21 April 2012, 10:46

When will Afghan campaign come to an end?

When will Afghan campaign come to an end?
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Interview with Martine van Bijlert – co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network based in Kabul.

Well, it is not very simple to know how to bring this to an end, how to develop this intervention in Afghanistan. It has become incredibly complicated. We see the US, we see the European countries, being under considerable economic pressures and political pressures, which determine that they will be at least having less troops on the ground, if not pulling all the troops out, and they will be spending less money here. So, that is given. In a way that doesn’t depend at all on the realities on the ground in Afghanistan, that is going to happen.

On the other hand because it has become so complicated here it is actually not a given either that if the troops would stay and if the money would stay at the current level that that would actually be helpful. The relationships between the population, the Government and the international troops are under the pressure and this huge amount of money is not just bringing aid but it also creating very large problems resulting in disbalance in terms of people who’ve become very rich or have become very powerful. And so we are in the situation where actually both staying and going has its own problems and in the middle of that now the Western countries are trying to figure out what to do.

So, but what would be, I’d say, an ideal case of withdrawal? Should the coalition forces leave the country all together or should they keep their reduced presence, should they carry on with the aid? By the way, how much money is spent on aid now?

I don’t really know. I don’t have the examined figures because it is very difficult to know what they actually mean. So, I wouldn’t be able to tell from the top of my head.

But when we are talking about aid, what kind of aid are we referring to – medical assistance, construction?

There are billions of dollars being spent here across the whole range – the humanitarian assistance that someone hands, the infrastructure capacity building in the Government, we have the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Of the new there is National Priority Programs that the Government is trying find funding for. So, there is a lot of money being spent on the training of the National Security Force. There is a whole field where the money is being spent.

There is a lot of money being as well that is not aid and that is linked to the military programs which is spent on for instance transport for securing the supply chain. There are immense streams of money, billions of dollars coming in and first of all it is not clear to many Afghans and to the Afghan Government where it is going and what is the result of it. A lot of aid goes into a relatively small number of pockets which have a lot of impact in the country.

Today I’ve read the report that the Taliban seems to be getting some, like they’ve put it, security money from authorities. Could that be so?

Yes, it is extremely muddled I would say. Anyone who has been following Afghanistan for a while knows that there is no clear cut division between insurgency on the one hand and pro-Government people or Government people on the other hand. It is extremely muddled. And in most areas, in some other, you need to pay off whoever is in power and sometimes those are people in the Government, sometimes those are people in the insurgency, sometimes it is independent power blocs, often it is a combination of all.

What is the general sentiment on the ground, I mean are people really supporting the Taliban or are they just tired of the unstopping war which has been there for several decades? Just how is it?

Yes, I would say that people are very tired of the war and they are also very tired of looking into the future and seeing something that looks very bleak. People are really ready and have been for a long time for a feeling of stability and a feeling that it is going to be alright. And when we look around we actually see no solution and they definitely, I would say, in general do not see the Taliban as a solution. Some people think they are something different that at least they are Afghans or that maybe they are religious, maybe because these are people they know - their relatives, or people from their village. But I think in general for the Taliban as a movement or as an alternative to the Government there is a very limited support because it is clear that this is not really a solution or an option. But people are also really not sure if they look at their Government that that is going to hold together and that is going to work in the long term.

But for someone who is watching the situation from the outside, like myself, you get an impression that if the Alliance leaves altogether the Taliban would come to power and the whole country would be plunged into middle age darkness as it used to be. Is my understanding correct or perhaps nowadays the situation has changed somehow?

Well, I think a lot of people look very much at Afghanistan in terms of scenarios that come from the past. And most people think that there are two scenarios that are very likely. One is the Taliban takeover and the other one is a civil war. And a lot of people also look at Afghanistan as if it is the unchangeable country, as if it is somehow may be the evil country that doesn’t want to develop and that doesn’t want outside interference. These are very stereotypical ways of looking at it.

Personally I don’t see it very likely that the Taliban will takeover. I don’t think as a movement they are strong and coherent enough. It is possible that the Government would collapse, that the Taliban would try to takeover but I think in that scenario it is more likely that everything fragments, that the Government fragments and that after that the Taliban fragments. There is a possible scenario also which is much more that somehow Afghanistan will muddle on, it will not be the dream of what many people had hoped for. But it is quite possible that it will somehow manage to have the Government, there will be violence but not that much that it actually makes everything fall apart.

Afghanistan is not the same country as it was in the 80’es or in the 90’es and it may not look like it from the outside. There happened a lot of changes. Nobody knows if it is enough to put things together but it is not that useful to look at Afghanistan and to analyze Afghanistan in very stereotypical terms.

I don’t have solutions. They are hoping for in a way for the best of two worlds. They would really love to be a country that could stand on its own feet and that doesn’t need international help. But on the other hand they are very much afraid of what happens if the internationals would leave, and in particular if they leave very swiftly, and if they leave too soon. And so what they are really hoping for is a much lighter presence and also a much more thoughtful presence which is based more on the realities on the ground and less on the political pressures at home. And it is possible that Afghanistan becomes less of a heavy subject on the agendas in the Western countries.

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