The UAE has welcomed more than 8,000 Afghan refugees as the first contingent. In addition to the airlift for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, the UAE was one of the first countries to receive Afghan refugees, as their number reached more than 8,000 people as the first batch, which will be followed by other contingents. The refugees who arrived in the Emirates expressed their joy at the warm welcome and appreciate the appropriate conditions for them.
The Emirates' fourth humanitarian plane arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to provide humanitarian and health assistance to the Afghan people considering deteriorating conditions following the Taliban movement coming to power. The plane carries a variety of medical and food aid to improve the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
This falls within the framework of the airlift, which was headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan - Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi - Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces - to support the Afghan people. The UAE airlift continues 24 hours a day to intensify its assistance for the benefit of thousands of Afghan families, especially women, children and the elderly.
According to the Emirates Al-Youm website, this aid is part of the UAE's established humanitarian approach to extend a hand to communities and groups in need of assistance, especially during crises. The UAE was one of the first countries in the world to send urgent humanitarian aid to Kabul after recent developments in Afghanistan and the Taliban movement came to power.
China was the biggest beneficiary of the 'forever' war in Afghanistan
Nobody would have imagined in his/her wildest dreams that the technologically most advanced, economically and militarily most powerful nation on the earth that had recently claimed the status of being the sole superpower in the world after the collapse of the USSR, could be attacked at home by a group of 16-17 fanatic Saudi Arabian citizens that were members of a non-state entity, the al-Quida, led by another Saudi Arabian Islamic fundamentalist, Osama bin-Laden based in Afghanistan, one of the most backward and isolated countries on earth, writes Vidya S Sharma Ph.D.
These individuals hijacked 4 civilian jet aeroplanes and used them as missiles to destroy the Twin Towers in New York, attacked the Pentagon’s west wall and crash-landed the fourth one in a field in Stonycreek, a township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These attacks resulted in nearly 3000 civilian US fatalities.
Though the Americans knew that the Russian or Chinese ICBMs could reach them yet they largely believed that ensconced between two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, they were safe from any conventional attack. They could undertake a military adventure anywhere in the globe without any fear of retaliation.
But the events of the eleventh of September, 2001 shattered their sense of security. In two important ways, it changed the world forever. The deeply embedded myth in the minds of the US citizens and political and security elite that the US was impregnable and invincible was smashed overnight. Second, the US now knew it could not cocoon itself from the rest of the world.
This unprovoked attack made Americans palpably angry. All Americans - irrespective of their political leanings – wanted the terrorists punished.
On Sept. 18, 2001, Congress nearly unanimously voted to go to war (House of Representatives voted 420-1 and the Senate 98-0). Congress gave a blank cheque to President Bush, ie, hunt down terrorists wherever they may be on this planet. What followed was 20 years long war on terror.
Neo-con advisers of President Bush knew that Congress had given them as a blank cheque. On September 20, 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush said: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
The 20 years-war in Afghanistan, the Iraq War Mark II instigated under the pretext of finding the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the US involvement in other insurgencies (totally 76 countries) around the globe (see Figure 1) not only cost the US $8.00 trillion ( see Figure 2). Of this amount, $2.31 trillion is the cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan (not including the future cost of veteran’s care) and the rest can very largely be attributed to Iraq War II. To put it differently, the cost of fighting insurgency in Afghanistan alone so far is roughly equal to the entire Gross Domestic Product of the UK or India for one year.
In Afghanistan alone, the US lost 2445 service members including 13 U.S. troops who were killed by ISIS-K in the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26, 2021. This figure of 2445 also includes 130 or so US military personnel killed in other insurgency locations).
Figure 1: Worldwide locations where the US engaged in fighting the war on terror
Figure 2: Cumulative cost of war-related to September 11 attacks
Source: Neta C. Crawford, Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University
In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost 18 of its operatives in Afghanistan. Further, there were 1,822 civilian contractor fatalities. These were mainly ex-servicemen who were now working privately
Further, by the end of August 2021, 20722 members of the US defence forces had been wounded. This figure includes 18 wounded when ISIS (K) attacked near on August 26.
I mention some salient figures relating to the war on terror to impress upon the reader to what extent this war has consumed the US’s economic resources and the time of generals and policymakers in the Pentagon.
