Evgeni Pastukhov, Researcher, Investment Profitability Research Agency (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
Last year, Afghanistan’s foreign policy was largely determined by the fact that the world community continued to rivet its attention on this country. Its keen interest in the events going on in and around it was aroused by the fact that the situation within the country is still having a significant impact on stability in the region, on the security system of its states, and on the interrelations of such players on the Central Asian field as the U.S., Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, and India.
Afghanistan’s foreign policy has also become more active since the country became a full-fledged member of the international community after the overthrow of the Taliban. Judging from the energetic activity of the country’s leadership, primarily of its president, Hamid Karzai, who made official visits to several European and neighboring countries, official Kabul is gradually trying to establish its place in the rapidly changing world.
A significant role in improving the country’s image on the international area was played by the decisions of the Afghani government to support those states suffering from natural disasters. For example, in January, Afghanistan sent humanitarian aid to the South Asian countries hit by the tsunami at the end of December 2004: twenty military medics flew to Sri Lanka and five tons of medication and medical equipment were also sent there. In September, Kabul allotted 100,000 dollars to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the south of the U.S., and on 22 November, 500,000 dollars were sent to the earthquake victims in Pakistan.
What is more, Kabul is striving to reinforce relations with neighboring states and establish a dialog with other countries in order to obtain additional assistance for restoring the country’s economy and ensuring its security. For example, one of the main items on the agenda at international conferences and meetings of Afghanistan’s donor countries was usually the most important areas of joint activity to promote its restoration, including ensuring security, fighting the illicit production and spread of drugs, developing infrastructure, and so on.
It is also very symptomatic that the main goal of the international economic conference held in Kabul at the beginning of April was to replenish the country’s budget for 2005/06 by attracting additional donor funds. Head of State Hamid Karzai asked the participants in the forum to increase the amount of funding and look at the possibility of sending these funds straight to the state budget and not to nongovernmental organizations, since this causes untargeted squandering of the allotted aid. Similar requests were also heard during Hamid Karzai’s visits to London, Paris, and Brussels.
A particularly urgent problem is refugees. Despite the fact that many of them, three million people according to experts, returned to their homeland after the Taliban regime was routed, the Afghani diaspora is still one of the largest in the world, constituting between three and four million people according to different estimates. Most, approximately three million, of them found refuge in Pakistan, approximately 900,000 in Iran, while many others settled in the U.S., Holland, Germany, England, the UAE, India, the Central Asian republics, and Russia. As early as the beginning of the year, the U.N. High Commissariat for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed its concern about their fate, particularly of those who settled in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. According to the U.N. employees, the local regimes have been restricting the rights and freedoms of Afghani refugees and are trying to oust them from their republics. In this respect, the question was raised at the world level about further arrangements for former Afghani citizens. Canada was the most vocal among the Western states declaring their willingness to give refuge to migrants from Afghanistan. At the end of 2004-beginning of 2005, its representatives visited Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, where they held talks with refugees, many were refused for security reasons, but in the end Canada agreed to accept 2,000 Afghanis, 1,000 of whom were from Tajikistan.
In April, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said that the Afghani refugees living in Iran and Pakistan would be returned to their homeland before the end of the year. But as early as June, the Commissariat’s representative office in Kabul announced a cutback in the number of refugees to be returned home from Iran, from where, according to U.N. data, 15,000 people arrived in six months. Most of the Afghanis announced their desire to stay in Pakistan too, but, keeping in mind the load this large diaspora has on its economy, the refugee problem will become extremely urgent again in the near future with respect to official Islamabad’s relations with Kabul.
