By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal*
(There have been many major milestones for Afghanistan in 2014, and the country is now on the cusp of what has been termed the ‘Transformation Decade’ spanning from 2015 to 2024. This period of transition brings with it uncertainty about the future, including the nature of international donor support and the ability of the Afghan state and economy to meet its nancing needs… The 2015-25 decade is important in the context of on going transitions i.e. political, military and economic.1 Afghanistan is not in a position to handle any of these transitions single-handedly. The international community will have to join hands to create an enabling environment so that Afghanistan can not only stand on its feet but also be able to, at least, walk on its own by 2025. – Author)
What Afghanistan looks like in 2025 will be determined by the way major world powers drive it through the decade of transition.2 Heavy dependence of Afghanistan on foreign aid and facilitation for even routine functioning preludes the possibility that the Afghan government(s) shall be able to take an independent course on any major role of the state or government. These foreign powers will be cooperating as well as competing to achieve individual as well as collective goals. Beside powers with global reach in terms of military power projection and economic clout, some immediate and near neighbours of Afghanistan are also well positioned to in uence and shape the events to a varying degree.3 The 2015-25 decade is important in the context of ongoing transitions i.e. political, military and economic.4 Afghanistan is not in a position to handle any of these transitions single-handedly. The international community will have to join hands to create an enabling environment so that Afghanistan can not only stand on its feet but also be able to, at least, walk on its own by 2025. It is indeed a tall order, global politics are not so simplistic to let such transitions happen smoothly. Afghanistan came under immense focus when President Obama appointed late Richard Holbrook as his special representative for Afghanistan; nearly a dozen countries quickly followed suit. Nevertheless, the effort zzled soon, as most of these counties chose to tow the American line. This pattern is likely to continue. Likewise, there are over a dozen regional and global venues and forums that claim special focus on Afghanistan, but have not been able to develop any out of box quick xes. Apparently Afghanistan appears destined to handle the debris of con ict for a pretty long spell, like any other insurgency and civil war impacted state and society.5 With multiple power centres comprising government, non-government as well as non-state entities, governability of Afghan government shall continue to remain marginal. Drawdown has come without ensuring suf cient grounding of a viable political power sharing arrangement. With powerful militant groups left out of the political process, insurgent entities may continue jockeying between peace processes and militant struggle. Unless these loose ends are tied promptly, the ‘decade of transformation’ may become a decade of lost opportunities for Afghanistan, marred by “ ghting seasons” and “talking spells” alternating and cancelling each-others’ gains. If international support and political will of the Afghan political leadership are able to function in synergy, then by the end of the period under review, Afghanistan may be able to accrue essential elements of national security suf ciently and in a sustainable manner. Either way, the involved processes shall be quite bumpy, requiring tenacious Afghan leadership—both political and military. Nevertheless, onus to lead and succeed intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation processes rests squarely on the incumbent Afghan government(s) during this period. This would require due pragmatism to take dif cult decisions and ability to sell it amongst the Afghan people, across traditional ethno-sectarian divides.
Primary Policy Driver for Major Powers: Prospects of Terrorism in 2025
Prevention of terrorism and con ict are likely to remain key drivers for major powers’ intervention in Afghanistan.6 With scant international attention to tackle primary underlying as well as secondary contributory causes, terrorism is unlikely to disappear in Afghanistan by 2025, but its appeal may diminish if a broad based government evolves, economy becomes self-sustaining and youth unemployment is mitigated—each of these is indeed a tall order in its own right. Economic opportunities for youth and greater political pluralism probably would dissuade some from joining terrorist ranks, but others—motivated by a variety of factors, such as a desire for revenge or to become “martyrs”—will continue to turn to violence to pursue their objectives. In the absence of employment opportunities and legal means for political expression, conditions will continue to be ripe for disaffection, growing radicalism, and possible recruitment of youths into terrorist groups. Terrorist groups in 2025 will likely be a combination of descendants of long established groups—that inherit organizational structures, command and control processes, and training procedures necessary to conduct sophisticated attacks—and new emergent collections of the angry and disenfranchised lot that become self-radicalized. Brands may change, however, terrorism is likely to continue beyond 2025, though it may be more subdued, both expanse and intensity wise.
Current Status of Transitions
The way transitions are managed and they shapeup in Afghanistan will be another factor in determining the way and extent of major powers’ engagement. As of now, three major transitions are in progress in Afghanistan: Political, military and economic. Moreover, the way education, health and energy sectors are managed and rail road infrastructure is developed to make Afghanistan an economic hub for manufacturing and transit trade, connecting Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and beyond, would arouse interest amongst the major economic powers for competing and cooperating with each rstly for investing and then reaping the economic bene ts. The ongoing major transitions in Afghanistan are in embryonic stages. Their current status radiates mixed signals. To manage these well, Afghanistan would need huge foreign investment through 2025,7 coupled with political will and support by the international community and steadfastness of capital lending entities.
While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to Afghanistan, it continues to rank extremely low in global rankings of political freedom.8 Warlords and drug barons continue to hold power in Afghanistan, women are almost closed out of political power, and high rates of female unemployment and widowhood have further eroded their condition. Political transition is stalemated because the political resistance forces—mainly Taliban—did not participate in the 2014 Afghan elections, and continue to be unrepresented in the political structures of the country. President Ashraf Ghani’s government, at best, remains a marginally representative entity with serious intra-government problems with the Chief Executive Of cer Dr Abdullah Abdulla. Unruly parliament takes pleasure in rejecting presidential nominees for key appointments on imsy grounds. Some of the constitutional provisions and procedures are not compatible with Afghan political culture resulting in unsurmountable hurdles. The externally imposed Ghani-Abdullah partnership has not yet jelled to the level of a cohesive team; and its implosion, especially on the “how” issue of power sharing with the Taliban, is a distinct possibility. Afghans do not have a good track record of reaching power sharing accords, and even if such arrangements are worked out, parties to agreement have still poorer record of honouring the commitments. Stalling the Doha and Murree peace processes indicate that in the absence of well-de ned parameters and strong international guarantors, intra-Afghan peace initiatives may keep zzling out one after the other, on slight pretexts.9 Decentralized organization and large number of Taliban entities alongside their anarchic command and control present serious problems with regard to engaging and then sustaining reliable dialogue partners with a reasonable degree of assurance that those agreeing to a framework of terms and conditions shall be in a position to implement them as well. Hence, without major powers’ wholesome involvement, the ongoing political transition may remain slow, akin to one step forward and two backwards.
