A SHIFT IN GEOPOLITICS IN CENTRAL ASIA: WHY IS CHINA SO INVESTED IN AFGHANISTAN?

Foreword: Chelsea Kaser is the current National Security Intern at the Center for International Policy for the Spring of 2015. She conducted research on Chinese and Afghan relations before writing this post. She currently attends Muhlenberg College, where she concentrates on peace and conflict resolution and Russian studies.  She hopes to attend graduate school after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the opening ceremony of the 4th Ministerial Conference of Istanbul Process of Afghanistan at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing, October 31, 2014.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the opening ceremony of the 4th Ministerial Conference of Istanbul Process of Afghanistan at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing, October 31, 2014. (Voanews)

By: Chelsea Kaser

Since 2014, China has become much more diplomatically engaged with Afghanistan. Several factors have raised the interest of Beijing in securing a more stable and secure Afghanistan. For both national security and economic needs, Chinese leaders have not only given substantial economic aid to the country, but also supported and even hosted peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. However, because of border disputes with India and China, as well as historical tension between India and Pakistan, several other aspects have come into play with this newly diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Kabul.

In February 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kabul and indicated China would support Afghanistan in achieving “smooth political, security, and economic transitions.”  In October 2014, China also hosted the fourth foreign minister’s meeting of the Istanbul Process, and international efforts launched in 2011 to encourage cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. In this way, China showed desire to take initiative in promoting a smooth power transfer after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election and a stable security transition following the gradual withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops an U.S forces in December of 2014.

In January 2015, during a speech marking the 60th anniversary of China-Afghan relations, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said, “We hope that China will play a proactive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, because whatever the Chinese do, they do it according to a plan and with focus. Now, as they have become involved, we will witness more steps toward achieving peace.” And in February 2015, the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue that includes China, Afghanistan and Pakistan met for the first time in Kabul, highlighting new Chinese desire to engage with Afghanistan diplomatically. At this meeting, two decisions were highlighted: (1) China agreed to support relevant proposals such as strengthening highway and rail links between Afghanistan and Pakistan including Kunar Hydroelectric Dam, pushing forward connectivity and enhancing economic integration and (2) China and Afghanistan support Pakistan holding the fifth Foreign Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan and the three sides agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation on this matter.

Economically, China also has given several types of aid. In 2014 alone, China provided Afghanistan with a total of 500 million yuan (80 million USD) and pledged an additional 1.5 billion yuan (240 million) over the next three years. These numbers are substantially larger than any aid that the Chinese have given in previous years, and has promoted economic stability in a country that is rising from over a decade of war. China also promised to provide 500 scholarships for Afghan students to study in China as well as training to 3,000 Afghan professionals in various fields including counterterrorism, anti-drug trafficking, agriculture, and diplomacy. Another big factor that has created closer cooperation between China and Afghanistan is the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. This proposal shows Chinese efforts to focus less on domestic issues and become more involved in a widely regional sense. Under this initiative, China aims to create a modern Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to boost trade and extend its global influence. Projects under the plan include a network of railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, power grids, and other infrastructure links across Central, West and South Asia to as far as Greece and Russia, increasing China’s connections to Europe and Africa.

Now the big question is, why has China invested so much into Afghanistan? Besides the obvious benefit of the Silk Road Initiative in terms of opening up trade, Chinese diplomatic involvement is mostly about Afghanistan stability. A stable Afghanistan means two things for China, (1) To be able to create this Silk Road Initiative, Afghanistan must be a key player, as Kandahar is being considered as a central stop on the trade route, and (2) To control the Muslim majority Uighur population in the Xinhang province, which resides in Northwestern China and shares a small border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Chinese leaders fear with the close proximity the Xinhang province is to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that it is especially vulnerable to the effects of terrorism and extremism, posing a great threat to Chinese national security. Without Afghan stability, the Xinhang province will be harder to control and keep stabilized.