Certainly, the biggest price the US has paid for the war on terror – a war of choice - has been its perceived diminution of status in geostrategic terms. It resulted in the Pentagon taking its eyes off China. This oversight allowed the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) to emerge as a serious competitor of the US not only economically but also militarily.
The PRC’s leader, Xi Jinping, now has both economic and military power projection capability to tell the leaders of less developed countries that China has “pioneered a new and uniquely Chinese path to modernization, and created a new model for human advancement”. The US’s inability to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan even after 20 years, has given Xi Jinping one more example to underscore to the political leaders and public intellectuals all over the world that “The East is rising, the West is falling”.
In other words, President Xi and his wolf-warrior diplomats have been telling the leaders of the less developed world, you would be better off joining our camp than seeking help and assistance from the West that before offering any financial assistance will insist on transparency, accountability, free press, free elections, feasibility studies regarding a project’s environmental impact, governance issues and many such issues you do not want to be bothered by. We would help you economically develop through our Belt and Road Initiative.
Pentagon’s assessment of PLA in 2000 and 2020
This is how Michael E. O’Hanlon of Brookings Institution summarised the Pentagon’s assessment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2000:
The PLA is “slowly and unevenly adapting to the trends in modern warfare. The PLA’s force structure and capabilities [are] focused largely on waging large-scale land warfare along China’s borders... The PLA’s ground, air, and naval forces were sizable but mostly obsolete. Its conventional missiles were generally of short-range and modest accuracy. The PLA’s emergent cyber capabilities were rudimentary; its use of information technology was well behind the curve; and its nominal space capabilities were based on outdated technologies for the day. Further, China’s defense industry struggled to produce high-quality systems.”
This was at the beginning of the war on terror launched by neo-cons who colonised foreign and defence policies during the George W Bush Administration (eg, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Perle, to name a few).
Now fast forward to 2020. This is how O’Hanlon summarises the Pentagon’s assessment of the PLA in its 2020 report:
“The PLA’s objective is to become a “world-class” military by the end of 2049—a goal first announced by General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2017. Although the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has not defined [the term world class] it is likely that Beijing will seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military or that of any other great power that the PRC views as a threat. [It] has marshal[l]ed the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”
China now has the second-largest research and development budget in the world (behind the US) for science and technology. President Xi is very keen to overtake the US technologically and ease the problems of stranglehold and enhance self-reliance.
China is now ahead of the US in many areas
China aims to become the dominant military power in Asia and the western half of the Pacific.
China’s rapid modernization of the PLA is increasingly forcing the Pentagon to face its own procurement problems arising from shifting goalposts/capabilities for different weapon programmes, endemic cost overruns and delays in deployment.
Despite starting technologically well behind the United States as the 2000 Pentagon report shows, China has developed new systems faster and more cheaply.
For example, at the time of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, the PLA put on display its new high-tech drones, robot submarines and hypersonic missiles — none of which can be matched by the US.
China has used well-honed methods that it mastered to modernize its industrial sector to catch up with the US. It has acquired technology from abroad from countries like France, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. It has reverse-engineered the components. But above all, it has relied on industrial espionage. To mention just two instances: its cyber-thieves stole blueprints of F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters and the US navy’s most advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.
But it is not only by industrial espionage, hacking computers of defence establishments and coercing companies to transfer their technical know-how to Chinese companies that China has modernised its weapon systems. It has also been successful in developing its own silicon valleys and carried out a lot of innovation domestically.
For example, China is a world leader in laser-based submarine detection, hand-held laser guns, particle teleportation, and quantum radar. And, of course, in cyber-theft, as we all know. It has also developed a specially designed light tank for high altitude for land warfare (with India). Its nuclear-powered submarines can travel faster than the US submarines. There are many other areas where it has a technological edge over the West.
In previous parades, it exhibited its H-20 long-range stealth bomber. If this bomber lives up to its specifications then it will severely expose US naval assets and bases across the Pacific to surprise air attacks.
We often hear about the artificial islands being erected by China to unilaterally change its maritime boundaries. But there are numerous such territorial expansion ventures China is engaged in.
I just mention one such venture here: China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), a state-owned company, is in the final stages of building a vast underwater spying network across the sea bed of disputed territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea (between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands). This unmanned network of sensors, underwater cameras and communications capabilities (radar) will enable China to monitor shipping traffic and scrutinise any attempts by its neighbours that may interfere with China’s claim to those waters. This network will give China “round-the-clock, real-time, high-definition, multiple interface, and three-dimensional observations.”