The health of the Afghan military transition is not promising enough. During the current fighting season, the Taliban have demonstrated that they retain the capability of attacking hard and soft targets at the time and place of their choosing. As a corollary, it also stands established that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have a long way to go before they could become a truly professional and combat worthy force.10 As of now, vast swaths of rural Afghanistan are without ANSF boots on ground. The recent fall of some urban centers to the Taliban and the difficulties in reclaiming those have amply demonstrated that the military clout of diverse political resistance groups led by the Taliban could not just be wished away. The Taliban have inflicted more civilian and ANSF casualties in 2014 than any previous year of recorded statistics. ‘USA Today’ has recently reported that in the first 15 weeks of 2015, government casualties have increased by 70 percent, compared to the same period last year.11 Casualties average around 330 a week, which means a whooping 5,000 combatants have perished.12 To cover up professional follies the ANSF and Afghan intelligence community has relapsed to the Karzai era practice of blaming on Pakistan anything negative that happens or could happen in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has also picked up the caption “Do more” from the American script. This approach may bring temporary relief to the government from domestic pressure, but it is not likely to resolve the core issues. Pakistan bashing neither helped Americans nor would bring comfort to the Afghan leadership—both military and political.
Afghanistan’s scal situation is precarious, to say the least. The economy faces headwinds from the drawdown in aid, which is affecting growth in non-agricultural sectors (manufacturing, construction, and services). Domestic revenues fell from a peak of 11.6 percent of GDP in 2011 to 8.4 percent in 2014,13 because of the economic slowdown and weaknesses in tax and customs enforcement. A decline in revenue collection took place across the board. As a result, in spite of measures to restrain expenditures, the authorities faced a nancial shortfall in excess of $500 million in 2014.14 Restoring scal stability will require accelerating revenue enhancing reforms, additional discretionary assistance, and reprioritizing of expenditures. According to the World Bank report last updated on April 14, 2015, political and security transitions continue to take a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s economy. Economic growth fell further to 2 percent in 2014 from 3.7 percent in 2013 and an average of 9 percent during 2003-12. The growth outlook for 2015 and beyond remains weak. Political uncertainty combined with weak reform progress has dealt a further blow to investor and consumer con dence. The government began 2015 with a weak cash reserve position and signi cant arrears (around $200 million).15 Afghanistan thus faces a nancial gap in 2015 that could be as large as last year. In response to these challenges, the Government agreed to introduce a set of revenue-enhancing measures and further consolidate expenditure within the framework of an IMF-Staff Monitored Program (SMP).16 However, there are a number of downside risks that could undermine the impact of these measures such as the weak economic outlook or a deteriorating security environment. With a war bubble burst and no long term resource mobilization to ll in the vacuum coupled with rampant nancial corruption, drugs and small arms traf cking are likely to ll in the void. The impact may be felt in near and far areas of Afghanistan, for quite some time.
Overview of Education, Health Services & Energy Sectors
Education: Since 2002, school enrollment has increased from 1 million
to 8.2 million; girls’ enrollment increased from 191,000 to more than 3.75 million.17 A majority of the teacher force has received teacher training either through Teacher Training Centers or in-service teacher training. Efforts are on to continuously upgrade teacher quali cations and overall access to equitable and quality education in Afghanistan.18
Health: Despite signi cant improvements in the coverage and quality of health services, Afghan health indicators remain below average for low income countries, indicating the need to further lower barriers for women accessing services. Afghanistan has one of the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world, with about 55 percent of children under ve suffering from chronic malnutrition while both women and children suffer from high levels of vitamin and mineral de ciencies.19
Access to Electricity: The percentage of the population with access to electricity in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world. About 30 percent of Afghans have access to electricity from grid-based power, micro-hydro, or solar panel stations. This sector needs major investments to make any attempts of industrialization meaningful.20
Forecast Global Power Matrix and International Systems
Walter Russell Mead’s global power rankings for 2015 under the caption “The Seven Great Powers” identi es US, Germany, China, Japan, Russia, India, and Saudi Arabia as the top seven powers for 2015.21 All these countries are likely to remain in the bracket of top ten countries for the next decade, though their positions within the group may interchange. It is therefore appropriate to see how each of these could play a role in Afghanistan. The trend towards greater diffusion of authority and power that has been occurring for a couple of decades is likely to accelerate because of the emergence of new global players, worsening institutional de cit, potential expansion of regional blocs, and an enhanced number of non-state & multi-national actors and networks.22
The multiplicity of actors on the international scene could add strength—in terms of lling gaps left by aging post-World War II institutions—or further fragment the international systems and incapacitate international cooperation. The diversity in types of actors raises the likelihood of fragmentation occurring over the next two decades, particularly given the wide array of transnational challenges facing the international community. Greater Asian regionalism—a distinct possibility by 2025—would have global implications, sparking or reinforcing a trend toward multiple trade and nancial clusters that could become quasi-blocs.23
China launched the AIIB in 2014 with economic integration of Eurasian landmass and nancing of New Silk Road projects in mind. Its initial capital base is more than $100 billion.24 The AIIB could emerge as an alternative to the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. So far those institutions have been standing atop the international nancial system. China, Russia, and India are the main shareholders and decision makers at the AIIB. Nearly 60 countries, mostly in Eurasia, have signed up to join the bank. Japan and the US declined to join. The US government could not pressure allies like the UK, France, and Germany into snubbing the organization.
