If Afghanistan collapses…

Published: August 21, 2016
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Three of its immediate neighbours will be seriously affected PHOTO: REUTERS

Three of its immediate neighbours will be seriously affected PHOTO: REUTERS

Three of its immediate neighbours will be seriously affected PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

If Afghanistan collapses – which it might – its consequences will be felt far from its borders. Three of its immediate neighbours will be seriously affected. Pakistan and Iran sill have to deal with the arrival of a political entity on their borders that will not be able to control and perhaps would seek to create trouble in their neighbouring countries. China has invested significant amounts of resources to exploit Afghanistan’s large mineral wealth. It would also want to include the country in the land-based arteries of international commerce it is hoping to build in the near future. Work has already begun on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. A similar corridor is being constructed in Kazakhstan. The hope of linking the two by building a north-south system through Afghanistan will have to be postponed. India has also made large investments in the country; an agreement to upgrade the port at Chabrahar was signed this summer by Afghanistan, India and Iran. The Indians are hoping to connect the port with a highway that will go through Iran to Afghanistan. A great deal hangs on stability in Afghanistan for its neighbours and near-neighbours.

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The Afghan state, never very strong even at the best of times, has come under pressure from several directions. The Taliban have become active this fighting season, sensing that the withdrawal of the United States and its allies has created an opportunity it must avail while the Afghan military is still struggling to develop into a competent fighting force. Added to the increasing pressure exerted by the Taliban in the country is the arrival of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is also seeing an opportunity to create a presence outside the Arab world. Adding to these two pressures is the inability of the country’s political system to develop into a functioning democratic entity that can replace the use of violence as a way of expressing interests with political discourse. Then, there is the growing weakness of the economy, which does not have a domestic resource base that can be used for meeting the basic needs of the people.

The growing presence of ISIS in the country became apparent with the July 23 attack on a large group of Hazaras, a Shia-community based in and around the province of Bamian. The group had gathered to protest the government decision to bypass their area in building a power line that would bring electricity from the power-surplus Central Asia to the power-deficit South Asia. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan- India project was one of the major connectivity projects that had been developed to knit together Central and South Asia. Protest leaders claimed systematic bias against Hazaras by the government. The Hazaras have only in the past decade tried to shake off a long history of oppression. The attack that killed at least 80 people and injured another 230 was not the first time the Shia community had been attacked by Sunni extremists. In 2011, a suicide bombing on Shia shrine killed 63 people. The Hazaras have also come under attack in Balochistan, which had a sizeable presence of the community.

Spokesmen for ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack. If, indeed, carried out by this group, known as Daesh in Afghanistan, it would be the first major urban attack in the country by radical Sunnis and could signal their first deliberate effort to target the country’s Shia minority. According to one account, “hundreds of Hazaras had reportedly fought alongside President Basharal Assad’s troops in Syria against Sunni groups including the Islamic State in recent years, making Hazaras a likely target for the extremist group’s loyalists back in Afghanistan…During the late 1990s, when the Taliban regime held power in Kabul and most of the country, it banned observing Shia religious holidays in public.”

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ISIS seemed determined to stoke sectarian strife in the country. Shias make up about 10 per cent of the Afghan population with power bases in Kabul and the north-central province of Bamian. There are outside forces that would get involved in case this conflict grows. Iran, which took in huge numbers of refugees from Afghanistan’s wars, has sought increasing influence in post-war Afghan society. According to Mohammed Alizada, a Hazara member of the Afghan parliament, “the Islamic State has two factions in Afghanistan, one made up of moderate former Taliban members and one more foreign-dominated and extreme group.” If the latter grew stronger he didn’t think the Afghan government would have the capacity to defend Shias against them without the international community’s help.

The international community, led by the United States, seemed inclined to lend a helping hand but without getting too involved in the conflict. This was the approach the Obama Administration had developed during his second term in office. Under the Obama Doctrine, nation-building was to be left to the nations themselves with only marginal help from the United States. In early July 2016, the president announced slowing the planned withdrawal of his country’s troops, leaving about 8,400 through the end of 2017. Many American experts believed that Afghan forces were not yet prepared to defeat the Taliban on their own and that the United States needed to reinforce its message of long-term commitment to the country. But the task of readying the Afghans to do the fighting was proving to be complicated and expensive and may not be sustainable under the current political environment in the United States. 