As mentioned before, China’s modernisation programme is aimed at becoming the dominant military power in Asia and the western half of the Pacific. When it comes to sheer military might and hard power projection, it is already far ahead of all the democratic countries in its region: India, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
Xi has stated numerous times that one of his goals is to bring back Taiwan into China’s fold. China shares land borders with 14 countries and maritime boundaries with 6 (including Taiwan). It has territorial disputes with all of its neighbours. It wants to settle these disputes (including the absorption of Taiwan into China) on its terms without any regard to international law and treaties.
China sees the US as a major obstacle in achieving its territorial and global ambitions. Therefore, China sees U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and is bases in the Philippines and Guam as its chief military threat.
For the US there is still time to re-establish dominance
The US has been distracted/obsessed with the “war on terror” for the last 20 years. China has taken full advantage of this period to modernise the PLA. But it has not reached parity with the US yet.
The US has extricated itself from Afghanistan and learnt it is not possible to build a nation that subscribes to western values (eg, democracy, free speech, an independent judiciary, separation of religion from the government, etc.) without regard to that country’s cultural and religious traditions, traditional power structure, and political history.
The US has a window of 15-20 years to reassert its dominance in both spheres: the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans where it relies on its air force and ocean-going navy to exert its influence.
The US needs to take some steps to remedy the situation urgently. First, Congress must bring about stability to the Pentagon budget. Outgoing the 21st chief of staff of the Air Force, General Goldfein in an interview with Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon said, “no enemy on the battlefield has done more damage to the United States military than budget instability.”
Emphasizing the long lead time necessary for the development of weapon systems, Goldfein noted, “I’m the 21st Chief of Staff. In 2030, Chief 24 will go to war with the Force I built. If we go to war this year, I will go to war with the Force that John Jumper and Mike Ryan built [in the late 1990s and early 2000s].”
But the Pentagon also needs to do some house cleaning. For example, the cost of the development of the F-35 stealth jet was not only well above budget but also behind time. It is also maintenance-intensive, unreliable and some of its software still malfunctions.
Similarly, the navy’s Zumwalt stealth destroyer has failed to live up to its specified potential. Roblin points out in his article in The National Interest, “Eventually, program costs exceeded the budget by 50 per cent, triggering an automatic cancellation according to the Nunn—McCurdy Act.”
It seems there is recognition in the Pentagon that it needs to put its act together. The outgoing Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer in a forum at Brookings Institution said that to enhance our readiness “we looked at our systems, we looked at our command and control,” to determine what changes we needed to make. Then “we looked outside … It is kind of an irony that in the ‘50s and ‘60s, corporate America looked to the Pentagon for risk management and industrial process, but we atrophied there completely, and the private sector went around us, and now are way out in front of us.”
When comparing China’s military capabilities with that of the US, instead of being amazed at what China has achieved, we also need to keep in mind that (a) the PLA was trying to catch up from a very low base; and (b) the PLA does not have any experience of real war. The last time it fought a war was with Vietnam in 1979. At that time, the PLA was thoroughly defeated.
Further, there is some evidence that the PLA has deployed some of its weapon systems without thoroughly testing them. For example, China rushed its first advanced stealth fighter jet into service ahead of schedule in 2017. It was later discovered that the first batch of J-20s was not so stealthy at supersonic speeds.
Furthermore, it has not modernised all of its weapon systems. For example, many of its combat aircraft and tanks that are in service are of 1950s-era designs.
Aware of the increasing ability of China to project its military power and the need to be more efficient in procurement and development of weapon systems, outgoing Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, conducted a series of internal reviews at the Pentagon to determine if there was any programme duplication going on. But quick programme reviews as conducted by Esper are not going to be enough as the waste in the Pentagon takes many forms.
Increase in influence through Trade and Diplomacy
It is just not only in weapon systems that China has been able to catch up with the US. It has used the past 20 years to cement its influence through enhanced trading links and strengthening its diplomatic ties. It has particularly used its debt-trap diplomacy to considerably increase its influence in island countries in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean and Africa.
For instance, When nobody was willing to finance the project (including India on the grounds of not being economically feasible), former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa (brother of the current president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa), in 2009 turned to China to develop a deepwater port in his hometown of Hambantota. China was too eager to oblige. The port did not attract any traffic. Consequently, in December 2017, Sri Lanka, not being able to pay the debt, was forced to surrender the ownership of the port to China. China, for all purposes, has converted the port to a military base.