This second concept was made a real fear in October 2013, when a car crashed in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in what police described as a terrorist suicide attack. Five people were killed and another thirty-eight were injured. Chinese police described it as a “major incident” and as the first terrorist attack in Beijing’s recent history. The other most recent attack was in March 2014 at the Kunming train station. The incident, targeted against civilians, left 29 civilians and 4 perpetrators dead with more than 140 others injured. The attack has been called a “massacre” by some news media. Both male and female attackers were seen to pull out long-bladed knives and proceed to stab and slash passengers. Although no one group took responsibility for either attack, there was evidence in both that pointed to the Uighur Insurgency in the Xinhang province. With these heightened security concerns, it is not in the least surprising that China has taken a lead in stabilizing Afghanistan and supporting the new government among other things.

Another factor that has played into China’s role in Afghanistan is its neighbor, Pakistan. Pakistan’s role is quite interesting, as it is connected to China’s involvement in Taliban peace talks and has become a growing regional nuclear threat. Pakistan has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal; and as of recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announced that he had approved a new deal to purchase eight diesel-electric submarines from China, which could be equipped with nuclear missiles, for an estimated $5 billion.  Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India. China is using its good relations with Pakistan to cultivate more cooperation in peace talks with the Taliban, as Pakistan has closer ties with some the organizations’ leaders.  China and Pakistan’s alliance is both beneficial militarily and economically. Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road Initiative is integrated with CPEC (Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor), a channel for trade running from China across South and Central Asia. CPEC involves major overhaul of infrastructure, with rail roads, pipelines, and ports in a bid to ease the energy crisis and increase investment in Pakistan. Militarily, both countries recently made a $6.5 billion commitment to build a new nuclear power plant in Karachi.

This alliance does not help India’s interests, as both India and China have taken great measures in assisting Afghanistan in its political transition.  India has given $2 billion for a number of areas of infrastructural development, capacity building, rural development, and education. They have also spent some time training Afghan military and police. However, because of India and China’s rocky relationship as well as India being a “common enemy” to both Beijing and Pakistan, India likely does not have a chance in competing in Afghanistan for power.

As far as the Taliban peace talks go, China has a lot to lose if this peace process fails. China is well-equipped to take on the role of peacemaker, as it is a major power in the region and has a great degree of political influence. China also has a lot invested in these talks, as its national security and economic prosperity with the Silk Road Initiative are big factors at stake. Ensuring Afghanistan security and stability creates a risk for China, and if they do not succeed, its credibility will most likely be damaged.

With the United States, at some point, removing the last of its troops out of Afghanistan, there is a question of whether or not China will be the next “U.S. in the country.” Is China filling the void left by the likely U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan? Although the answer is uncertain, China has invested too much into Afghanistan’s infrastructure to try to create stability to let Afghanistan falter again, but it is nearly impossible that Beijing will ever invade Afghanistan like the U.S. did. China will likely continue to invest in Afghanistan and be involved in reconciliation with the Taliban until a time when it becomes pointless, as this is there number one priority is promoting a stable Afghan government.

As far as U.S policy should be concerned, China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not an immediate threat. China could prove the ultimate winner in Afghanistan, having shed no blood and only giving economic aid for stability purposes. China’s involvement in Afghanistan is not a potential threat to U.S power, and if this involvement is completely benign, it will continue to not be a threat. We should be happy that the transition of the government in Kabul is going rather smoothly. However, Chinese involvement is a “mixed bag”; if it uses its influence to gain power in the region and not for stabilizing Afghanistan alone, the threat to U.S power will become evident. One of the most serious threats that could come of this is Chinese and Pakistan’s nuclear ties, as growing, destabilizing nuclear forces will continue to be one of the biggest national security threats for the region, and for the United States, in years to come. 

We welcome your comments!


Recently, the New York Times Editorial Board published this article, titled ” China’s Big Plunge in Pakistan”. The article is below:

“President Xi Jinping of China showed up in Pakistan this week with one of his government’s most powerful weapons — money, and lots of it. He signed agreements worth more than $28 billion as part of a total promised investment of some $46 billion in a new “Silk Road,” an ambitious land-and-sea-based economic corridor connecting China to Europe and the Middle East through Pakistan, Central Asia and Russia.

The corridor is intended to shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, which could be blocked in war. Pakistan and its neighbors would unquestionably also benefit from this project if it can be completed.

Pakistani officials said that about $10 billion would be invested in infrastructure projects, including a deepwater port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, with rails and roads leading from the port across Baluchistan Province into western China. The route from Gwadar to Xinjiang Province in China would be a shortcut for trade between Europe and China. Up to $37 billion is earmarked for coal-based power plants, hydropower plants and solar parks to fill Pakistan’s huge energy needs.

