Kabul Conference

Congratulations, Taliban!

Two weeks ago in the Afghan capital, 40 foreign ministers from the NATO nations basically decided that their enemy has won the war, criticises Afghan journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in his commentary

Ban Ki-Moon, Guido Westerwelle, Hamid Karzai (photo: dpa)
No clear picture of the country's future: "The conference indicated that the international leaders are not interested anymore in the issue of Afghanistan," says Afghan journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

​​It was the biggest international summit in Afghanistan's history. More than 40 foreign ministers convened in the country this week. Just like at previous international conferences on Afghanistan, however, they proved unable to define a clear future for this country.

Will post-NATO Afghanistan be a democratic state, a tribal system ruled by the warlords and drug dealers, or a theocracy dominated by hard-line Taliban? The conference was not able to answer this key question. The whole agenda concentrated instead on the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan and the transition of responsibilities to the Afghan government.

What we Afghans learned from the Kabul conference is that the vision of both Afghan and international leaders regarding the crisis in Afghanistan is a very routine one. Such a vision cannot realistically see a wider range of options.

The conference indicated that the international leaders are not interested anymore in the issue of Afghanistan; therefore, they are impatiently trying to shed their responsibility for this country. The conference also showed that the Afghan leaders, instead of considering actual long-term projects for the future of the country, are only trying to find a way to directly inject 50 per cent of the international aid funds into Afghan's corrupt government bureaucracy and thereby increase their windfall wealth.

Second most corrupt government in the world

The current main threats for Afghanistan – the roots of its instability – are terrorism, the power of the warlords, corruption, poverty, injustice, drugs and undemocratic tribal structures. These facts needed to be focused on during such a 'huge' gathering. But as the whole agenda of the conference was unrealistically designed, it merely briefed participants on two insubstantial issues: the transition of responsibilities to the Afghan government and the timing for the withdrawal of international military forces from Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Guard of Honour (photo: AP)
Black hole for aid funds: Under President Karzai, one of the world's most corrupt governments has been formed, second only to Somalia

​​In his closing speech, President Karzai proclaimed that all the participants in the conference concurred on these two issues. He noted that the international community has resolved to channel 50 per cent of its aid funds through Afghanistan's government and to hand over complete responsibility for Afghanistan's security to the government by 2014, facilitating the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.

Participants in the Kabul conference agreed on the two above-mentioned issues, while no preparations have been made or opportunities created within Afghanistan for the successful implementation of the 'Kabul Agreement'.

This can be seen first in the fact that the Afghan government has found it impossible to transparently spend 50 per cent of the international funds it was granted. After one decade of direct cooperation with the international community, the government is not even able to spend its annual budget. Formal statistics indicate that the majority of Afghan ministries were not able to spend 50 per cent of their annual budgets in 2009.

On the other hand, according to international surveys, the government of Afghanistan is the second most corrupt in the world after Somalia. In Afghanistan, it is impossible for an individual to obtain the signature of a government employee on a document without paying a bribe. Such a system cannot transparently and completely spend international aid funds.

On the wrong path

The international community has pursued the wrong path in the course of state building in Afghanistan during the past decade. Its greatest mistake was to ignore the justice process and the prosecution of war criminals. As soon as the warlords and war criminals realised they were beyond the reach of the law, they applied their money, social influence and military force to entering the Afghan government. Very soon they seized the main offices in the government and subsequently took control of major corporations, reconstruction projects and, finally, the trafficking of heroin.

Taliban fighters (photo: dpa)
Return of the once-defeated: Despite the immense efforts of the NATO troops, the world seemingly has to look on helplessly as the Taliban regain strength from day to day

​​At the present time, important Afghan ministries are distributed among warlords, drug dealers, the economic mafia and their fellows. They control all the state-run development and reconstruction projects and implement them through their own NGOs. In such a situation it is impossible to supervise such projects.

Therefore, accepting the spending of 50 per cent of international funds directly by the Afghan government means pouring billions of dollars directly into the pockets of the warlords and drug dealers. By contrast, these people cannot easily exert control over projects that are directly implemented by international aid organisations.

At the Kabul Conference, nobody mentioned the reality of the Afghan government and the participation of warlords, drug dealers and the corrupt economic mafia in this system as the main issue needing to be discussed. This comes as no surprise. After all, the famous warlord Martial Qasim Fahim, the first Vice President of Afghanistan, filed as a human rights abuser by Human Rights Watch since the 1990s, was sitting right next to US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton in the conference room.

Vague and inefficient concepts

The transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan government, which facilitates the withdrawal of NATO troops from the country, was presented ambiguously. During the conference, the Afghan government was unable to present any clear programme to show how it proposes to rule 'democratically' in post-NATO Afghanistan. President Karzai's alternative security programmes are just as vague and inefficient as the term 'transition of responsibilities'.

Only one week before the conference, Karzai attempted to demonstrate his ambition to take responsibility for national security by approving the programme of 'arming the Afghan villagers'. In this so-called 'self-defence programme' the Afghan government arms the local people to fight against insurgents.

photo: DW
Street scene in Kabul: The security situation in Afghanistan remains tense. The Afghan police and army will not be able to assure stability and security on their own, says Ibrahimi

​​Approving such programs shows that the official Afghan security system is unable to ensure the security of the country. On the other hand, there is also no guarantee that villagers, once armed, will not decide to join the insurgents.

Arming the local tribal forces is an inept experiment inherited from the final days of the Soviet occupation. On the eve of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Red Army also armed the tribal forces to defend the Soviets' puppet regime in Kabul. But history shows that these forces promptly joined the anti-government fighters to overthrow the central government.

Therefore, emphasising the withdrawal of NATO forces and the transition of responsibilities to Afghan's corrupt and weak government in such a situation is equivalent to accepting the victory of the Taliban and its terrorist allies in Afghanistan. The Taliban will surely welcome such an approach, as they stand to benefit the most from it. In early July, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told the media: "We are the winner of this war. The foreigners are leaving Afghanistan, so why we should accept the negotiations if we are the winner?"

If we take Mujahid's comments seriously, the main message of the Kabul Conference was: Let us congratulate the Taliban on their victory!

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

© Süddeutsche Zeitung 2010

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, 28, one of the leading independent journalists in northern Afghanistan, reports for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London.

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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