Other than the high profile “Belt and Road initiative” that the US found itself reacting to (instead of being able to counter it before it was all set up to go), China has weakened the US and NATO’s ability to respond by buying critical infrastructure assets in countries like Greece.
I just mention three examples briefly, all involving Greece. When Greece was asked to implement tough austerity measures and privatise some of the nationally owned assets as part of receiving bailout funds from the EU in 2010. Greece sold 51% off its Piraeus port to China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco), a state-owned company.
Piraeus was a pretty backward under-developed container terminal that nobody took seriously. By 2019, according to the Piraeus Port Authority, its container handling capacity had increased by 5 times. China plans to develop it into the biggest port in Europe. Now it is not unusual to see Chinese naval vessels docked in the port. That must concern NATO a great deal now.
As a result of these economic ties and under diplomatic pressure from China, in 2016 Greece prevented the EU from issuing a unified statement against Chinese activities in the South China Sea (it was made easier by the fact that the US was led by President Trump then). Similarly, in June 2017, Greece threatened to use its veto to stop the EU from criticising China for its human rights violations, especially against Uyghurs who are native to the Xinjiang province.
Biden Doctrine and China
Biden and his administration seem to be fully aware of the threat posed by China to the US security interest and dominance in the Western Pacific ocean. Whatever steps Biden has taken in foreign affairs are meant to prepare the US to confront China.
I discuss the Biden doctrine in detail in a separate article. It would suffice here to mention a few steps taken by the Biden Administration to prove my contention.
First of all, it is worth remembering that Biden has not lifted any of the sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on China. He has not made any concessions to China on trade.
Biden reversed Trump’s decision and has agreed with Russia to extend lifespan of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). He has done so primarily for two reasons: he considers Russia and its various disinformation campaigns, attempts by Russia-based groups at seeking ransom by cyber-hacking the information systems of various US companies, fiddling with electoral processes in the US and Western Europe (2016 and 2020 Presidential elections in the US, Brexit, etc.) not as serious threat to the US security as what China poses. He simply does not want to take on both adversaries at the same time. When he saw President Putin, Biden gave him a list of infrastructure assets he did not want Russian hackers to touch. It seems Putin has taken Biden’s concerns on board.
Both right- and left-wing commentators criticised Biden for the way he decided to pull the troops out of Afghanistan. Yes, it looked untidy. Yes, it gave an impression as if the US troops were retreating in defeat. But, it must not be forgotten, as discussed above, that this neo-con project, the “war on terror”, had cost the US $8 trillion. By not continuing this war, the Biden Administration will save nearly $2trn. It is more than sufficient to pay for his domestic infrastructure programmes. Those programmes are not only needed to modernize the crumbling US infrastructure assets but will create many jobs in rural and regional towns in the US. Just as his emphasis on renewable energy will do.
I give one more example. Take the AUKUS security pact signed last week between Australia, the UK and the US. Under this pact, Britain and the US will help Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines and undertake the necessary technology transfer. This shows how serious Biden is to make China accountable for its revanchist acts. It shows he is genuine about committing the US to the Indo-Pacific region. It shows he is prepared to help allies of the US to equip them with necessary weapon systems. Lastly, it also shows that, just like Trump, he wants the allies of the US to carry a greater burden of their own security.
Captains of the industry in the West must play their part
The private sector can also play a very crucial role. The captains of the industry in the West helped China to become so economically powerful by offshoring their manufacturing activities. They need to do their share of spadework. They must take serious steps to decouple the Chinese economy with their respective country’s economy. For example, if Corporate America were outsourcing its manufacturing activity to countries within its region (eg, Central and South America), they would kill two birds with one stone. It would only staunch the flow of illegal migrants from these countries to the US. And they would help the US to regain its position of dominance because it would considerably slow down China’s economic growth. Hence its ability to threaten the US militarily. Lastly, most of the Central and South American countries are so small that they would never threaten the US in any way. Similarly, Western European countries could shift their manufacturing base to Eastern European countries within the EU.
The US now realises the degree of threat China poses to democracy and the institutions necessary for the democratic societies to function properly (eg, rule of law, an independent judiciary, free press, free and fair elections, etc.). It also realises a great deal of precious time has been lost/wasted. But the US has the potential to rise to the challenge. One of the pillars of the Biden doctrine is relentless diplomacy, meaning that the US realises its biggest assets are its 60 allies distributed all over the world versus China’s one (North Korea).