For China, the investment also addresses issues of national security. China fears that Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, one of China’s most restive regions, are being influenced by militants in Pakistan, which has been battling an insurgency for more than a decade.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia have missed out on Asia’s economic boom, leaving them vulnerable to unrest. Ideally, China’s project would promote growth in Pakistan, weaken the extremists, encourage the Pakistani Army to support peace efforts in Afghanistan and begin to knit together a fragmented region with new development and trade.

There’s reason to be skeptical. The United States pursued many of the same goals when it poured $31 billion into Pakistan between 2002 and 2014, yet achieved little. One problem was that most of the American money was military aid. Congress was finally persuaded to authorize $7.5 billion in development aid in 2009, but by then the United States was in economic distress and fed up with the duplicity of Pakistani Army leaders who took counterterrorism aid from Washington while also working with militant groups against American interests.

China’s government is flush with money and has considered Pakistan among its closest allies since the 1970s. It may have learned from America’s mistakes by going big on development and targeting assistance to specific needs. But it will face the problems of Pakistani corruption and incompetence that the Americans experienced, as well as safety issues. Much of the construction would occur in Baluchistan, in southwest Pakistan, where a separatist movement has been fighting for independence from the central government for decades and could threaten Chinese workers.

Some suggest the project will further enhance China’s standing in Asia at America’s expense. But that is perhaps too narrow a view. Both the United States and China share an interest in a stable Pakistan. If China can advance that goal through development programs, the whole region would benefit.” (April 23, 2015)

LOOKING TOWARDS AND BEYOND 2015: THE HARD STRATEGY AND DECISIONS IN A DETERIORATING WORLD

President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.
President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

In a world that increasingly seems bent on self-destruction, bad governance, and self-inflicted wounds, there is clearly an urgent need to, as they say, “get a grip” on things!  As President Obama has said, none of these problems are easy; they will take a long time to deal with and they can’t be done by just one nation. Nor can they be addressed by just doing nothing. The key is, as Obama again said, is “not to do stupid things”, and needless to say do intelligent things and do them well and do them with other like minded nations whenever possible. This means first of all examining with care our values and our real interest, the cost and practicality of possible options, and not least the probability of success and any unforeseen consequences; what some would call “blowback.”

The last Bush administration did none of this and this administration has learned hopefully that lessen of “not doing stupid things.” That does not mean withdrawing from the world, but it may mean forcefully responding to a crisis when necessary and practical. But what are the elements that either make good policy and strategy and what are the harsh constraints in devising good strategy and properly implementing it, and with others, in a true multilateral coalition?

First, one domestic constraint on an effective American role in addressing global challenges is our corrosive political landscape, which is too often driven by hate, ignorance, stupidity, and partisan politics and not by good values or the national interest. The right wing neo-con hawks have criticized Obama for “leading from behind”. This pejorative statement is simply partisan from those who got us into an unnecessary war at great cost to our nation, the lives of brave men and woman in the armed forces, and our embassy staff. Now they are looking at pushing a unilateral unnecessary war with Iran and seem to be fomenting a  crude “cold war” strategy and creating implacable enemies out of China and Russia. Sadly, some of this is to increase mindlessly the DOD budget on behalf of the military-industrial sector and to push narrow ideological and myopic interests.

This is not the way to make smart strategic and foreign policy decisions. It has already hurt our global role as Congress debates the coming budget and pushes restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct his foreign policies as this is written.

Second, external constraints were partly covered in our earlier post and several are looked at below and others will follow in this series. In our last look at forward strategy, we tried to take a “macro” perspective and asked: “did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?” Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.”  Another installment will be looking forward into 2015 and beyond, would be aimed specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy.