In a similar development, the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – are all on board for Eurasian integration. BRICS sponsored “The New Development Bank” (NDB), like the AIIB, is another upcoming international nancial institution headquartered in China (but headed by an Indian banker), with $100 billion in capital.25 Like the AIIB, the NDB is likely to be an alternative to the IMF and World Bank. The NDB and AIIB have resolved to complement, and not compete with each other in nancing the integration of Eurasia. The NDB will also nance infrastructure projects in Africa and South America. The NDB will use members’ national currencies, bypassing the US dollar. It won’t depend on US-controlled institutions for anything; that would reduce the NDB’s exposure to US pressure. The BRICS countries are also exploring building an alternative to the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)—an international payments network.26 SWIFT has become a US political weapon. Neutralizing that kind of power is precisely why the BRICS countries want their own international payments system.27
United Nations Reforms
Pressure is mounting for reforming the UN to make it more representative and democratic. Various proposals are a oat. However the process is cumbersome and as new proposals aim at modifying the power structure within the UNSC, those currently holding powers are covertly arrayed against any reforms that could erode the powers of the P5. The current UN dominated organizational power structure is likely to last until 2025.28
ENVISAGED COUNTRY SPECIFIC ROLES
The United States
It is likely to retain the mantle of the predominant country in terms of technology and preponderance of global military power projection. It may also remain unchallenged in terms of its global reach, with military presence of varying degrees in over 100 countries, and assured capability to wield compelling in uence in a substantial number of countries. Nevertheless, the era of unipolar world and sole single power dominance is quietly faded.29 Consortium based power structures like G-8, G-20 and P5+1 have effectively taken over decision making that was once assumed to be the purview of the United States alone.30 Despite renewed geopolitical challenges and continuing economic development of China, America’s place at the top of the global pecking order seems equally secure. However, United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm—will decline and US leverage will become more constrained.31 A more constrained US role has implications for others. Despite incremental recent rise in anti- Americanism, the US probably will continue to be seen as a much-needed regional balancer in Asia. The US will continue to be expected to play a signi cant role in using its military power to counter global terrorism. At the same time, the multiplicity of in uential actors and distrust is likely to translate into less room for the US to call the shots without the support of strong partnerships. The way US engages Afghanistan till 2024 shall be governed by two treaty arrangements between the two – “the US– Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement” and the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) – and American intent to engage the Taliban.
The US–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement
Of cially titled “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement” between Afghanistan and the US, it provides the long-term framework for the bilateral relationship after the drawdown of US forces in the Afghanistan war.32 The Strategic Partnership Agreement went into effect on July 4, 2012. The agreement has a duration of at least 10 years; it lays out the framework for a future US role in Afghanistan, including aid assistance and governance advice, and covers the areas of social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security. US help to support Afghan economic development, healthcare programmes, education and social initiatives are also part of the agreement.33 The agreement is a legally binding executive document “to cement an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity, and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist af liates.”34 The agreement shall help to promote NATO training of Afghan forces, a reconciliation and reintegration process for Taliban ghters who leave the battle eld, and regional stability with a focus on improving relations with Pakistan. One of the provisions of the agreement is the designation of Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally of the United States to provide a long-term framework for security and defence cooperation. Other salient provisions of the agreement are:
- The United States’ commitment to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development, security, institutions and regional cooperation for 10 years.
- The commitment by Afghanistan to strengthen government accountability, transparency and oversight, and to protect the human rights of all Afghans, both men and women.
- Access to and use of Afghan facilities by US personnel beyond 2014.
- Granting the United States the possibility of keeping forces in Afghanistan after 2014 for purposes of training Afghan forces and targeting al-Qaeda.
- Commitment by the US to seek funding from the US Congress on an annual basis for social and economic assistance for Afghanistan as well as to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The agreement is not only a signal of long-term commitment by the United States, but a document that enshrines commitments by both countries to each other with a common purpose. Afghanistan is the rst country awarded the major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status by Barack Obama’s administration. This makes it easier for Kabul to purchase US military equipment and simpli es arms export procedures.35 Some of the privileges of MNNA status include additional eligibility for training, loans of equipment for cooperative research and development, and ultimately foreign military nancing for commercial leasing of certain defence articles. The Times of India had described the MNNA status in this context as “a catalyst for maintaining effective ANSF and building a robust peace-time security relationship between Afghanistan and the US.” The agreement does not, however, “entail any security commitment” by the United States to Afghanistan.36
Bilateral Security Agreement
Afghanistan and the United States signed the Bilateral Security Agreement on September 30, 2014 alongside the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA),37 giving forces from allied and partner countries the legal protections necessary to carry out the NATO “Resolute Support Mission”, after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission that ended in 2014.