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd,  2016.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Mubashar. Look-man
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:25AM

    Peace is bound to come to afg, Only hurdle is Pakistan.World will have to come together to keep Pakistan at bay. EVery country in the neighbourhood is doing its best to put AFg on its feat except pakistanRecommend

  • Observer
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:57AM

    Pakistani leadership must understand that they can not insulate Pakistan from the Afghan fire … !! … and it is very easy to stoke the fire, simply by throwing dollars. If Afghanistan does not attain stability, Pakistan will continue to be threatened by Afghanistan based terror groups.
    Wishing that some how the CPEC will be the magic bullet for Pakistan to be able to continue its policies of good and bad Taliban, may not be a wise policy.Recommend

  • Khattak
    Aug 22, 2016 - 6:13AM

    Afghanistan did not disintegrate under Taliban after 40 years of war. It is on the rise & the world is helping out. I am worried about Pakistan which is on downward spiral & all except Punjab want freedom. Recommend

  • BHAGWAT GOEL
    Aug 22, 2016 - 6:35AM

    SHAHID MIAN. ALL THE TROUBLES IN AFGHANISTAN CONTINUE TO HURT PAKISTAN.

    SIND, BALOCHISTAN,POK,GB, PAKHTOONISTAN ARE IN THE MAKING. BESIDES INDIA, OTHER COUNTRIES WILL HELP. WAKE UP!Recommend

  • Humza
    Aug 22, 2016 - 9:00AM

    @BHAGWAT GOEL: Don’t you think manipulating the Afghans for decades has only lead Afghanistan to the failed state it has become? In 1947, Afghanistan did not recognize Pakistan and an Afghan national killed the first Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat. Decades of working as an Indian vassal state to foment troubles in Pakistan’s neighboring provinces did not achieve anything for India and only brought misery to poor Afghans who are smuggling themselves all over the world to beg for asylum as refugees. Catching Indian agents like Yadav trying to stoke problems in Pakistan surprised no one in the world and it’s a shame that Indians continue to play these games using Afghanistan as a base.India should realize that a stable region is possible by listening to the people in Indian occupied Kashmir to defuse the root issue troubling relations in South Asia. They should desist from supporting criminality from Afghanistan and work for regional trade instead. In the short term Pakistan will have to secure its border with Afghanistan as stability there is still elusive and it may harm Pakistan’s improving economy and CPEC.Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta
    Aug 22, 2016 - 10:05AM

    @Humza:
    Your comment is pretty much to the mark. And exposes India, for
    what it is…A regional bully, that thinks it’s a world power. When in fact,
    it’s a third world country, with more than two third of it’s population
    below poverty level. And the cancer of Indian Kashmir menacing it’s
    innards. To top it all of, there is a Caste System, like nowhere else in
    the world.
    The other point is, Pakistan does not have an improving economy.
    Far from it. It’s mostly smoke and mirrors of the Finance Ministry,
    [run by PM Sharif’s brother in law]. Saudi gift of $1 1/2 billion dollars
    was shown as improvement. Until exposed by financial professionals.
    Pakistan is living from loan to loan. And CPEC, hopefully, will make
    a major impact. Even though most of the benefits will go to Punjab.Recommend

  • Zain
    Aug 22, 2016 - 10:34AM

    It will be for better.Recommend

  • Komal S
    Aug 22, 2016 - 10:35AM

    India has always worked towards peace in Afghanistan. It has always sided with the democratically elected governments of Afghanistan. Today India invests in Afghanistan for economic development and protecting its sovereignty. Both Afghan Government and its people recognize India’s contribution. Recommend

  • Mohsin Bhagt
    Aug 22, 2016 - 10:41AM

    At first all afghan ethnic stakeholders need to come on one page before asking any other country on outside group for doing anything on their behalf, either its america, India or Pakistan. Better sooner than later. Otherwise Afghanistan will collapse once again. Recommend

  • FAZ
    Aug 22, 2016 - 11:00AM

    @Mubashar. Look-man:
    Yea. By the way you should read UNHCR reports too before commenting
    “The Government of Pakistan receives $133 million a year ($78 per person per year) from UNHCR for hosting Afghans on its side of the border”

    Any comments?Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Aug 22, 2016 - 11:02AM

    The author mentions 3 neighbours will be affected. Does China have a border with Afghanistan? It doesn’t.Recommend