THE CHANGING GLOBAL AND STRATEGIC AND LANDSCAPE AND THE DECLINE OF GOVERNMENTS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ADDRESS OUR REAL AND COMING RISKS

There are many reasons why governments and international organizations seem increasingly incapable of addressing and mitigating our global challenges and high-risk dangers. Not least, as we have noted, is the growing indifference of many nations including in the United States to the plight of the most at risk and vulnerable. The recent global recession had a deep impact on the reaction of citizens who have a growing sense of hopelessness.  Encouraged in the United States  by right-wing Republicans, their billionaire backers, and their paid for media and pundits, have long pushed for disdain of role of government and international organizations in serving the well-being of common citizens in need.  These forces drove public opinion against sufficient support for preemptive action to address major dangers to national security and global stability and humanitarian crises. This means that organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNHCR, World Health Organization, World Food Program, NATO, World Bank, and the UN system as a whole including the Security Council, are under funded and restricted by member states from taking effective action to address oncoming risks and conflicts. If this trend continues, the risk to American security and to the global system’s ability to address and mitigate serious major threats will continue to deteriorate and risks and costs will grow and not diminish. We need a new look on how to make these international institutions more effective and forward looking.  

TOP LEVEL THREATS: PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND DESTABILIZED REGIONS AND NATIONS 

Despite all the headlines about terrorism, the far greater risk to U.S. and global security at the existential level are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue or unstable and confrontational nations. This includes Russia under the unpredictable President Putin and Pakistan and India with nuclear weapons; nations both of which are in conflict with each other. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is led by an unpredictable leader, and the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons in a region of ubiquitous conflict and instability. Each of these problematic centers will remain well into 2015  and beyond and need a much higher level of attention by all global actors than has been seen hereto through by all nations and especially among some in Congress who seem to think “war” is the answer to every issue.  I suggest to our readers to look at the post of Secretary Kerry’s Geneva press conference for an insight into this problem with a focus on Iran and beyond.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES TOP LEVEL THREATS

As President Obama has made clear there is no more important crisis the globe faces that climate change and its consequences.  Many members of the Republican Congress do not think it exists, or do not think that it is caused by human activities, and even encourage energy sources that are among the worst polluters. This roadblock needs to be overcome with an enlightened global leadership, and the environmental community and citizens need to act. This is what the president had done by domestic legal regulations and international agreements that do not require Senate ratification. The agreement with China, the trip to India with this as a key topic, and with efforts to at last forge a global consensus on a broad range of climate impacting actions indicates some useful progress. More is still needed.  I think 2015 and 2016 will see major moves abroad with our allies on this issue while opposition by Republicans will persist.  

GLOBAL POVERTY, CIVIL UNREST, POPULATION MOVEMENTS AND GROWING COMMUNAL AND REGIONAL WARS AND TERRORISM

There is little question that America and the rest of the world will increasingly be impacted by the larger forces we have already seen arising. Frankly, they are at a cost of our past indifference to what is happening beyond our borders. Few paid attention to these forces; many of our leaders and our citizens and especially our corrupted media are giving more space and time to what the last stupid celebrity did, diverting our people from facing serious issues and solutions.

Terrorism is just one result of indifference by governments, powerful elites, and business to a larger social responsibility.  It will not go away overnight but it can be mitigated and in part overcome. The primary action needed is to give jobs to those that live in hopelessness and despair. The other is to fight the ideology of hate and those that use terrorism to achieve their aims.  Here the answer is not just military. Often here is where diplomacy and collective political and economic action can and should mitigate the conditions that breed conflict and narrow nationalism or racial hate. 

Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, much of the conflict-ridden Middle East and many parts of Africa need greater help than has so far been given. If we do not recognize this we will be over whelmed over time by several results: more conflict, an increased spread of diseases, greater poverty, and humanitarian and natural disasters and in the end a high risk world for all.

THE SO-CALLED RISE OF MAJOR “NEW” ACTORS ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

A lot has been written about the rise of “new” powers like China, India, and, for some, Russia.  This concept is often joined by the so-called “decline” of America and Europe. Frankly, this has both a part of truth but also a lot of nonsense.  Yes, India and China are growing but each has still deep-seated weaknesses, which will undermine their inherent potential for decades due not least to the large inequality that exists and social, racial, and ethnic divisions within each society. For Russia, despite all the aggressive and destructive actions, it is a state of concealed but deep crisis and decline that seems, under Putin, to reject modernity or even rationality and has destroyed its citizens meaningful participation in their collective decisions. This can’t last in the present equilibrium that is unstable over the long run. Putin is an historical tragedy for Russia at this time.  But the West and the rest of the world need a strategy to draw Russia over time into a community of cooperating and responsible states and we should never give up this goal. 

