Erik Moberg ©:
5. THE ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM AFGHANISTAN
The intervening Western countries not only toppled the Taliban regime but after that they also initiated efforts to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. For describing these efforts, and the problems associated with them, the time since 2001 may be divided in two periods. In the first one, until 2014, Hamid Karzai was president, and in the second one, after elections in 2014 Ashraf Ghani has been president. During both periods parliamentary elections have also been held and here, as well as in various presidential matters, different kinds of corruption have been rampant.
Starting with the first period Hamid Karzai was appointed president in 2002 and after that he was elected in 2004 and reelected in 2009. In the 2014 election he could however not take part since the constitution prescribed a maximum of two periods for the same president. Anyway the Karzai years from 2002 to 2014 were turbulent and unstable. The president himself was capricious, unpredictable and anti-American, and he also fostered relations with India rather than with the neighbor Pakistan. This latter attitude was a problem since dealing with the Taliban required dealing with Pakistan.
Going then to the second period Ashraf Ghani is a very different kind of person. He is a technocrat with a background in the World Bank, he is pro-American and pro-Pakistan. But still serious problems remain. The election which made him president was, by his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, considered unfair and massively rigged. The conflict was however, at least temporarily, settled by a compromise suggested by the mediating US secretary of state John Kerry. According to this compromise Ghani remained president while Abdullah became what was called “chief executive”, or, in fact, prime minister. The compromise is however fragile, one of the reasons being that Ghani and Abdullah come from different ethnical groups in Afghanistan.
The main problem in Afghanistan is to get rid of the Taliban insurgencies, either by fighting and defeating the Taliban, or by reaching some sort of peace agreement. For starting with the military activities we remember that after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 very considerable foreign ground troops, mainly from the US but also from other countries, were stationed in the country. In 2011 the number of foreign troops peaked and amounted to 140 000, over two thirds of them American. After that, and both because of president Karzai’s dislike of the Americans and president Barack Obama’s ambition to reduce US forces abroad, these forces were however substantially reduced. At the end of 2014 only 12 000 remained. And in addition to this they also got more circumvented tasks such as training Afghan soldiers rather than fighting. The idea was to make Afghan troops take over more and more of the fighting.
This has however failed. The Taliban have attacked more intensively and more successfully than since long. Not since 2001 have the Taliban held as much territory as today, that is in the middle of 2018. Furthermore a local branch of IS, the Islamic State, is operating in the country. It is true that president Ghani has tried to negotiate with not only Pakistan, whose territory is used by the Taliban, but also with the Taliban themselves. So far these diplomatic efforts have however not given any substantial results. Rather an intensive civil war is going on without showing any signs of ending. Ghani has however been successful in his efforts to make first Obama and then Donald Trump (more about that below) keep some more US troops somewhat longer in Afghanistan. It should also be noted that Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 by a small group of Americans in his secret dwelling in Pakistan.
When campaigning for the presidency Donald Trump favored a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Soon however, influenced by his advisors and the US military commanders in Afghanistan, he changed his mind. Now, in the middle of 2018, there are about 15 000 US troops in Afghanistan. Furthermore the activities of the air force, and of the military advisors, are considerably less restricted than before. US airplanes thus attack, among others, Taliban drug labs, which is important since the selling of drugs (heroine) gives the Taliban most of their incomes. And US military advisers now also directly take part in the fighting on the ground. Whether these increased US military activities–marginal in spite of the changed policy–will give any results in the long run remains to be seen. The situation in Afghanistan is still chaotic.
After all of this we can now take a closer look at the figures for the asylum seekers from Afghanistan as shown in Diagram 2 (in earlier posts). At first we see that the expansion starts in 2014 and then almost explodes in 2015. Then, in 2016, there is a small decrease, and in 2017 a much more substantial decrease. The expansion in 2015 and 2016 is, in all likelihood, is a result of the escalating civil war between the Taliban and the regime of Afghanistan, supported by Western troops. The decrease after that is however still unexplained. Perhaps that is just a saturation phenomenon: most of those willing, and being able, to emigrate, have already done so.
After this brief description of the events since 2001 we may now return to the question about the basic causes behind the stream of refugees from Afghanistan. At first, and obviously, the Arab Spring, which was fundamental in Syria, can be ruled out. Not only because the emigration from Afghanistan started later than that from Syria, but also because the Arab Spring, as such, never affected Afghanistan. And, as suggested above, the civil war between the Taliban and the regime, is most reasonably the basic reason. But this possibility could, and should, be analyzed further, for instance like this:
1. If the Western troops had not intervened in Afghanistan at all in 2001 the Taliban regime had not been toppled and there would not have been any great refugee stream at all.
2. If the US, in 2001, had limited its efforts to targeting Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda’s activities, and thus left the Afghan society at large untouched, there would, again, not have been any great refugee stream.
3. If the Western powers in 2001 had acted exactly as they did, but found or settled for another man than Hamid Karzai, then, perhaps, a better and more effective non-Taliban regime could have started working immediately and got better results than those which in fact materialized.
4. If everything had been exactly as it was, but the Western powers had avoided reducing the number and activities of their troops, things may perhaps have turned out better.
This leaves us with a main hypothesis, namely that the mass emigration basically is an effect of two US actions, namely, first, George W. Bush’s invasion, and, second, Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal. Or, for describing the pattern somewhat differently: At first, although the most important aim was to find a single man, Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his, that is al-Qaeda’s training camps, a much larger operation with much broader aims was undertaken. The regime was toppled and ineffective efforts to install a democratic system were undertaken. And then finally, on Barack Obama’s initiative, most of the troops were taken back, prematurely in all likelihood, leaving Afghanistan in a civil war causing mass emigration. Whether Donald Trump’s efforts to reverse marginally Obama’s large scale withdrawal will change anything in the long run remains to be seen.
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