One of the most serious questions for the world community and official Kabul is preventing Afghanistan from turning into a so-called drug state. At the beginning of last year, the International Monetary Fund published a report from which it followed that Afghanistan is gradually becoming a country where all the state institutions are powerless against the enormous amounts of drugs being produced and transported, the cost of which is estimated at 30 billion dollars on the foreign market. As some Western and Russian mass media claim, many high-ranking Afghani officials and politicians are involved in the drug business, even the president’s brother, Quayum Karzai, who essentially completely controls this business in the country’s southern provinces. According to U.N. experts, Afghanistan accounts for 87% of the total world production of heroin, and the turnover of the opium economy is more than 60% of the country’s GDP. Approximately 10% of the country’s 24-million population are involved in this industry. At the same time as the IMF report appeared, U.N. representatives made a statement that international aid to this state should be cut back if its authorities do not establish control over drug manufacture.
On 6 February, Hamid Karzai asked the World Bank to finance the efforts in the drug war aimed at reorienting farmers toward growing alternative crops. On 16 February, during his visit to Kabul, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that London plans to create a trust fund for rendering Afghanistan aid in the fight against the illicit manufacture and sale of drugs, to which other countries can also make contributions. These problems were discussed at many international meetings devoted to the restoration of Afghanistan. For example, the threat of drugs spreading from the country was one of the main issues discussed at the meeting of defense ministers of the North Atlantic Alliance states and at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. Judging by everything, the fight against the illicit production and spread of drugs, which Hamid Karzai headed, began to yield fruit by the end of the year. For example, according to the September report of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the opium poppy plantations in the country were reduced by 21%, from 131,000 to 104,000 hectares.
Of course, the governments of neighboring states are also providing Kabul with significant help in fighting the drug threat. On 6 December, a meeting was held in the Pakistani town of Rawalpindi of the heads of the corresponding departments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, the participants of which came to terms about strengthening cooperation in the struggle against the spread of drugs. The fight against drug manufacture is also being stepped up due to the fact that a certain amount of the profit from its sale is used to recruit militants and buy weapons and ammunition. According to U.N. estimates, the country’s population has up to 10 million submachine guns, rifles, and machine guns, but the measures (supported by the international military contingent) its government is carrying out to demobilize and disarm illegal military formations are clearly insufficient. What is more, according to some information, terrorists are still being trained in the country, which means this state continues to be a source not only of the drug business and illegal arms trade, but also of religious extremism and terrorism.
And although the Taliban movement was officially routed as early as the fall-winter of 2001, not all the extremists and terrorists were destroyed during the U.S.-led international antiterrorist operations and the corresponding activity of the Afghani special services. Throughout the year, difficulties were noted in carrying out these operations in the southeast provinces of the country, particularly in the regions bordering on Pakistan. For example, on 22 June, the Afghanistan president’s press secretary Jawed Ludin said that some high-ranking leaders of the Taliban movement are still in Pakistan.
The problem of cross-border terrorism manifested itself with new force in May, when Director of the Russian Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev said that the events in Afghanistan are related not only to Uzbekistan’s domestic problems, but have developed under the influence of the instability in Afghanistan. During his official visit to Japan, Afghani Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah admitted that some participants in the unrest in Uzbekistan had ties with the Afghani Taliban. And speaking at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Moscow has information about the training of terrorists in Afghanistan for their future export. But representatives of the Afghani Defense Ministry said this statement was unsubstantiated and demanded that Russia explain and clarify its viewpoint on this issue.
On 24 June, representatives of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states discussed measures to render assistance and support to Afghanistan at a meeting in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin again expressed his concern about the fact that terrorist bases continue to function in this country. In response, several Kabul newspapers published an open letter by Afghanistan Head Hamid Karzai to Russian President Vladimir Putin which said in particular: “Your Excellency, Mr. President of the Russian Federation! I would hereby like to reassure you and the Russian people that Afghanistan will not allow terrorists to use its territory for destabilizing the situation in neighboring countries and the countries of the region.” But in August, head of the CSTO Antiterrorist Center Colonel General Boris Mylnikov said again that “the greatest threat of terrorism for the CIS countries comes from Afghanistan.”
But in so doing, the participants in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit held in Astana in June called on the international antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan to define the time periods for using the bases in Central Asia. This statement prompted Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov to demand that Washington withdraw the U.S. military base from the country, although six months prior to this, in January, he officially spoke in favor of keeping the bases of the United States and its allies in the antiterrorist coalition in Uzbekistan: “While the American contingent is in Afghanistan, the base in Khanabad will continue to exist.”