Some European leaders recognize this, but the silly forces on the right seem to think unneeded war with a nuclear-armed irrational nation is a bit of a lark. In 2015, Obama seems to know this and is struggling to find the right balance of restraint and prevention of aggression and the “inducement” of diplomacy, economic gain, and cooperation. We are likely to see more of this but Ukraine is the testing ground for both sides in 2015 and beyond and the only “good” solution requires Ukraine to remain a viable independent and unified state that can choose its destiny in the long run.

More on specific challenges will come in future posts and a look a creating a more effective international structure and the ability to foresee earlier coming dangers and respond.  

We welcome your comments!

2015: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UNKNOWN CHALLENGES GOING FORWARD?

DANGERS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHOICES IN 2015 AND BEYOND

By: Harry C. Blaney III

After looking back at 2014, which was in so many ways a time of change and a time of conflict and tragedy for many around the world but there were also moments of active and sometimes productive diplomacy and renewal that transpired. In some areas of the world, it was lamentably much of the same. The sad questions that remain: Was the globe well served by its leaders? Did the citizens of each nation take the lessons of our times with renewed understanding and engagement? Did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?

Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.

In the “macro” or what some call the “geo-strategic” level, and what I have also called major global challenges, we are indeed facing the kind of significant risks and dangers which are among the most confounding and complex, along with not as easily understood barriers to progress. We often see across-the-board disruptive forces that impact much of the rest of the specific regional and functional issues we face.

Looking forward, there are two important issues. First, what are the underlying landscapes and trends that are shaping our global system? Second, what can the United States, our allies and friends, do to improve global security, poverty, and reduce violence and secure well being as we move forth into 2015 and beyond?

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “SECOND WIND” ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND SECURITY

 One of the most important new developments is a tougher, more focused and more innovative stand by President Obama in foreign affairs including national security. This policy is still created with great deliberation, but also with more of a will to act “out of the box” than it did before the November election.

                 

Already, there are several examples of this development. One example is the agreement with China regarding a climate change limitation of greenhouse gasses that bypasses Congress. Another example that has great importance is the decision to open negotiations with Cuba, creating the ability to establish diplomatic relations and to relax decade’s old failed sanctions, overall promoting closer and a more intense engagement. His immediate action to deal with Ebola showed when prompt action was clearly needed he would act.  The very recent decision to continue to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program as well as to start a quiet dialogue on broader issues, like how to handle ISIS, has also become another signal of this new development.  All show a new tendency to take political risks at home to achieve key American objectives.  

 

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made it clear that he would be more active in taking the lead on a host of outstanding and difficult issues abroad. As our world grows more conflict prone, he is more assertive to make our best efforts to try to mitigate the worst consequences of upheaval, humanitarian disasters, global health dangers, the rich-poor poverty gap, terrorism and its repercussions, and last but not least the so called “rise” of China and Russian aggression. Presidential meetings in Saudi Arabia and India indicate a game-changing mode. But his caution and deliberation are likely to continue.

 

It is clear that the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense are all currently going through a “re-thinking” of American strategy to account for the fast moving changes that are developing around the world. Included in this reassessment are relations with Russia; especially dealing more actively with the escalating Ukrainian-Russian conflict. This is extremely relevant as this conflict not only touches the security of our NATO countries, but also shows a perspective for a long-term diplomatic modus vivendi with Russia. But, as this is being written, there is a building consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that some added assistance to Ukraine is necessary.

 

Look for new instruments and modalities from Obama to shape the foreign affairs agenda and debate in the coming months. Also look for Secretary John Kerry to be even more active in setting the stage in places like the Middle East, China, Africa, and India.  Expect a host of added initiatives over the coming months and even into 2016. President Obama is clearly laying a more active and innovative American agenda in the foreign affairs field, even beyond his term in office.

 

A second installment of this post, looking forward into 2015 and beyond,  specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy will follow in the coming days.

 

We welcome your comments!