Under both these agreements 9,800 American and at least 2,000 NATO troops are allowed to remain in Afghanistan enabling the continued training and advising of Afghan security forces, as well as conducting counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda. Most of the troops are helping train and assist the struggling Afghan security forces.38 Under the BSA, the US is allowed to have bases at nine separate locations across Afghanistan. A base in Jalalabad could also remain a launching point for armed drone missions in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. The agreement also prevents US military personnel from being prosecuted under Afghan laws for any crimes they may commit; the United States has jurisdiction over any criminal proceedings or disciplinary action involving its troops inside the country.39 Washington commits only to keeping Kabul informed “if requested” of the progress of US criminal proceedings against soldiers accused of crimes and to making efforts so that representatives of Afghanistan can attend or observe the proceedings in US military courts. However, the BSA does give Afghanistan jurisdiction over “United States contractors and United States contractor employees”. The troop number of 9,800 Americans is to be cut in half by 2016, with American forces thereafter based only in Kabul and at Bagram air base. By the end of 2017, the US force is to be further reduced in size to what US of cials have called a “normal” military advisory component at the US Embassy in Kabul, most likely numbering several hundred.40 The BSA entered into force on January 1, 2015 and remains in force “until the end of 2024 and beyond” unless it is terminated by either side with two years’ notice. The US troops will not be the only foreign troops staying in Afghanistan. Kabul signed a similar agreement with NATO on September 30 to allow 4,000 to 5,000 additional troops — mostly from Britain, Germany, Italy, and Turkey — to stay in Afghanistan in a noncombat role after 2014.That means the total number of foreign soldiers immediately remaining in the country could be up to 14,800.The US forces’ mission under the BSA is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.” Importantly, the BSA says that “unless otherwise mutually agreed, United States forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan.” Instead, the emphasis is upon supporting the Afghan forces, sharing intelligence, and strengthening Afghanistan’s air force capabilities. Similarly, the new NATO mission, led by the United States, will focus on training and support for the Afghan army and police, not on combat. “The BSA is not a defence pact which would commit the United States to defending Afghanistan if it were attacked by another state. But the text does say Washington “shall regard with grave concern any external aggression or threat of external aggression.” It also says that in the case of external aggression, Washington and Kabul would work together to develop “an appropriate response,” including considering political, military, and economic measures. The BSA authorizes US forces to maintain existing facilities and undertake new constructions so long as they are agreed upon by both sides.
In a long anticipated move, President Barack Obama has extended the stay of current level of American forces— 9,800 US troops through most of 2016.41 This contingent shall be available to help or say rescue the ANSF, when the Taliban launch their next “Spring Offensive” in April 2016. Obama has set aside his promise to end the war during his presidency. He will now hand over the longest con ict to his successor. He has also abandoned his plans to leave just a small, embassy based force of around 1,000 personnel in Kabul beyond 2016. Now, nearly 5,500 soldiers would still be lingering in Afghanistan when Obama leaves the Presidency. Citing an Afghan force which is “still not as strong as they need to be”, Obama said that the level of 9,800 troops will be maintained through most of 2016. “I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases.” These forces will be based in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar; and will be able to operate quickly when needed. Obama said that while Afghan forces have made progress, the security situation in the country remains fragile: “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president”.
President Obama has also acknowledged efforts of Pakistan and its ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan.” Obama has said that he would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 22 to discuss his plan for peace in the Pak-Afghan region. Obama said,“I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.” “By now it should be clear to the Taliban, and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.”42
Earlier, Nawaz had said that he “wants to bring the Taliban back to the negotiation table.” Afghanistan has hailed the remarks made by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would exert efforts in bringing back the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Afghanistan’s CEO Dr Abdullah also wanted Islamabad’s help in ending the “capability” of the Taliban in launching major attacks. Nawaz and Obama will discuss a host of issues including peace in Afghanistan, border tensions between Pakistan and India, and a prospective nuclear deal.
According to the recent United Nations estimates, Taliban insurgents, no longer called terrorists by Americans, are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001. During previous weeks, the Taliban scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks. Incidents such as breaking into Ghazni Jail, freeing hundreds of militant inmates and later adopting a threatening posture toward this urban centre speak for themselves. The earlier unrelenting attacks in and around Kabul had amply demonstrated the expanse of Taliban’s combat activities.
President Obama conceded that his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon of cials, eld commanders and White House advisers on how best to support Afghan forces. He said that the US troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, they will not be engaged in combat missions.43
Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election. Jeb Bush, one of Republican candidates, welcomed the move: “While I am glad President Obama has dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely, if he is truly committed to ghting terrorism and securing a stable Afghanistan, he shouldn’t short change what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission.”44 RIA news agency reported that the foreign ministry of Russia, remarked that it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country,
The State Department issued a fact sheet on its ties with Pakistan, a week before the Nawaz-Obama summit, which highlights co-operation between the two countries in various elds. The statement says, “Pakistan has generally co-operated with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts and since 2001, has captured more than 600 Al Qaeda members and their allies.” And that security assistance to Pakistan is focused on “strengthening the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities of the Pakistan security forces.”
The White House announced in June 2013 that long-delayed peace talks with the Taliban would begin in Doha. For this, the Taliban opened an of ce in Doha. Public portion of the effort zzled out due to the erratic behaviour of President Karzai over symbolics. However, the of ce continued functioning in a low pro le and served the purpose of one point contact with the Taliban. Ever since the Taliban have consistently demonstrated their inclination to engage with international and national (Afghan) actors for nding a viable and enduring solution to the Afghan con ict. The frequency and venues of direct and indirect contacts have since multiplied. The dialogue process between the Taliban and the Afghan government has come out of the shadow of denial and has graduated to formal direct talks; despite the current disruption, the process is likely to pick-up momentum as the leadership issue amongst various groups of Taliban is resolved. The ve partners of dialogue— America, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the Taliban— are desperately in search of sustainable peace and political stability in Afghanistan.45 A lot of space has been covered during informal and behind the scene contacts. The Taliban have ceded signi cant space and an initial truce pegged around a conditional cease re may be in sight. The US has been in contact with the Taliban since 2010, and is likely to carry the process through till, at least, major power wielding Taliban groups join mainstream politics through a power sharing agreement.46 To make the process succeed, America will have to apply itself innovatively in reducing the friction within the Afghan ruling elite. The arti cial power structure created by America, giving an undue share of the pie to ethnic minorities will be a major hurdle in reaching a political settlement with the Taliban; the political space the Taliban gain through negotiations will mostly be at the cost of these non-Pushtun ethnic groups. At the same time it will be interesting to observe the way America accommodates the enhanced Chinese role in the negotiated settlement and later in the implementation of the accord. Notwithstanding, America is well equipped through bilateral agreements with Afghanistan to orchestrate its power play to match the unfolding events, it is already considering to delay the reduction of troops scheduled for the next two years.