  • Seadorff
    Aug 22, 2016 - 11:42AM

    @Gulchand Mehta:

    What kind of a country Pakistan has become whose future depends on a single project like CPEC ???Recommend

  • Fahad Javed Siddiqui
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:38PM

    @Khattak:
    Lol…no one wants freedom from Pakistan. We love our country and will certainly see it rise again. Your filthy propaganda is juvenile at best and is unwelcome.Recommend

  • mirestan
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:47PM

    After reading all the comments I can predict that Afghanistan will be in the hand of Phaktun tribes. Americans cannot stay in Afghanistan forever. Present Afghan government can be saved if minus Indian factors. India has nothing common with Afghan they do not speak same language, same religion, same culture, their boarder are not common. Indians are in Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan.Recommend

  • Milind
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:51PM

    @Humza – Its your country that ruined & manipulated Afghanistan for its selfish motives – ‘strategic depth’, claim over Durrand line etc.

    India helped Afghanistan without trying to control them or manipulate them.Recommend

  • onlooker
    Aug 22, 2016 - 1:32PM

    @Humza: + Gulchand Mehta:
    Good attempt to distort the truth. Harping on silly excuses are your born habit and latest attempt of ‘exposing’ India through so-called spy of Kulbhushan Yadav made you a big laughing stock in-front of International community. Pakistanis having a very short memory so they seldom ask their Government for its repeated failures on this account as why the International community gave cold shoulders to its much celebrated ‘dossiers’ on ‘Indian involvement’ in Pakistan! Even Chinese began to feel the heat of keeping an ally like Pakistan.Recommend

  • Salman
    Aug 22, 2016 - 1:34PM

    @Virkaul

    China does have a border with Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor.
    You can see the road they have build there on google maps.
    Though China has kept that border crossing closed in spite of American insistence to open it.
    Probably due to fears over fighter moving in to destabilize its Xinjiang province.Recommend

  • FAZ
    Aug 22, 2016 - 2:05PM

    @Seadorff:
    Because CPEC, is not a single project..Recommend

  • FAZ
    Aug 22, 2016 - 2:08PM

    @Komal S:
    India has always worked towards peace in Bangladesh. It has always sided with the democratically elected governments of Bangladesh. Today India invests in Bangladesh for economic development and protecting its sovereignty. Both Bangladeshi Government and its people recognize India’s contribution. Recommend

  • abood
    Aug 22, 2016 - 2:21PM

    Well we in pakistan should put a wall with afghanistan and than let them do what so ever they want to do .and we should make sure that we find a way for afghans to go to indiaa.infact gov should give them money to go to india.would love to see how indians would handle them.modi love would sooon fade away.its not easy handling them.Recommend

  • onlooker
    Aug 22, 2016 - 3:15PM

    @mirestan: What you have in common with China to become Iron brother? Recommend

  • Qayyum
    Aug 22, 2016 - 4:02PM

    Too many indian fake id’s with Pakistani/Muslim names here.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Aug 22, 2016 - 4:20PM

    @Virkaul: Google says it does.Recommend

  • onlooker
    Aug 22, 2016 - 4:24PM

    @Qayyum:
    Truth is very hard to digest! Recommend

  • Iralan
    Aug 22, 2016 - 5:42PM

    Afghanistan is now a American and Indian colony
    Need to care for yourself and look at your strategy and interests
    China Russia Iran are all looking at this and so should PakistanRecommend

  • M.S.
    Aug 22, 2016 - 5:44PM

    @Virkaul: On paper China does not share border with Afghanistan but there are three points which should be considered. First, China has more stakes in Afghanistan than any other country. It has made huge investments in mining and other materials. Secondly, China has almost taken over CPEC sorrounding areas of Gilgit Baltistan which would give it direct access into Aghanistan. Thirdly, China is approaching Afghanistan from North west side through Uzbekistan and Khazikistan. A bigger economic corridor would be built there. In my opinion, China will be biggest player in this region and I do hope it’s the only country which will tame Afghans for rest of their history.Recommend

  • NorthWest
    Aug 22, 2016 - 6:38PM

    Amazed at the Indian trolls. Don’t know what they are having for breakfast or what their media is feeding them but they are really poorly informed. Or wait, it must be their innate bias against Pakistan. Their ‘comments’ have no value except some odd amusement. Recommend

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