Vidya S. Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed numerous articles for such prestigious newspapers as: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), EU Reporter (Brussels), East Asia Forum (Canberra), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
From guns to governance, the Taliban transition is difficult to digest
With the announcement of a new government formation, the Taliban has officially requested the world to legitimize its forceful rule in Afghanistan. Various important ministry portfolios were distributed to a council of members who have been designated as terrorists by E.U, UK, U.S, U.N and NATO allies. While Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have kept their embassies open in Kabul, the terror group has already received some international recognition. Apart from solving few factional divides, Taliban tried to emulate principals of governance in order to project itself as a sustainable entity. However, majority of the elected Taliban figures have either been designated as terrorists by UN or occupied space on FBI’s “most wanted list.” The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan is being ruled by a government that doesn’t comprehend international laws and treaties. This interim government mostly consists of old guards of the Taliban regime who waged a war against foreign forces to reclaim Afghanistan. With zero representation of women in the interim government, the Taliban have made it clear that inclusivity and diversity are not its core ideals. It prefers to continue with terror inflicting patterns and still denounces modernity in political affairs.
The nature and character of this unique government is rather intricate and obscure. The social, political and economic framework for a sustainable government were decided by 800 Islamic scholars. With Taliban’s growing intolerance towards dissent, many members with zero experience were handpicked to occupy the most important offices. The appointment of Mohammad Hasan Akhund as prime minister may not have surprised many political pundits, but none could decipher Mullah Baradar's demotion to deputy prime minister. Lest we forget, this government is the same repressive theocratic regime that gave refuge to Osama bin laden, the mastermind of 9/11 attacks killing around three thousand Americans.
Ministry of interior affairs will be led by one of FBI’s most wanted man, with a $10m bounty
Sirajuddin Haqqani being appointed as the interior minister poses a major challenge not just for the U.S but also Afghanistan’s neighbors. Afghanistan’s new interior minister, responsible for overseeing the country's police, intelligence services and security forces is himself a terror suspect and wanted by FBI for questioning. Also, Haqqani network’s strong alliance with Al Qaeda should send alarm bells ringing. Sirajuddin commands the most notorious faction of the Taliban that takes pride in suicide bombing and incorporating staunch principals of jihad. Bankrolled by Pakistan's intelligence services, the Haqqani network has operated with absolute impunity to spread its terror activities like kidnapping for ransom and unleashing suicide bombers in various parts of Kabul. With the Taliban mistakenly releasing prisoners who are hardcore Islamic state commanders, trainers and bomb makers, the interior minister will be in a tough spot. Mismanagement of other rival extremist groups can create an unavoidable catastrophic influx of violence in the region.
Ministers for defense and education are not unusual choices
Even though the current defense minister Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid (son of Taliban founder, Mullah Omar) favored a negotiated end to the war, he refused to break ties with terrorist network Al Qaeda. Unlike the post of insurgency's military chief, Mullah Yaqoob did not inherit the autonomy to make decisions. He has been appointed to obey orders and serve the interests of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency that provides safe haven to terrorists. A defense minister trained in guerilla warfare by the terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad is now responsible for Afghanistan’s military measure, resources and crafting policy decisions on matters related to security. On the other hand, ministry of education is now in the hands of Abdul Baqi Haqqani who has been tasked to set up an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes. While the Taliban has vowed to preserve the gains, Afghanistan has made in the education sector over the past 2 decades, coeducation will still remain prohibited. Abdul Baqi Haqqani has already replaced formal education with Islamic studies. In fact, he thinks higher education and obtaining PHD are irrelevant pursuits. This sets a dangerous precedent and lack of formal education will give rise to unemployment which will further destabilize the war-torn nation.
Other ministries were also assigned to hardline Islamists
Khairullah Khairkhwa, the acting minister of information and broadcasting not only has close association with Al Qaeda but also believes in a hardline Islamist movement. In 2014, Khairkhwa was released from Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a glorious war hero held captive by Taliban for five years. Free from captivity, Khairkhwa reunited with the terrorist group to wage a war against American troops. Ministry of Virtue and Vice along with a religious police force are already enforcing extreme hardline interpretation of sharia law in Afghanistan.
