A proxy war

Although Afghanistan ceased to be al-Qaida's headquarters following the U.S. invasion, about 20 terror outfits are currently active in the war-ravaged desolate nation. Alliances are fluid. Fighters move from one group to the other. Moreover, many nations such as Pakistan, India, Iran, China and Russia see Afghanistan as vital to their strategic, economic and security interests. As a result, they have tried to influence developments in the country.

Pakistan desperately wants to prevent the formation of a government in Kabul that supports Islamabad's archrival India. That's why the Taliban have received massive from Pakistan from the outset, although Islamabad officially joined hands with the U.S. in its war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. In Pakistan's border areas, Taliban fighters continue to find safe harbour.

Afghan women in Kabul (photo: Reuters)
Horror and mistrust: Afghan civilians have many enemies. Women especially suffer as their public spaces continue to disappear

India, meanwhile, wants to shrink Pakistani influence and expand its regional power. Iran wants to prevent the U.S. to set up permanent military bases in its neighbouring country. Tehran also aims to support the Shia minority in Afghanistan – a community that has faced many attacks. Russia wants to prevent a jihadist wave from spilling over from Afghanistan into Central Asia. China is striving to build an economic corridor that also passes through Afghanistan. Both Russia and China are irked by the U.S. presence in the region. In addition to these factors, there is also the massive flow of money to the Taliban, as well as the self-styled "Islamic State," emanating from the Gulf Arab countries.

There is an active struggle for allies on the Afghan battlefield. "The actors destabilise each other," says Almut Wieland-Karimi, underlining the "tectonic shifts in power politics of the global order."

Fragile progress

So is Afghanistan a failed state? Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into the country over the past 16 years, most of it coming from the U.S.. This has brought advances in infrastructure, education and health care and helped bring the country out of isolation. There is also a lively Afghan media landscape evolving with widespread development of Internet and mobile technologies. There is a young, dedicated elite that are committed to the reconstruction of their country.

But all of these advances are reversible. The Afghan state that emerged after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 cannot survive without foreign military and financial support. Young Afghans are the second-largest refugee group in Europe. This is a dilemma that even a new U.S. commander in Afghanistan would not be able to resolve.

Sandra Petersmann

© Deutsche Welle 2017

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