Free «War in Afghanistan: Revenues and Expenditures» Essay

War in Afghanistan: Revenues and Expenditures

Preconditions of Modern Conflict in Afghanistan and the Soviet Occupation

It started with the Cold War. The Soviet Union invaded to prop up a failing Communist regime. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan funded the Islamic resistance (the mujahidin) during the largest covert operation in history. The Pakistani secret service funneled weapons to their favored groups, including Islamic extremists. Thinking Moscow would dig in for good, the United States gave little thought to the consequences as long as the %uFB01ghters killed Soviet troops.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the Afghan regime it had propped up crumbled. However, the mujahidin along with the remnants of the army turned into feuding warlords and ethnic militias. The Soviets had devastated villages that sheltered mujahidin; the victors made ruins of Kabul, the national capital, and other towns.

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New strategic stakes emerged: access to the oil and natural gas of the newly independent, landlocked states of Central Asia. Would Russia control new pipelines as it had the old or would new routes open? And if new routes went South, would they go through Iran, the object of the U.S. sanctions, or to Pakistan via Afghanistan?

Pakistan saw its future in imposing a friendly or subservient government in Afghanistan and linking its economy to Central Asia via pipelines and roads through Afghanistan. Together with its nuclear weapons, such ties would offset the threat posed by its massive neighbor India. Iran, however, determined to break the U.S. embargo by blocking pipeline routes that did not cross Iran. When Pakistan’s former Afghan allies failed to gain power, it found a new one, the Movement of Islamic Taliban (students). This ultraconservative group started as a revolt against the warlords in southern Afghanistan, dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group. Some in the U.S. government hoped it would unify the country and guard the pipeline route. With Pakistani aid, the Taliban captured the capital and two-thirds of the country’s territory. The remainder, which contained nearly half the country's population, was controlled by various armed factions drawn from other ethnic groups. Iran supplied them as did Russia and Central Asian states, fearful of the Taliban's approach to their borders.

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End of the Soviet Occupation and of Soviet Era

Since the intensity of the con%uFB02ict in the 1980s owed so much to the Cold War that ended in 1989, many hoped that the United States and the USSR could cooperate to end this as well as other con%uFB02icts. In Afghanistan, as in some other places, however, the new situation transformed rather than ended the con%uFB02ict. The events of 1989-1991 that transformed world politics included three distinct, though closely related transformations: the end of the central con%uFB02ict (the Cold War properly between the European-centered alliance systems led by the United States and the USSR, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall); the end of the communist system in the USSR; and the breakup of the USSR itself, which President Mikhail Gorbachev announced on December 25, 1991. These transformations had different effects. During the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the USSR, leaders of both superpowers hoped that the United States and an intact USSR could cooperate to resolve con%uFB02icts and manage the international system. In Afghanistan, such cooperation took the form of a U.S.-Soviet dialogue that supported a UN-mediated solution that would lead to a cease-%uFB01re, the end of arms supplies to both sides, the establishment of an interim government that would hold elections, and the start of peaceful reconstruction. Variations of this strategy, in accord with a nascent international regime for the resolution of regional con%uFB02icts, more or less worked in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Namibia. The end of the Cold War, however, also allowed the major powers, in particular the United States, to distinguish the interests that had all been lumped together under the Cold War. The United States continued to have an interest in Central America, on its borders, but not in distant Afghanistan.

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A greatly weakened Russia could not replace the USSR as a hegemonic power in Central Asia. The end of the bipolar strategic structure also spelled the end of the alliance systems that had participated in it. The loss of a common threat meant that regional powers, some previously existing like Pakistan and Iran, some newly independent like the Central Asian states, could de%uFB01ne and pursue their interests much more autonomously. Where these interests supported peace agreements, as in Southern Africa or Southeast Asia, they eventually were implemented. “There they reinforced con%uFB02ict, as in Afghanistan, it proved impossible to agree on or implement a peace agreement. Instead the changes in the international system transformed the war into what became known as a “post-Cold War” con%uFB02ict.

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The new pattern of con%uFB02ict not only extended the life of the previous “humanitarian emergency”, but also restructured it in ways that became sadly familiar:

- Dissolution of the foreign supported state. The process of state collapse in Afghanistan was already well-advanced when the USSR broke up. With the end of the Soviet effort to sustain it, the Afghan state's most basic institution, the army, split along factional and ethnic lines. The only political organizations were militarized networks of men joined by some ethnic or regional links. The incapacity of the state made impossible any comprehensive reconstruction program.

- Ethnic and opportunistic multipolar rather than ideological bipolar structure of the con%uFB02ict. Whereas previously actors had allied mainly around the two ideological poles of the Cold War, immediately after the breakup of the USSR and the end of aid flows from the United States and USSR, the actors formed new alliances based on ethnic and regional considerations. These alliances proved to be unstable and shifted several times under the impact of changes in the domestic and regional balance of power. One of the stereotypical characteristics of the post-Cold War world, of course, is the prevalence of ethnic con%uFB02ict. The increased salience of ethnic cleavages in Afghanistan is consistent with this trend, but it also illustrates that it may be deceptive. Ethnic con%uFB02ict is more the effect than the cause of the current pattern of cleavages. 