This and other events clearly show that Afghanistan has turned from a country on the periphery into one of the centers where the forces of regional and global players are applied. In this respect, we would like to remind you that throughout the entire year, official Kabul continued to focus significant attention on its contacts with representatives of states interested in strengthening their foothold in Afghanistan. Among them are also those looking for the opportunity to incorporate its significant mineral resources into the world economy, but primarily trying to use the country as a natural transportation corridor in the development of interstate economic relations. For example, on 5 January, 2005, the first meeting of the Interstate Coordinating Council to create a trans-Afghan transportation corridor was held in Tashkent. The delegation from official Kabul headed by Social Affairs Minister Suhrab Ali Safari took part in the ceremony to sign the provision on this Interstate Coordinating Council to create a transportation corridor linking Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan. And as early as the middle of the month, despite the problems relating to determining the capacities of Turkmenistan’s gas fields, the Asian Development Bank presented the leaders of the oil and gas industry and mineral resources of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India with the final feasibility report drawn up by the British Penspen Company for laying a gas pipeline of 1,680 km. As per the plans, it will pass from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the population settlement of Fazilika in India.
On 28 March, the country’s trade minister Hedayat Amin-Arsalla held a press conference in Kabul, at which he said that the state leaders were undertaking active measures to implement a project for building a transit gas pipeline. A few months later, after a meeting of the Indo-Pakistani working group on cooperation in power engineering in Delhi, Pakistan’s Deputy Oil and Natural Gas Minister Akhmed Vakar confirmed that the Indian authorities also agreed to participate in this project. There are plans to begin building this gas pipeline in 2006. The cost of the project is estimated at 3.3 billion dollars and its implementation will be not only of economic, but also of geostrategic significance. For example, the U.S. as a guarantor of security should reinforce its position more in Central and South Asia.
In this respect, the strengthening of American-Afghani contacts should be noted. During the second half of May, Afghani President Hamid Karzai made a visit to the U.S., during which an agreement was signed on long-term strategic partnership. In particular, it envisaged the possibility of the U.S. armed forces contingent’s long-term stay in Afghanistan, as well as the use of the Bagram airbase and other military infrastructure in Washington’s interests. What is more, the U.S.-led international military contingent will continue to have freedom of movement in the country while the antiterrorist campaign is being carried out.
Here I should remind you that the signing of this agreement was preceded by events threatening to greatly complicate bilateral relations. In the spring, anti-American moods intensified in Afghanistan aroused by the publications in Newsweek and then in other mass media about derision on the part of American security guards of the religious sentiments of prisoners at the base in Guantanamo. According to the magazine, in order to break the Islamists’ spirit, they derided the Koran, placing copies of the book in the toilets. This information aroused indignation in many Muslim countries, including in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In the Afghan town of Jalalabad, about 300 students came out into the streets to demonstrate bearing slogans of “Death to America!” and “Death to Bush!”. Soon thereafter, similar demonstrations took place in 14 of the country’s 34 provinces, including Kabul. In Kunduz and Gazni, there were clashes between the demonstrators and the police, as a result of which 18 people were killed and 43 were wounded.
As the representatives of the Western embassies in Afghanistan noted, this unrest was well planned and coordinated by people interested in escalating tension between Washington and Kabul. Hamid Karzai, who was making a European tour at the time, had a very unusual reaction to the anti-American protests. In his opinion, the multi-thousand demonstrations showed “the presence of democracy in the country,” and the unrest and pogroms were explained only by the absence of “the necessary power structures and law-keeping forces.” And this, in Karzai’s words, again confirms the need to retain NATO’s military presence in Afghanistan even after the parliamentary election. But the increase in anti-American moods ultimately forced Hamid Karzai to make several loud statements. For example, on 20 September, he said that he did not see the point in continuing a full-scale military operation in Afghanistan, the international contingent should concentrate on destroying the terrorist bases and not bomb or search the homes of peaceful residents.