Present American thinking is that the Taliban’s new leadership may be the last decent opportunity for a political solution to the con ict, and without one, the Islamic State will make Afghanistan the next Iraq or Syria. In light of the drama unfolding inside the Taliban over the circumstances of Mullah Omar’s death and the battle for succession, it is possible that some Taliban commanders will shift their allegiance to the Islamic State instead of supporting Mullah Mansour’s claim to the top position. Hence, in American reckoning, political accommodation with the Taliban is considered the best way forward in Afghanistan because in comparison to the Islamic State, the Taliban are the lesser of two evils. For some time now, the Obama administration has tried to draw distinctions between the Taliban and the Islamic State in order to keep the preferred option of political accommodation (with the Taliban) close to the forefront. After all, accommodation with insurgents is not as caustic as negotiating with terrorists. Earlier this year, White House Deputy Press Secretary, Eric Schultz, stated that the Taliban are “armed insurgents,” not “terrorists.” Washington is not alone in its attempts to downplay the Taliban threat and accentuate the possibility of political settlement. In February 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: “In the past 36 years the grounds for peace have never been better than they are today…we are on the right track.”47 Six months later, Ghani stated: “The enemy has faced defeat on the frontline and in order to conceal their failure, they carry out suicide attacks in cities among civilians… We are currently in a critical condition, but on the right track.”48 In an interview, former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai stated, on September 11, 2015, that probably al-Qaeda never operated in Afghanistan!49 Events over the past year show that Obama’s approach to reconciliation may lead to a quick peace deal between the Taliban. As Obama announced to extend the stay of US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban responded: “The Islamic Emirate believes that military solution is not a way out of the Afghan issue. We believe that when Afghans are convinced, regarding the end of occupation and withdrawal of foreign troops, then all problems could be easily solved through intra-Afghan understanding and dialogue”. And, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement50 that “To end ghting, we are ready to initiate meaningful negotiations with all concerned sides.”
Germany is playing an important role in world politics. Its presence in Afghanistan has been quite visible since 9/11. It continues to be a troop contributing country under the NATO banner. German soldiers have earned their respect amongst common Afghans by displaying due regard to Afghan sensitivities and cultural norms. One of the perceived roles of Germany is to act as frontman for the US to market its Afghanistan related policies which, if carried out under the American tag, would not go down well in Pakistan and America. German think tanks ostensibly funded by German political parties have been quite active in Islamabad to create a constituency for supporting peace in Afghanistan. Germany is likely to continue playing this role. Moreover, with its strong economy it would be able to chip-in funding for various socio economic ventures in Afghanistan. The US would continue to bene t from the pivotal position and the good will that Germany enjoys in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It may, at an appropriate time, join the Afghan peace process as a guarantor.
Despite China’s immense accomplishments and extraordinary strengths, it punches, and is likely for some time to punch, well below its weight in international affairs.51 While China sees itself as a world power, regional rivals like India, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia are intent on blocking its emergence as a regional power and they enjoy US backing in this effort. China’s move toward the role of mediator in Afghan con ict signals a foreign policy shift that could recalibrate the geopolitics of Central Asia and test China’s capacity as a regional leader. David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013 said that: “In a certain sense, they [Chinese] are competing with the US for success in Afghanistan. They want to prove they can do it better.” China’s participation in peace talks is seen as part of a broader diplomatic effort that began around the time Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2012 and has since intensi ed. Since then China has hosted a number of rounds of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani kicked off his state visits from China in October 2014.The presidents of China and Afghanistan pledged long-term partnership between their nations. Ghani also led a delegation of Afghan businessmen at a meeting of Chinese investors interested in developing the mining industry in Afghanistan. Afghans are con dent that China’s economic and diplomatic support can help their country overcome economic and security challenges. China is currently the largest investor in his country, and bilateral cooperation has expanded in multiple areas. In the last two years, Beijing has actively sought to rede ne its relations with Kabul and has appointed a special envoy to Afghanistan to further its objective. It has invested nearly $7.5 billion and intends to enhance the Chinese economic footprint in Afghanistan. China believes that national reconciliation is an inevitable course for Afghanistan to achieve national stability and prosperity. China hosted last year’s “Heart of Asia Istanbul Conference” on October 31 that discussed ways to promote Afghan national reconciliation and peaceful reconstruction. China is concerned that a security breakdown in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international forces could fuel Uighur separatism in its restive Xinjiang border region. Afghan of cials also believe China can use its in uence with Pakistan, to persuade it to help Kabul promote reconciliation with the Taliban. Beijing is exploring ways to enhance Afghanistan’s security as the US and its allies make their exit.
Beijing wants to play a constructive role supporting an Afghan- led peace process. The Afghan side welcomes such a role by China. The initiative in Afghanistan re ects China’s drive to enhance regional diplomacy and China’s international standing, as well as share the turf with the US as the primary underwriter of regional peace and prosperity. Despite reservations about China’s more assertive foreign policy elsewhere, the US has welcomed Chinese involvement in Afghanistan.China has already started training Afghan police, and is considering funding for nonlethal security equipment. Chinese have been looking for an area to expand their foreign policy toolbox, while doing it in a way that would not be seen strategically threatening to the US. During an October 2014 conference on Afghanistan in Beijing, a Chinese general surprised some US participants by suggesting to the Pentagon a joint effort with China to train Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan is attractive to China for several reasons: China is interested in Afghanistan’s natural resources; the country is geo- strategically important to China because of its location both in Central and South Asia.52 Beijing thinks it worthwhile to keep Afghanistan stable and to invest in making sure this happens. China has granted Afghanistan more than $300 million, has trained more than 1,000 government of cials, and has offered hundreds of scholarships to Afghans; it will provide 500 scholarships to Afghanistan, and will train 3,000 government of cials in the next three years. The building of the Jamhuriat Hospital, the second phase of the water irrigation system in Parwan province, the establishment of the National Education Center of Science and Technology, as well as the Confucius Institute in Kabul, are examples of projects that have been made possible with Chinese support. China has invested over $3.7 billion in the Aynak copper mine and Amu Darya Basin. China has committed to provide Afghanistan unconditional assistance of more than $300 million for the next three years.53 China’s role in post NATO Afghanistan will be very crucial for the stability of Afghanistan.