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- Greater freedom of action of regional powers unregulated by global alliance systems. The war seemed no longer to have global ideological or strategic implications. One superpower dissolved and the other disengaged. For two years (1992-1994), there was no UN-sponsored effort to negotiate peace in Afghanistan. Regional powers (Pakistan, Iran, the Central Asian states, Saudi Arabia, India, and eventually Russia) stepped in. By 1994, a new strategic stake emerged: control over trade and potential pipeline routes from Central Asia to the international market. Pakistan supported the Taliban to secure key trade and potential pipeline routes to Central Asia, which would compete with Iran's attempt to enjoy a monopoly of such routes. Russia took advantage of the threat of Afghanistan as well as of the civil war in neighboring Tajikistan to reestablish itself as a power in Central Asia. Iran also opposed Pakistan’s moves, which ran counter to its regional economic interests and which it saw as part of the U.S. strategy of encirclement. Transnational coalitions developed. Pakistani military with a large group of Pashtim of%uFB01cers as well as Pakistani drug traders, many of whom operated in the Pashtun tribal areas, collaborated with the mainly Pashtun Taliban. Massoud received direct aid from Russia through a base in Kulab, Tajikistan, the home of that country's ruling faction. The opium producers of northeast Afghanistan, the area then controlled by Massoud, allied with those who marketed in and exported their product to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. Until his defeat by the Taliban in August 1998, Abdul Rashid Dostum developed close links to Uzbekistan, which feared both the Pakistani advance and the Russian-Iranian effort to counter it.

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- Increased importance of unofficial %uFB02ows of resources. During the Cold War, there were two principal, officially sponsored flows of resources. Now, there were multiple %uFB02ows and most of them involved nonstate actors. Money from smuggling drugs and other goods took on an increased importance as opium production expanded more quickly than before. International Islamist extremists established more bases in this unpoliced territory and brought more money with them. Oil and gas companies such as the U.S.-based UNOCAL, the Saudi company Delta, and the Argentine company Bridas entered the area with plans for pipelines through Afghanistan. Arms and ammunition were purchased on the international black and gray markets in addition to some officially sponsored deliveries. In addition, after the Taliban established security of travel on most roads, smugglers brought consumer goods estimated at more than US$2 billion per year from the Persian Gulf free port of Dubai to Pakistan via Afghanistan. Taxes on this transit trade became an important source of revenue for the Taliban.

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- Shift of war to the capital city. As there was not even a residual central state to protect the capital, the war shifted to Kabul, which had been a relatively safe haven during the most of the con%uFB02ict. The resulting damage apparently exceeded that done to Sarajevo or Mogadishu. As regionally based militias fought over Kabul, however, much of the countryside grew calmer. Hence, it became easier for some rural refugees to return home as an estimated 3.84 million did by the end of 1996. After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in September 1996, security also increased there, though the Taliban religious police harassed citizens over their veils, beards, and other Taliban requirements.

- Increased dependence on humanitarian organizations. Returning refugees, of course, received no assistance from the virtually nonexistent Afghan state. Any aid they received came from international humanitarian organizations or NGOs. The end of both the Soviet aid to Afghanistan’s cities and the U.S.-led support for refugee-warrior communities in Pakistan combined with the continuing shortage of agricultural production led international humanitarian organizations to take over increasing responsibility for feeding urban populations in Afghanistan.

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- War-induced in%uFB02ation. This trend continued as successive authorities in Kabul had even fewer resources than the last Soviet-supported president Najibullah. For instance, bread prices in Kabul rose 400 percent in the %uFB01rst four months of 1996 – the regime of Tajik mujahidin leader and President in Kabul. In mid-1994, however, the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto saw fit to support the Taliban. The government and military of Pakistan provided assistance to the Taliban such as financing, ammunition, and recruitment of Pakistani and Afghan madrasa students.

When Afghan delegations, representatives of the UN, and interested governments met in Bonn in late November 2001 to determine Afghanistan’s future, the participants acknowledged “the right of the people of Afghanistan to freely determine their own political future in accordance with the principles of Islam, democracy, pluralism and social justice”. The Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan and follow-up accords provided for a number of key prerequisites for an open electoral process and the establishment of democratic institutions. This included a census and voter registration, the disbandment of militias, the reintegration of its members into new armed forces, and the provision of justice, particularly with regard to war crimes and human rights abuses. This was based on the assumption that following their bad experiences with a series of un- or even anti-democratic regimes, including those of the Soviet supported leftist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and the Mujahedin and Taliban from 1978 to 2001, Afghans would finally be prepared to embrace a democratic form of government.

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