Some experts evaluated the head of state’s demarche as an attempt to change foreign policy priorities and steer away from American policy. According to their arguments, whereas Hamid Karzai used to depend on Washington and essentially could not take a single step on the international arena without its help, by the end of the summer, the situation had changed. During his years of rule, the Afghani leader has established rather stable relations with Iran, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and other countries, and Hamid Karzai himself is no longer perceived on the world arena as a puppet ruler. This is shown in particular by the fact that although the Hamid Karzai government still depends on injections of money from the U.S., not one major infrastructure project was implemented with its participation. The largest contribution to restoration of the Afghani economy was made by Iran and India.
For example, the Iranian government allotted 500 million dollars in gratuitous aid to agriculture and power engineering, which is 46.1% of all the funds allotted in 2002-2004 to the restoration of the Afghani economy. And on the whole, Tehran is participating in 22 projects, whereby last year most of them were fully implemented: water supply and irrigation systems were restored, 180 artesian wells were built in the provinces of Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar, and so on. It is focusing particular attention on power engineering. In order to supply the western provinces of Afghanistan with electric power, a project for building two power transmission lines has been drawn up—Taebat-Herat and Torbete-Jam-Herat—costing a total of 13.6 million dollars. The first went into operation in 2003, and the second in January 2005. What is more, the Iranians have built major highways—Herat-Eslamkala and Herat-Meimene—and on 24 January, 2005, the ceremonial opening of the 122 km Dugarun-Herat highway took place, which was also built with Iran’s assistance. Along with this, last year an Iranian-Afghani intergovernmental committee on economic issues was created, which is headed by the finance ministers of both countries. The decision announced by Head of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mohammad Amin Kerim to grant Afghani businessmen 50 hectares in the free economic zone of Chabar was a significant economic breakthrough in bilateral relations.
In this way, Hamid Karzai’s January visit to Tehran and other meetings with then Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, the visit by his wife, Zohre Sadegi Khatami, to Afghanistan in March, and the signing of several agreements, including on training Afghani policemen in Iranian higher educational establishments and on training personnel for the government administration, for which Tehran is allotting 1 million dollars, an agreement on border security, a memorandum on cooperation in communications, and several important political and economic documents signed in November indicate the high level of bilateral relations.
However, last year, Tehran tried to undermine the U.S.’s plans to extend Washington’s influence in Central Asia, intercept Pakistan’s direct interference in the inter-Afghani settlement, and eliminate the threat of terrorism in order to ensure national security in the region and its interests in it, as well as intensify the fight against drug transportation from Afghanistan to Iran, and through its territory, etc.
Contacts between Afghanistan and India have also strengthened. For example, on 15 February, for the first time in the past 15 years, Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh visited Kabul, and on 28 August, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began an official two-day visit to Afghanistan. The last visit at this level took place 29 years ago, in 1976, when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Kabul. India occupies sixth place in terms of amount of aid to Afghanistan, allotting 515 million dollars for this purpose since 2002. What is more, its specialists are participating in building a complex of parliament buildings in Kabul, restoring roads, implementing several projects in agriculture, in particular helping to establish power supply in the villages using solar energy, and introducing more efficient methods of farming. During his visit, Manmohan Singh offered 50 million dollars for carrying out small projects, and also stated that both sides equally understand the danger of international terrorism and are willing to cooperate in the struggle against it.
This cooperation put Pakistan on its guard. India considers Afghanistan to be a kind of gateway to Central Asia, where there are significant supplies of energy resources. Official Delhi is supporting Kabul in the fight against terrorism with the precise aim of ensuring security in the Central Asian countries and its interests in the region. It also hopes that this will help to wipe out the threat of international Islamist expansion with respect to Kashmir and other Indian regions where there is a predominant Muslim population. What is more, India does not want its traditional rival Pakistan to restore its dominating influence in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that in recent years Indian-Pakistani relations have significantly improved, there is still rivalry between Islamabad and Delhi. For example, most of India’s humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has been transited and will continue to be transited through Iran by road. This route is much longer than the one through Pakistan, but, according to the Indian authorities, it is simpler and more reliable, since when issuing permits to Indian truck drivers to pass through Pakistani territory, the local authorities insist on their own political conditions.