China has a strong motive, requisite political will, diplomatic resources and a strong economy to succeed. The Afghan president, has experience in dealing with China from his time at the World Bank. He sees Beijing as an important source of aid and investment. He also sees China as a source of in uence over Pakistan, and hopes that China will play a proactive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, because “whatever the Chinese do, they do it according to a plan and with focus.”
Japan is a major power and its weight in world affairs is growing steadily. It has the world’s third largest economy, and its level of technological sophistication, global trade and production networks make it an extremely formidable force. Japan’s ability to produce and deploy sophisticated military technology and to hold its own in the high tech arms competition means that Japan has the potential to remain a major military power for a long time to come. Japan is moving to place itself at the centre of regional defence relationships with countries like Vietnam, Australia and India that are similarly concerned with the rise of China. Prospects for Japan’s deeper relationship with India are especially bright; the Tokyo-Delhi relationship could be one of the fundamental realities shaping 21st century politics. Japan is not likely to take-up an assertive role with respect to Afghanistan, however it may organize fund raising events like the 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan.54
Russia is a nation in decline, but it has not yet nished declining and it has not reconciled to the prospect.55 This makes it extremely dangerous. It may be failing at some of the most important tasks of a great power, but it still has nukes; plentiful natural resources; effective (and often underrated) intel, info-war and cyber capacities; and is currently led by a tactically canny political leadership who punches above his weight. Russian concerns about Afghanistan are focused on fears of drug and small arms traf cking and proliferation of extremism/terrorism to Russia and its neighbourhood.56 Russia is averse to Taliban rule in Afghanistan. However, Russia has no stomach for any aggressive military venture in Afghanistan. It is likely to remain a patient observer of the Afghan situation. Moscow is also more likely to adopt a ‘balanced’ posture towards India and Pakistan on the Afghanistan issue.
In recent weeks, there has been an interesting development over India’s somewhat less than enthusiastic response to Afghan overtures for re-engaging and revitalizing the Strategic Partnership Agreement. At a time when President Ghani’s faith in Pakistan’s has started to unravel, many analysts imagined that India would be more than willing to step into the breach. But New Delhi has refrained from a re exive response.57 May be India is just playing hard ball and is looking for rm assurances from President Ghani that like his predecessor he would allow India to use Afghan territory against Pakistan and let Indian consulates along Pakistani border do the dirty job they have been doing in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), Baluchistan and elsewhere.
India has, by and large, stayed on the wrong side of history in the context of Afghanistan. One of its primary agendas in its Afghan policy has been to marginalize Pakistan’s in uence. In this pursuit India often chose trajectories opposite of Pakistan’s policies. While the people of Afghanistan have been ghting against foreign occupations since 1979, India had been siding with the occupation forces, pleading them to stay on. India joined hands with Iran in the 1990s and supported disruptive elements–yester years Northern Alliance. Later when the Americans were negotiating with the Taliban for an exit, India was asking them not to negotiate and maintain a military presence till the Taliban were eliminated. India signed a much hyped Agreement on Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan in 2011 but failed to deliver on its promises of military equipment.58 While training ANSF and security personnel of Afghanistan, Indian trainers’ focus was on the trainees’ anti-Pakistan indoctrinations rather than imparting them with professional skills. India has invested over $ 2 billion in Afghanistan, most of the projects are show pieces with little utility for common Afghans.
India’s long-standing effort to play a central role in Afghanistan and to marginalize Pakistan has not been successful. With China’s inclusion as partner in the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, there is hardly any space for India. One cornerstone of India’s foreign policy is to have access to Central Asia through Afghanistan; and the cheapest and shortest route India could have runs through Pakistan. Indian effort to reach out to Central Asian counties via Chabahar and the much touted ring road has also lost relevance and comparative advantage due to the fast completion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
India has been providing more than 1,500 scholarships to Afghans annually for the last ve years, and has a training program in place for government of cials at various capacities.59 India plans to invest billions in the Hajigak iron mine. Indian development projects entail a strong Indian presence in Afghanistan, including undercover intelligence operatives. A more visible role in Afghanistan, especially one that can grow into a leadership role, would certainly serve New Delhi’s interests, to be recognized as a rising and responsible global power, quite well. While India is in no position to pick up the entire tab for keeping the Afghan state functional, it should be ready to contribute its share. Perhaps India can unveil a generous ve year programme of assistance which has both a civilian development component as well as a military assistance component.60 The latter could include some of the obligations India took upon itself in the SPA, provided President Ashraf Ghani gives in. India is likely to continue playing a spoiler’s role. For this, it may try to revive its alliances of the 1990s by gravitating the components of the erstwhile Northern Alliance (now Junbash-i-Milli).