2014 Drawdown: What Does It Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy in South Asia?

With the date for U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan fast approaching, the main mission for the Obama administration and the international forces in Afghanistan is to assure that Afghan forces are ready and able for the transition. The complications of the transfer have already begun due to growing mistrust between U.S. military leaders and forces and their Afghan counterparts due to the problematic increase in attacks on U.S. forces by their Afghan training partners. As a result of the attacks, joint troop trainings between the U.S. and Afghanistan, an integral component to the transfer, were suspended for a period of time. Though eventually reinstated, the program has been altered slightly in order to protect American soldiers. Relations with the Afghani government have also soured, with the U.S. refusal to fully hand over the Bagram prison a recent source of troubles. The combination of the Taliban’s resurgence, a growing drug trade, and the high possibility of a civil war, has led many to question whether or not the administration and especially the military really intends to pull out of the country.  In the coming period before the official withdrawal, the U.S. is focusing its resources on not only the Afghan government, but its neighbors, India and Pakistan, as the roles they play in the region will be integral to maintaining stability. The next two years will be important, as the administration will have to deal with a multitude of issues that could put a successful transition at great risk.

Upcoming Elections: While the ability of Afghan security troops to take over without U.S. assistance is an ongoing concern, and many have discussed the troubling implications of Afghanistan’s current economic dependency on aid, The Economist sees the political transition in 2014 as the most concerning event for a successful 2014 transition. The article notes that the preliminary draft of the strategic partnership agreement (SPA), as well as, the meeting of military recruitment targets by the Afghan Security Forces provides some evidence that the military and economic situations, while concerning, are not dire. And while it remains important that the country continues to receive aid in order to create a smooth economic transition, the most worrying transition post-2014, according to a report from the International Crisis Group, will be the political elections in Afghanistan. The report outlines a pessimistic outlook on the situation and warns about the high potential for election fraud, rigging and post-election instability.

Possibility of Civil War and Security Capabilities: Economic aid for the region from the U.S., NATO and other nations has increased greatly in the years after 9/11; as much as ninety-seven percent of Afghan GDP is dependent on military and development aid. However, the fear by Afghans and other leading agencies, such as the World Bank, about dependency on aid and troops has left many concerned about what that dependency would mean for security within the country post drawdown. Partly due to low funds and partly due to the Afghan’s feelings of abandonment, many journalists see the collapse into civil war not as a “possibility” but as an imminent fact upon American troop withdrawal. Richard Engels of NBC news stated “…I spoke to some Tajik villagers outside Kabul, who promised me they would start fighting once American troops leave.” A senior figure in Hizb-i-Islami, Ghairat Baheer, told the Daily Telegraph, “…I don’t think the national army and national police will be able to resist. They don’t have the morale…It will lead to civil war.” Much of the concerns focus on the Afghan Army and its ability to shed its dependency on American forces and act independently once the American combat troops leave.

However, other experts, especially amongst U.S. officials, do not believe that civil war is imminent. Citing the international community’s commitment to Afghan stability, Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, has said that he considers the possibility of civil war or economic instability “unlikely scenarios.” Journalist Robert Dreyfuss has called these claims as “foolhardy” and declares that while civil war is certainly a possible outcome, successful peace talks and war-weary Afghan citizens make it less likely to occur. Javid Ahmad, Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund, points to Washington ambiguity as the source of these anxieties and urges the administration and others to “clarify its role beyond 2014 and clearly stipulate a set of scenarios it will adopt should the Afghan security and political transitions not go as well as planned.”

The Taliban: Central to questions about civil war is the role of Taliban forces in the region. Abandonment of Afghanistan has led many senior British military officials to worry that this will embolden the Taliban and allow them to take over once more.  Earlier this year, it seemed that inclusion of Taliban leaders in peace talks was not possible due to bipartisan congressional opposition to a negotiated a prisoner swap.  Those, such as national security reporter Spencer Ackerman, who believe that peace talks with the Taliban are essential to the 2014 withdrawal, saw this as a tragic mistake. Post-election, however, the administration seems willing to restart negotiations despite resistance from both the U.S. military and the opposition forces. Recent reports have Taliban representatives attending meetings with other Afghan players in Paris to discuss the future. Though just an initial meeting, the administration hopes that peace negotiations can be reinstated.