It should be noted that in recent years, relations between Islamabad and Kabul have been developing very unevenly. After the terrorist act of 9/11, the Pakistani government and its leader Pervez Musharraf took the side of the coalition troops, but continued to support the Afghani Pashtoons, and recommended that the new Afghani authorities keep an eye on the former moderate Taliban. When the U.S. and the international antiterrorist contingent came to Afghanistan, Islamabad lost its former influence on the events going on in its neighboring state. This was because in exchange for refusing to play the “Afghan game,” the Western countries, primarily the United States, offered Pakistan significant economic aid, in particular, they adjusted its foreign debts. What is more, they essentially recognized, which is extremely important, official Islamabad’s nuclear status, and in so doing brought the country out of the international isolation it was in for many years. On the whole, Islamabad has been very interested recently in Afghanistan’s political and economic stability, from where, as already noted, up to 4 million refugees came to Pakistan and on the upkeep of whom, according to some estimates, it spends up to 1 million dollars daily. Refugees have been creating quite a number of other problems, and only after the end of the civil war in Afghanistan did the opportunity to resolve them arise for the first time.
A new stage in the development of bilateral relations came in the middle of last year when Governor General of the Northwest Border Province of Pakistan, populated predominantly by Pashtoons, recognized the controversial nature of the border between these two countries, the so-called Durand Line, and the need to enter a new treaty. The one-hundred-year term of the previous treaty expired, according to official Kabul, 12 years ago, but Islamabad tried to insist on the limitless nature of this border by putting forward the idea of building a security wall along it. This plan, as was to be expected, aroused an extremely negative reaction in Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Nevertheless, in September, Pakistan refuted the statements that there are disputes between Islamabad and Kabul regarding their state borders. But the fact that Pakistan nevertheless decided on a demarche indicates its attempts to declare its interests in Afghanistan from a position of strength. Islamabad is still interested in retaining a friendly regime in Kabul, in maintaining its control over development of the situation in Afghanistan in the necessary vector, and in opposing the plans of certain states (for example, Iran and Russia) regarding the Afghani settlement.
In turn, Iran, the U.S., and Russia, which are carrying out their own policy in Afghanistan, are trying to retain their influence both in this country and in Central and South Asia as a whole in order to use Afghanistan as a springboard for carrying out their policy in relation to the countries contiguous to it.
As for China and the Central Asian republics, last year they were mainly interested in ensuring the safety of their borders, eliminating hotbeds of tension in the region, eradicating terrorist groups, and ensuring national security. What is more, in this respect, their goal was to prevent a spread in radical Islamic fundamentalism in the CIS republics, destroy sources of drug trafficking from Afghanistan, and turn the country into a stable and friendly state with a predictable foreign policy.
In this way, despite the changing features of the region’s political map, last year, Afghanistan continued to be a key country and problem for many foreign players. Like before, it will serve as a lever in the game many states are playing to advance their interests in Central Asia. But an important outcome of the year was the fact that Afghanistan is turning from a closed zone of economic and political influence into an open country in which many centers of power are beginning to function. What is more, Kabul itself is trying to carry out and uphold its own policy in its interrelations with neighboring countries. It is symptomatic that in the middle of the year, Hamid Karzai publicly announced more than once that the activity of foreign intelligence services had increased in the country. In his words, the employees of several foreign intelligence services had even penetrated into some of Afghanistan’s state administration bodies. In December, statements appeared that Kabul intends to demand compensation from Russia for the damage inflicted on Afghanistan during the years of Soviet intervention. But in the near future, Hamid Karzai is unlikely to be able to carry out a more independent foreign policy. The interests of regional and global nations are too tightly bound up with Afghanistan and the region as a whole.