2015 is the third year running in which Saudi Arabia shook the world.61 In 2013 the Saudis helped the Egyptian military overthrow the Morsi government in a move that threw the Obama administration’s Middle East policy into disarray. In 2014 the Saudis engineered an oil price collapse that upended international politics. Saudi Arabia stunned the world using its economic might and political heft to force OPEC hawks to accept a collapse in the world oil price. What it really did was cause huge nancial losses in petroleum-dependent Tehran and may be Russia.62 And in 2015, it undertook military intervention in Yemen. Great powers reveal themselves in the accomplishment of big things; many countries with larger populations, more powerful military forces and more sophisticated technological foundations than Saudi Arabia lack a similar ability to revolutionize the geopolitical balance and reset the global economy.63 Regionally as well as globally, the Saudis are getting more done than many great powers achieve in their regions. Alarmed by Iran’s threats, the Saudis have assembled a strong coalition.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been taking keen interest in Afghan affairs since 197964. It nanced the anti-Soviet insurgency and took keen interest in cobbling together a broad based government of Mujahedeen leaders. Later when the Taliban rose to power, Saudi Arabia alongside the UAE recognised their government. Saudi Arabia retains the capability to effect the events in Afghanistan, especially in unison with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has been playing a behind the scene role in bridging the gap between the US and the Taliban. One Saudi concern may be to have a government in Afghanistan that could stand-up to Iranian pressures. Despite its pre-occupation with the events in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia could still extend substantial nancial help to sustain the Afghan government— both present and future.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described Turkey-Afghanistan relationship as “exemplary” though the two countries do not border, but are close.65 A 2012 recent survey in Kabul of 1,259 people shows that Afghanistan relies mostly on Turkey, and considers Turkey to be Afghanistan’s one and only true friend. Turkey shall always be remembered as a pioneer of the Afghan peace process—from conceptual through to operational stages.66 Turkey has been one of the countries involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan under NATO’s scope in the post-2001 era. Being the only NATO member with a Muslim majority population, Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan is of special importance. Afghanistan became the top bene ciary of development assistance in the entire history of the Turkish Republic with the aid that has been delivered in the post-2001 era.67 With its participation in NATO’s deployment in Afghanistan, especially by sending non-combatant troops, Turkey has won the hearts and minds of the authorities and people of Afghanistan. A few actions which show the importance of Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan include: Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Summits, which started in 2007 at the initiative of Ankara to contribute to building mutual trust between the two countries; the Istanbul Process, which began in 2011, on regional security and cooperation for a secure and stable Afghanistan; and Turkey’s leadership of the Kabul Regional Command in November 2009.
Appointment of Turkey’s ambassador to Afghanistan, İsmail Aramaz, as the next NATO Senior Civilian Representative (SCR) in Afghanistan by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, especially in the challenging post-2014 era, is quite important for Turkey. Turkey is one of the Framework Nations that will serve in Afghanistan in the post-2014 era. This status of being a Framework Nation, combined with Ambassador Aramaz’s appointment as the new NATO SCR, show the importance of Turkey for NATO with respect to Afghanistan. Even during the time when the possibility of the international community losing interest in the country is being contemplated, Turkey has stated that Ankara would continue to take decisive steps and contribute to the future of Afghanistan. Turkey’s continued presence in Afghanistan after 2014 is based on this basic policy line: “As long as Afghanistan continues its efforts to build a peaceful, safe and democratic country, Turkey will continue to help the Afghan nation reach that goal.”68
Minus the sanctions, Iran is a major regional power in its own right. It has all along been playing covert and overt roles in Afghanistan, and is likely to continue doing so during the next decade.69 Amid alarmingly rapid gains of the Daesh militant group, there have been speculations about Iran’s likely role in preventing the spread of in uence of this latest brand of militancy in Afghanistan. Iran’s Afghanistan policy has been patchy and of a tactical nature. More recently, in May 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was hiring Afghan Shias to ght in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran is not likely to have suf cient resources to re-activate its 1990s era proxies. Recently Iran has received Taliban delegations and discussed with them prospects of peace. The US and Iranian interests in the country, such as stability, are for the most part convergent. Tehran can help advance these interests— especially if its relations with Washington continue to improve. Tehran has a history of helping the US government in Afghanistan. Such further cooperation shouldn’t be surprising. Tehran is terri ed about the prospect of being sandwiched by ISIS to its west and the Taliban to its east. Then there is the drug factor: presently the Taliban insurgency is funded in large part by narcotics traf cking, and Iran is a chief destination. This illicit trade fuels Iran’s acute drug crisis. Iran has one of the world’s largest drug use rates, and suffers from a major heroin epidemic. Moreover, continued instability would lead to further in uxes of Afghan refugees; in recent years, these immigrants have been increasingly unwelcome in Iran, and many have been deported. Tehran also worries that a deteriorating Afghan security environment would embolden anti- Shia forces, whose commanders vow to march into Afghanistan when international troops depart.
There is good reason to believe that Tehran wants a stable Afghanistan. Though Iran publicly opposes any US troops in Afghanistan, in private it feels comfortable with a post-2014 residual force.70 Tehran also shares the US objective of an Afghanistan that is more integrated with South and Central Asia. Iran has pursued rail, pipeline, and trade projects meant to better link Central Asian states. It is also cooperating with India on the construction of Chabahar port that could facilitate more Indian trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. These efforts dovetail with Washington’s “New Silk Road” initiative, which aims to develop regional energy markets in South and Central Asia, and more broadly to boost cross-border trade and transit across these regions. However, US sanctions on Iran have prevented Tehran from obtaining international nancing for most of these projects. Phasing out of these sanctions could bring in more nancing, and allow its regional integration initiatives to fruition.
Like many of Afghanistan’s neighbours, Iran is likely to remain actively engaged in the country, spurred in part by shared cultural ties. It exports a variety of critical goods to Afghanistan — including food, medicine, and oil — and provides $50 million in annual anti-narcotics aid.71 Bilateral trade more than doubled between 2011 and 2013. Iran watchers are of the view that Tehran could increase its economic assistance in an effort to promote what it perceives as stability in post- 2014 Afghanistan.
Iran wields considerable in uence in Afghanistan, particularly among Shias, who comprise about 20 percent of the total population. However, Iran also seeks to extend its reach beyond Shias. Tehran funds Afghan NGOs, schools, and media institutions. It has also cultivated ties with Pashtun Islamist groups, from Hezb-e Islami to the Taliban. The results of this outreach are mixed. Some Afghans, particularly Shias, support Iran’s presence. Yet others are resistant. Many residents believe Iran is guilty of excessive meddling in local affairs.72 Some Afghan Shias even accused Iran of radicalizing — and attacking — their communities. Afghan security of cials have blamed Iran for launching “terror activities and propaganda”. Iran is poised to be one of the most in uential regional players in Afghanistan during 2015-2024 and beyond.73 Ultimately, the extent to which Iran plays a stabilizing role in Afghanistan’s future will depend on numerous factors. Will Iran’s Afghan diplomacy and assistance be truly inclusive, or will it be largely sect and ethnicity-based, thereby risking polarization and destabilization? Is Tehran capable of maintaining cordial relations with Kabul in the post-Karzai era? Perhaps most signi cant, however, is the trajectory of US-Iran ties.