Bleak political future and constant infighting
Efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's protracted war have culminated into instability and chaos. The presidential palace is abuzz with rumors of factional divide, senior Taliban leaders seemed to have indulged in a brawl. This infighting stemmed from divisions claiming credit for victory in Afghanistan. With top Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada and deputy prime minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar missing from public view, the Taliban has begun to crumble under pressure.
The group at the helm of affairs will have to battle rampant corruption plaguing the nation. Most of the entrants in Taliban’s care-taker administration have criminal history which the world will find difficult to overlook. According to UN humanitarian agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a total of $606 million in aid was now needed for Afghanistan until the end of the year. With basic services nearing collapse and food aid running short, Afghanistan will find itself in a dire crisis. The Taliban may not give two hoots about the west, but Afghanistan’s $9 billion dollars held in international accounts have been blocked by the Biden administration. The world will continue to block diplomatic channels with Taliban till it promises to enforce constitutional rights in Afghanistan. By now the Taliban have understood that defeating super powers is easy but not restoring order.
Afghanistan: Considering socio-economic interests in all segments of society is essential for sustainable peace
The First Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Akramjon Nematov commented on the initiatives of Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction put forward at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held on September 16-17.
Nowadays, one of the key issues on the international agenda is the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. And it is quite natural that it became the central topic of the SCO heads of state summit held on September 17, 2021 in Dushanbe. Most of SCO states share a common border with Afghanistan and directly feel the negative consequences of the unfolding crisis. Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan is one of the main security goals in the SCO region, writes Akramjon Nematov, First Deputy Director of the ISRS.
The seriousness of this issue and the high degree of responsibility with which states treat its solution is evidenced by the discussion of Afghan issue in the SCO-CSTO format. At the same time, the main goal of the multilateral negotiations was to find agreed approaches to the situation in Afghanistan.
President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev presented his vision of the ongoing processes in Afghanistan, outlined the challenges and threats associated with them, and also proposed a number of basic approaches to building cooperation in the Afghan direction.
In particular, Sh. Mirziyoyev stated that today a completely new reality has developed in Afghanistan. New forces as the Taliban movement have come to power. At the same time, he emphasized that the new authorities still have to go through a difficult way from consolidating society to forming a capable government. Today, there are still risks of Afghanistan returning to the situation of the 90s, when the country was engulfed in a civil war and a humanitarian crisis, and its territory turned into a hub of international terrorism and drug production.
At the same time, the head of state stressed that Uzbekistan, as the closest neighbor, which directly faced threats and challenges in those years, is clearly aware of all the possible negative consequences of the situation development in Afghanistan under a worst case scenario.
In this regard, Sh.Mirziyoyev called on the SCO countries to unite their efforts to prevent a protracted crisis in Afghanistan and related challenges and threats to the Organization's countries.
To this end, it was proposed to establish effective cooperation on Afghanistan, as well as to conduct a coordinated dialogue with the new authorities, carried out proportionately in compliance with their obligations.
First, the Uzbek leader stressed the importance of achieving broad political representation of all segments of Afghan society in state administration, as well as ensuring respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially those of women and national minorities.
As the President of Uzbekistan noted, the prospects for stabilizing the situation, restoring the Afghan statehood and, in general, the development of cooperation between the international community and Afghanistan depend on this.
It should be noted that Tashkent has always adhered to a principled position on the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the neighboring country. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. It is important to conduct a political dialogue with an inclusive negotiation process that takes into account exclusively the will of all Afghan people and the diversity of Afghan society.
Today, the population of Afghanistan is 38 million people, while more than 50% of it constitute ethnic minorities – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras. Shiite Muslims are 10 to 15% of the population and there are also representatives of other faiths. In addition, the role of women in the socio-political processes of Afghanistan has significantly increased in recent years. According to the World Bank, the number of women in the population of Afghanistan is 48% or about 18 million. Until recently, they occupied high government posts, served as ministers, worked in education and healthcare, actively participated in the socio-political life of the country as parliamentarians, human rights defenders, and journalists.
In this regard, only the formation of a representative government, the balance of the interests of ethno political groups, and the comprehensive consideration of socio-economic interests of all segments of society in public administration are the most important conditions for sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, the effective use of the potential of all social, political, ethnic and religious groups can make a significant contribution to the restoration of the Afghan statehood and economy, the return of the country to the path of peace and prosperity.