Involvement of India and Pakistan: Successful efforts in Afghanistan will also hinge on the participation of its neighbors, Pakistan and India. Issues between the United States and Pakistan have increased steadily over the past few years, culminating with the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan by American forces. However, Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban has made it a key player in strategic talks over the future of Afghanistan. Slate columnist Fred Kaplan remarked that, “The only way to defeat the Taliban is to make it worth the Pakistanis’ while to help—to make them calculate that clamping down is both feasible and in their security interests.” Furthermore, the Telegraph reports that the Afghan High Peace Council views Pakistan as the natural successor to Washington to direct peace efforts. However, disappointment in Pakistan has led U.S. officials to look to India as the stabilizing force in Afghanistan. Shared concerns over Islamic extremists and stable governance has pivoted Washington’s attentions away from Pakistan towards India.  Relations between India and Afghanistan, supported by the U.S. and NATO, have strengthened with the two signing a strategic partnership agreement in 2011; this is in addition to increases in aid provided to Afghanistan by the Indian government

Rethinking the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

It has been nearly 15 years since the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed and ratified by over 2/3 of the United Nations General Assembly. There continue to be several holdouts, but the only state with nuclear potential west of Egypt that has not ratified the treaty is the United States. The last time the CTBT was brought to to a vote in the United States Senate was 1999. As new technology makes it increasingly obvious that the treaty would be beneficial to U.S. national security, the time has come for U.S. policymakers to rethink American participation in the CTBT.

There is one particularly powerful national security argument for ratifying the CTBT. The marginal benefit that the U.S. could gain from further nuclear testing is significantly less than the benefit that  potential military rivals such as China and Iran could accrue. The U.S. conducted over 1000 nuclear tests between its first in 1945 and its last in 1992, and the only reason to ever do so again is to ensure that the weapons are still working properly. However, technological advancements since the Senate rejection of the CTBT in 1999 have rendered nuclear testing obsolete as a means for ensuring the effectiveness of a nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, other states could steadily approach the U.S.’s level of nuclear capabilities through further testing. Since nuclear capability is close to a zero-sum game, a slight decrease in U.S. capabilities–which most likely would not even occur–is easily worth a significant decrease in the potential capabilities of others. Continue reading

The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a Post-bin Laden World

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the phrase “post-9/11 world” became commonly used to describe a new world that had changed in a fundamental way on that date. The death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 will not have the same globe-shaking implications as his greatest crime, but it has served as a catalyst for significant shifts in the relationships between the United States and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, when talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is appropriate to say that we now live in a “post-bin Laden world.” It seems likely that May 1 will end up being a landmark date not only because of the immediate effects of bin Laden’s death, but because of the reactions that death has provoked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the U.S.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on the “Strategic Implications of Pakistan and the Region.” A bleary-eyed Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), the Committee Chairman, presided over the hearing only hours after returning to the U.S. from his visit to Pakistan in which he defended the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Continue reading

Support, Don’t Promote, Democracy Abroad

The debate rages over what and how much world leaders and other senior officials should and should not say in public about the actions and policies of countries other than their own.  Prominently debated is whether the leaders of democratic regimes should chastise others for failure to observe basic human rights regardless of the consequences in economic, political or even military terms.  Naked domestic expediency aside, there is a respectable philosophical argument to the effect that a democratically elected leader should not shrink from openly expressing the political beliefs of his electorate in the interests of making friends or striking profitable deals with autocratic regimes; A respectable, but rarely productive, philosophy. The end result should be measured by the progress of democracy and the safe-guarding of peace and security. How to achieve this desirable result is of crucial importance.

Retired Ambassador and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman has provided food for thought in an article dated October 18, 2010 (accessible on-line at AmericanDiplomacy.com). In essence, Grossman argues persuasively that the United States, for maximum effectiveness, should support rather than promote democracy, or political and economic pluralism, abroad.  This is a practical, not an ideological, proposition. This approach takes a preference for democracy for granted and focuses instead on to get there:  “Supporting democracy requires a nuanced, long-term approach that includes encouraging the rule of law, institution-building and basic pluralism as precursors to democracy.”  Up-front promotion of democracy, on the other hand, brings resistance, defensiveness or outright rejection and, justifiably or not, charges of hypocrisy.  Grossman approvingly quotes an Atlantic Council report of 2008, as follows:  “America’s role should be to stand behind, not in front of, democracy movements.”  He chooses not to comment on the foolishness of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s launch of “transformational diplomacy” and its goal of putting American diplomats out in the provinces to stir up local opposition to undemocratic rule in the capital.  (She apparently did not stop to wonder whether those undemocratic rulers might, as is their right, object to and disallow such activity.)

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