Vitality of International Aid
Afghanistan needs foreign investment between 100-200 billion US dollars during the next one to two decades to effectively switch over from its war and drug economy to a modern viable economy duly meshed into contemporary regional and international economic and trade institutions/regimes. One of the rst and primary steps that needs to be taken, in terms of the economic revival, are to organize the steady ow of foreign aid, and ensure its judicious utilization. The realization of the pledges made at conferences, where dozens of countries and international organizations gathered and talked about the future of Afghanistan, is very important due to the direct in uence of foreign aid on the Afghan economy. There is a potential risk that the desired attention might not be given to Afghanistan during the transformation decade with the Middle Eastern region becoming a very hot topic in the international media again. Another issue that should be on the economic agenda is the coordination of investments made in Afghanistan by nongovernmental organizations and private companies to avoid duplication of effort.74 These investments should translate into on ground facilities that have a positive impact on the daily life of the Afghan people. Even though the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised to deal with the corruption issue, he does not have the essential wherewithal to succeed.
There have been many major milestones for Afghanistan in 2014, and the country is now on the cusp of what has been termed the ‘Transformation Decade’ spanning from 2015 to 2024. This period of transition brings with it uncertainty about the future, including the nature of international donor support and the ability of the Afghan state and economy to meet its nancing needs. There are three major areas of international spending that have a direct bearing on the daily lives of Afghan people: humanitarian, development and security spending.75 Donors also consider the domestic economic outlook and the choices they could make in recalibrating their partnerships and investments to protect and build on development and security gains since 2001.
Afghanistan faces major challenges at the outset of the transformation decade, which could be mitigated by international donor agencies and governments through predictable and well programmed external nancing support, with a focus on pro-poor support. In addition, there are opportunities for investors to lay greater emphasis on strengthening accountability. International donors, primarily those also involved in military intervention, have spent signi cant sums in Afghanistan since 2001. Learning from their involvement over the past 13 years or so, and paying attention to the particular challenges, needs, and risks of people in Afghanistan at the present juncture, they now have the chance to make conscious and concerted choices to: ensure predictable and sustained support to both development and the security sector; focus on pro-poor development investments; building resilience of populations vulnerable to risk of crisis and disaster; continue to support needs-based principled humanitarian response; and strengthen accountability to reduce the risk of international investments fuelling corruption and con ict.76
Most of the major powers have a convergence of interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. Key to stability is in mainstreaming the Taliban and other insurgent groups through an inclusive political power sharing arrangement. China is expected to take the lead role by the mid of transformation decade; nevertheless, America will still continue to a play a signi cant role at least till 2024. America may delay further reduction in its residual military contingent till a comfortable and mutually acceptable political power sharing deal is reached; this may take 2-3 years. Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey are likely to augment international effort toward stabilizing Afghanistan. Indian and Iranian roles have ifs and buts attached, both have the history and capability of playing creative as well as disruptive roles; also there are supporting reasons for both to take either trajectory. There is a need for institutional arrangement for harmonizing constructive effort by the major powers.
Preceding trends suggest major discontinuities, shocks, and surprises during the next decade. There are many positive outcomes already apparent: the peaceful (though tension fraught) democratic transition of power from one president to the other; better education and healthcare prospects; and inclination of the Taliban to join the mainstream political system. Likewise, there are worrisome aspects: a resurgent and increasingly capable Taliban in the absence of a power sharing deal; an ineffective army and police force; erratic and knee jerk Afghan policy towards Pakistan; rampant corruption at all levels of government; and a resurgent drug and small arms proliferation, with the region and beyond.
The future course of Afghanistan during the next decade would also depend on unpredictable variables like: whether democracy will continue to ourish in Afghanistan: will Ashraf Ghani stay in of ce for the duration of his term? Will the next elections to be held in Afghanistan be free of fraud and electoral corruption tags? Will Ghani hand over power to his successor peacefully? This in turn depends on whether the ANSF can hold its own against a wide spread Taliban resurgence? If confronted with an incursion of Islamic State, will the Afghan Army maintain cohesion or meltdown like its counterpart in Iraq? Above all, success of the transformation decade requires constant and consistent funding. Non-availability of funding could most likely lead to the collapse of civil order as witnessed in the early 1990s. The transformation decade will be a dif cult period for Afghanistan, it will have to hold its course in the face of serious challenges. It will have to specially keep vigil on Indian and Iranian trajectories and be prepared to counter their negative move either singly or in unison. Pakistan should try and position itself as coordinator of international nancial effort for reconstruction of Afghanistan as well as a facilitator of international effort for intra-Afghan political reconciliation. While announcing the extension of timeframe for drawdown, President Obama acknowledged efforts of Pakistan and its ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Obama said,77 “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan…I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.” Obama added,78 “By now it should be clear to the Taliban, and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.” 79
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43 Matthew Rosenberg and Michael D. Shearoct, “In Reversal, Obama Says
U.S. Soldiers Will Stay in Afghanistan to 2017”, New York Times, 15, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/world/asia/obama-troop-withdrawal- afghanistan.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module= rst-column- region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news ,(accessed on October 18, 2015).
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49 Philip J. Victor, “Former Afghan President Karzai calls Al-Qaeda a ‘myth’”,
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50 Matthew Rosenberg and Michael D. Shearoct, “In Reversal, Obama Says U.S. Soldiers Will Stay in Afghanistan to 2017”, New York Times, 15, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/world/asia/obama-troop-withdrawal- afghanistan.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module= rst-column- region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news ,(accessed on October 18, 2015). Ibid.
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78 Research closed on October 18, 2015.
* The author is a consultant on Policy and Strategic Response at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). He is a retired Air Commodore and a former Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force.