Second, the authorities should prevent the use of the country's territory for subversive actions against neighboring states, exclude patronage of international terrorist organizations. It was emphasized that countering the possible growth of extremism and the export of radical ideology, stopping the penetration of militants across borders and their transfer from hot spots should become one of the key tasks of the SCO.
Over the past 40 years, the war and instability in Afghanistan have turned this country into a haven for various terrorist groups. According to the UN Security Council, 22 out of 28 international terrorist groups, including IS and Al-Qaeda, are currently operating in the country. Their ranks also include immigrants from Central Asia, China and the CIS countries. Until now, joint efforts have been able to effectively stop terrorist and extremist threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan, and prevent them from spilling over into the space of the Central Asian countries.
At the same time, a protracted power and political crisis caused by the complex process of forming a legitimate and capable government may cause a security vacuum in Afghanistan. It can lead to the activation of terrorist and extremist groups, increase the risks of transferring their actions to neighboring countries.
Moreover, the humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is facing today is delaying the prospects for stabilizing the situation in the country. On September 13, 2021, the UN Secretary-General A. Guterres warned that in the near future Afghanistan may face a catastrophe, since almost half of the Afghan population or 18 million people live in a state of food crisis and emergency. According to the UN, more than half of Afghan children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and a third of citizens from lack of nutrition.
In addition, Afghanistan is facing another severe drought – the second in four years, which continues to have a serious negative impact on agriculture and food production. This industry provides 23% of the country's GDP and 43% of the Afghan population with jobs and livelihoods. Currently, 22 out of 34 Afghan provinces have been seriously affected by the drought, 40% of all crops were lost this year.
Moreover, the situation is aggravated by the growing poverty of the population of Afghanistan. According to the UN Development Program, by now the share of poverty among the population is 72% (27.3 million people out of 38 million), by the middle of 2022 it may reach 97%.
It is obvious that Afghanistan itself will not be able to cope with such complex problems. Furthermore, 75% of the state budget ($11 billion) and 43% of the economy have so far been covered by international donations.
Already today, high dependence on imports (imports – $ 5.8 billion, exports – $ 777 million), as well as freezing and restricting access to gold and foreign exchange reserves, have significantly spurred inflation and price growth.
Experts predict that the difficult socio-economic situation, coupled with the deterioration of the military-political situation, may lead to flows of refugees from Afghanistan. According to UN estimates, by the end of 2021, their number may reach 515,000. At the same time, the main recipients of Afghan refugees will be neighboring SCO member countries.
In the light of this, the President of Uzbekistan highlighted the importance of preventing the isolation of Afghanistan and its transformation into the "rogue state". In this regard, it was proposed to unfreeze the assets of Afghanistan in foreign banks in order to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees, as well as to continue to assist Kabul in economic recovery and solving social problems. Otherwise, the country will not be able to get out of the clutches of the illegal economy. It will face the expansion of drug trafficking, weapons and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is obvious that all the negative consequences of this will be first felt by neighboring countries.
In this regard, the President of Uzbekistan called for the consolidation of the efforts of the international community to resolve the situation in Afghanistan as soon as possible and proposed to hold a high-level meeting in the SCO-Afghanistan format in Tashkent with the involvement of observer states and dialogue partners.
Undoubtedly, the SCO can make an important contribution to stabilizing the situation and ensuring sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan. Today, all of Afghanistan's neighbors are either members or observers of the SCO and they are interested in ensuring that the country does not become a source of threats to regional security again. The SCO member states are among the main trading partners of Afghanistan. The volume of trade with them is almost 80% of the trade turnover of Afghanistan ($11 billion). Moreover, the SCO member states cover more than 80% of Afghanistan’s electricity needs and more than 20% of wheat and flour needs.
The involvement of dialogue partners in the process of resolving the situation in Afghanistan, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, and now also Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will allow us to develop common approaches and establish closer coordination of efforts in ensuring security, economic recovery and solving the most significant socio-economic problems of Afghanistan.
In general, the SCO states can play a key role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan, promote its transformation into a responsible subject of international relations. In order to do this, the SCO countries need to coordinate efforts to establish long-term peace and integrate Afghanistan into regional and global economic ties. Ultimately, this will lead to the establishment of Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable and prosperous country, free from terrorism, war and drugs, and to ensuring security and economic well-being throughout the SCO space.
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