Funding was received from the European Commission, the Government of Finland, and the Global Environment Facility.
UNHCHR - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Rather than a separate unit dedicated to human rights, UNHCHR is manifested through a senior human rights advisor posted to the office of the SRSG. Human rights principles are integrated in all of the operations of UNAMA. There are two pillars of human rights activities. The first is monitoring investigation, and community liaison. The second pillar is human rights education, institution building, and humanitarian protection.
UNMACA - United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan
This organization is responsible for planning, coordinating, and implementing mine action on behalf of the government of Afghanistan. The organization works in cooperation with NGOs, government ministries, and donor agencies.
UNOPS - United Nations Office for Project Services
UNOPS operates as a contract organization within the UN system. While functioning similar to a private contractor, UNOPS does not earn a profit for its services. In Afghanistan, UNOPS implements and manages development projects in cooperation with other UN agencies, the Afghan government, and international donors. UNOPS currently has 300 international and 200,000 national staff in Afghanistan. Since 2002, it has been redirected as a service provider for the Afghan government and UN agencies. UNOPS manages development projects from start to finish or as needed. It hires personnel, procures goods, organizes training, manages financial resources, administers loans, and more. Funding for UNOPS activities comes from fees charged for its services. On average, UNOPS manages 25 major projects and over 1,000 sub-projects. The estimated value of these projects and associated labour is US$600 million. UNOPS also implements quick-impact projects for PRTs, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, the US military, and with funding from USAID. Thirty-five projects have been completed so far, with another 39 underway.
UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund for Afghanistan
"UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect." UNFPA has been active in Afghanistan since the late 1970s in the areas of population and reproductive health/family planning. Since September 2001 UNFPA activities have focused on three core areas: reproductive health, women's issues/gender, and population census. In 2003, UNFPA shifted its focus from humanitarian assistance to a developmental approach. Examples of UNFPA activities include the rehabilitation of three hospitals in Kabul, supporting reproductive health services in under-served areas, using the media to promote change, rehabilitation of the Ministry of Women's Affairs Vocational Training Centre and offices, and income generation projects for women. UNFPA also places technical experts in related ministries. Detailed information of its project activities, under the title of "Country Program Action Plan," can be found online at http://afghanistan.unfpa.org/program.html. This plan is for the period 2006-2008. UNFPA proposes a budget of US$52 million for this period, with $15.4 million going to reproductive health projects, $4.5 to gender-related projects, $31.5 million going to population and development projects, and $0.6 million going to programme coordination.
UNIDO - United Nations Industrial Development Organization
The mission of UNIDO is to provide "tailor-made solutions for the sustainable industrial development of developing countries and countries with economies in Transition." UNIDO has developed a Country Service Framework plan for 2005-2008. This plan will assist the Afghan government to develop the Ministry of Mines and Industry (MMI), provide technical assistance for the rehabilitation of factories, encourage private enterprise, and help poor rural communities to engage in viable farming to reduce their dependence on relief aid. The Country Service Framework plan is divided into two components. The first is based on creating an environment favourable to industrial development through advising the MMI on industrial policy, addressing unfavourable investment climates caused by too heavy bureaucratic structures, and promoting domestic trade. The second component comprises, among other things, direct assistance to the poor to stimulate the economy and reconstruction, providing small-business assistance programs, and construction training and assistance for farmers.
UNCCD - United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Afghanistan is a signatory to this convention, signed in 1995. The purpose of the Convention is to develop unified strategies to combat desertification with sustainable development. Desertification is a growing problem due to overgrazing and deforestation. Recently, UNCCD provided the Ministry of Agriculture US$49,000 to collect information and documents, organize a national conference, and hire a consultant for the creation of a medium-sized project in Afghanistan.
UNJLC - United Nations Joint Logistics Centre
UNJLC provides support to cooperating agencies in the form of logistics planning and coordination. It primarily operates in crisis areas. It ceased operations in Afghanistan on 31 March 2003.
IOM - International Organization of MigrationThe IOM has been in Afghanistan for twelve years. Since 2001, IOM had helped 430,000 displaced persons return to their homes, as of March 2005. Working with the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, IOM has programs to facilitate return. Examples of such programs are the IDP Return and Reintegration Assistance Program, The Return of Qualified Afghans Program (which seeks to draw Afghans living in the EU back to Afghanistan), and the reintegration component of DDR in northern Afghanistan. IOM implements quick-impact projects for PRTs, funded by USAID. The focus is on small infrastructure projects. IOM also works with USAID on a Schools and Clinics Construction and Refurbishment program. IOM works with the ministries of Women's Affairs, Justice, and Interior on counter-trafficking initiatives. IOM also has an Afghan Transition Initiative (ATI) to help increase the Afghan government's responsiveness to citizens' needs, increase citizen awareness and participation in the democratic process, and increase the capacity of the Afghan media. The ATI is funded by USAID. So far US$33,000,000 has been handed out in 558 grants for various projects. IOM relies on a fleet of 50 trucks and 25 light escort vehicles in its transportation activities. It works closely with UNHCR to accomplish this. To help make the journey easier and safer, IOM operates three transit centres where returnees can get a warm meal and spend a safe night. The IOM reintegration unit offers trade skills training, employment placement, grants for business start-ups, advice, and agricultural assistance.