AFGHANISTAN: BEYOND TOKYO CONFERENCE
By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
During the Obama years, at least two persons out of his Afghanistan team accurately and correctly perceived the nature, gravity and complexity of the Afghanistan conflict and were eager to find a respectable way to get America out of the fiasco. These were Richard Holbrooke and General Stanley Mc Crystal. Former could not take the stress and died while urging an end to the conflict. The latter became so desperate over the manner decision makers in Washington were applying the war effort in wrong direction that he eventually opted for a professional suicide by stepping over a media landmine.
Rest of the guys in Washington continue to pursue erratic strategies. The longer they stay their course, severer would be defeat and harsher the implications of such a defeat. Opportunity of a face saving exit for the occupation forces has already slipped past. They need to analyse the reasons which have led to President karzai’s latest offer to Mullah Omar for setting up a political office and a political party; the offer goes on to see him as a contender in the forthcoming Afghan presidential elections in 2014.
Like earlier series of numerous international conferences on Afghanistan, the recent gathering at Tokyo was high in pomp & show, and low in substance. Donors’ conference in Tokyo pledged $16 billion for the economic development of Afghanistan spread over next four years, with a condition that the Afghan government reduces corruption.
There is virtually no chance that the present Afghan government could tackle corruption. Graft has become an accepted norm of life in Afghanistan. As per ‘Transparency International’, Afghanistan’s public sector ranks as the third most corrupt in the world. During 2010, America tried to pressure the Afghan leadership into checking corruption; efforts resulted in worsening bilateral relations. Americans lost; corruption won. No wonders that wherever choice is available, Afghan public prefers to deal with Taliban shadow officials over the government functionaries. What else could be a starker reality of a total defeat of a decade long international effort led by America?
Though the aid bonanza would certainly help Afghanistan’s government, world would be watching keenly as well as helplessly as to how much amount will actually be spent on the well being of Afghan people. Operational and maintenance cost of Afghan National Army and police is likely to be between US$ 3-4 billion per annum. Bulk of leftover amount would find its way to personal coffers and a common Afghan may continue to live in hapless conditions.
As of now, the much de-scaled American objective is to train and equip as many Afghan security forces as possible before the departure of foreign combat troops by 2014. America is likely to keep several thousand troops in the country after 2014, under the pretext of training Afghan forces, conducting counterterrorism operations and for maintaining a potent deterrence against likely resurgence of political resistant which is routinely but wrongly termed as Taliban.
A feat that full military might of America and it’s around fifty allies could not perform, is expected to be achieved by ill trained and ethnically divided Afghan security forces. Assumption seem to be that 20,000 American soldiers fortified in their bases would radiate such a fear that Afghan troops will be able to forestall most likely and most discomforting scenarios like over whelming military victory by the political resistance and fragmentation of the Afghan government and its security forces into regional, sectarian and ethnic gangs. Major Afghan stakeholders are quietly rearming in anticipation to a collapse of the Afghan government, or a return to civil war, after 2014.
Tokyo Conference has also been a discomfited admixture of, fictional claims of success, downplay of gross failures and frenzy of false hope! The ability of donors to deliver on their pledges and the aid actually meeting Afghan needs may simply degenerate into fantasy. Nations often do not make good on even their short-term pledges, turn aid into loans, and tie aid to misplaced priorities. International conferences have a consistent history of making ambitious statements that were never kept after key donors lost interest. At a similar Friends of Democratic Pakistan conference in Tokyo in April 2009, in response to a request for US$ 4 billion, participants pledged over US$ 5 billion over the coming two years. Even after three years, the pledged amount has not been delivered.
Secretary Clinton announced Afghanistan’s designation as a major US non-NATO ally: “Please know that the United States will be your friend…We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan. Quite the opposite, we are building a partnership with Afghanistan that will endure far into the future.” However, financial commitments made in Tokyo cover only a short period of four years leading up to 2015; and year-wise disbursement details are not yet clear. Moreover, these pledges have not been linked to any specific plan and spending schedule.
Accompanying the declaration is an annexure titled “Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework,” which lists 15 commitments the Afghan government needs to meet during the next two years. These include free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015, human rights goals, such as improving implementation of a law to punish violence against women etc. Secretary Clinton said: “We have agreed that we need a different kind of long-term economic partnership, one built on Afghan progress in meeting its goals, in fighting corruption, in carrying out reform, and providing good governance.” These conditions reflect international donors’ frustration with the poor quality of Afghan governance, planning, management, and inability to operate in high-risk areas.
The pledged economic aid fell far short of the average $10 billion a year that Afghanistan requested at the Bonn Conference. Long term Afghan request for $120 billion through 2020 was also not addressed, leaving further discussions for a follow up conference, in London, in 2014.
Apparently, the message to Afghanistan's parties and factions was: "We will continue to support and subsidize the Afghan government for many years. There is no need to prepare for a possible collapse. Remain calm." However, it's not clear to what extent Afghans find this message reassuring.