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The Withdrawal of NATO Forces and the Prospects of Tajik-Afghan Relations

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 17:35

The signing of the Agreement on strategic partnership between the USA and Afghanistan is one of the pressing issues that caused strong reactions both within the country and abroad, especially in some of the countries, neighboring upon Afghanistan.
This agreement defined the conditions of the US presence in the country after the withdrawal of the main parts of NATO troops in 2014. The essence of the agreement is to ensure that Washington gets the right to retain its presence in Afghanistan, including the military presence, for another 10 years after 2014. This point that, according to the representatives of the Obama administration, will "give the US military the opportunity to conduct counterterrorism operations against the restoration of the "al-Qaeda", disappointed "Taliban", the leaders of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan led by G.Hekmatiarom, advocating the complete and unconditional withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
They, agreeing to come into contacts and negotiations with Kabul and the United States, hoped that all the troops will have been withdrawn by 2014, but the signing of the agreement deceived their expectations. Therefore, their representatives said about the complete cessation of all negotiations. Conditions of the US troops’ stay after 2014 were valued by many political forces as a first step towards the establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, but the influential forces in Afghanistan do not agree with it.
In the conditions of the rejection of foreign troops, which became a part of the Afghan mentality, might it be better to more radically change the format of the presence of the Americans? This refers to the maximum training of the Afghan security by NATO forces to ensure that after the withdrawal in 2014 they would be able to take full responsibility for the security of the country.
On the other hand, the international community should not stop providing Afghanistan with economic and military aid, as it happened with the Najibullah regime in the late 80s and early 90s. With the full support of the peace process in Afghanistan the withdrawal of foreign troops would not affect the situation. By the way, the Afghan President H. Karzai in an interview of a special correspondent with the RIA News and TV channels RussiaToday and Russia-24, said: "Their withdrawal (international security assistance force) will not affect the overall state of security in Afghanistan – in the conditions of the continued financial assistance to the Afghan economy, promoting the training and equipping of the Afghan security forces, and generally the cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community at the current level. In this scenario, the withdrawal of international forces will not have negative consequences. Rather, quite the contrary, it will benefit the security of Afghanistan". However, in the presence of US troops and the complete freedom of their action it is difficult to hope to change the situation.
Perhaps H.Karzai and his American friends hope for the success of negotiations with "moderate" Taliban and G.Hekmatiar. But many experts believe the Taliban division into moderates and radical is a full profanity. The Taliban, despite the division into the different groups, represent a single force. If someone or some groups are ready to take part in the negotiations or to come to the side of the state, they are not Taliban. On the other hand, it is no secret that the Taliban are under a tight ISI cap of Pakistan and people, who are ready to compromise with the government of H.Karzai, may be simply neutralized. Moreover, despite the many contacts of the US officials with the Taliban and H.Karzai’s appeal to his "brothers", the Taliban have never said that they might take their suggestions.
The Taliban have proven that they do not agree to share power with anyone. Hence, the peace negotiations with the Taliban do not make sense. The murder of the President of the High Peace Council B.Rabbani is the proof for these.
An equally important question that requires solution before the withdrawal of troops is the need to optimize power in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that many experts have been advocating the creation of a centralized government and presidency, however, this idea was not possible to be implemented into practice. Therefore, at the national level, and at the level of foreign politicians and experts, there are different options for the decentralization of power. At the national level, the most active of the non-Pashtun political parties is the idea of switching to a parliamentary form of government and the practice of electing governors. With a regard to the US experts, the idea of the establishment of a State of "decentralized democracy" or "internal mixed sovereignty" in Afghanistan recently became the dominant point of view.
There is another idea expressed by the former US ambassador to India Robert Blekveyl. This is a division of Afghanistan to the south and north. It is proposed to give south to the Taliban. The implications of such an idea is hard to imagine, but one thing is clear: this division can ruin the geopolitics of the region, especially in the sense that it will unite the Pashtuns on both sides of "Durand Line" with all its implications for Pakistan and other countries in the region.
So, what will happen to Afghanistan and its neighbors after the withdrawal of NATO forces? Anyway, Tajikistan is the most vulnerable in the face of deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Experts describe different probable scenarios. But, in general, the most likely are two scenarios. The first one, in case of the continued presence of American troops and the failure of the "Taliban" and the IPA to negotiate, there will be maintained the status quo, that is, the clashes and the terrorist attacks will continue. The second option, the troops will be withdrawn completely, NATO countries will stop or diminish the aid to Afghanistan, as the Soviet Union did against the Najibullah government (in crisis and financial difficulties in the European countries such possibility should not be ignored).
In such a scenario, it is likely that the Taliban will come to power. In the general propaganda, when the Taliban are called brothers, and they are not rare called the representatives or messengers of God, it can happened that the government forces in the south and east of the country will be demoralized and will stop resisting. In 1994-1995 there was no serious resistance to the Taliban in the south. Taliban showed three characters: the Koran, the bill and the weapons. They were telling people: if you are Muslims, take the Koran and stop the resistance, and if you want money, get them, otherwise we will talk to you in the language of arms.
Thus, mostly Ismail Khan in the west and Ahmad Shah Masood on the outskirts of Kabul and in the north showed the resistance to the Taliban. Currently, two forces oppose the regime of H.Karzai - the "Taliban" and IPA of G.Hekmatiar. After their coming to power, there will be contradictions and conflicts between them, because G.Hekmatiar and Mullah Omar are too different. The Taliban will not accept the existence of other political parties except the "Taliban", and G.Hekmatiar is a too ambitious leader to agree to live by the rules of the "Taliban." On the other hand, the rise of the "Taliban" to power means the restoration of the political dominance of the Pashtuns. Regular terror in recent years of the non-Pashtun leaders suggests that the Taliban prefer not to remove, but to conquer Pashtu leaders. Such a course of events is not acceptable by other ethnic groups. Hence, there is the danger of a split in Afghanistan, and, in any case, the transformation of the north of Afghanistan into Taliban resistance.
Of course, the continuation of the war, the destabilization of the situation, and especially, the rise to power of the forces, which is not friendly to Tajikistan, are against the national interests of Tajikistan. It should be noted that the Afghanistan's neighbors can play an important role in stabilizing the situation in this country, if they, instead of intervention and support of individual forces, contribute to the strengthening of Afghan peace. Anyway, the neighboring countries suffer the most from the continuation of the war in Afghanistan.
Tajikistan has many kilometers (more than 1344 km) of a common border with Afghanistan, a common historical past and common cultural values, traditions and customs, a common religion and a common language. As you know, since the second half of the 90s of the last century the danger of the spread of Islamic extremism and terrorism, drug trafficking emanating from Afghanistan has been over Tajikistan. Moreover, the transformation of Afghanistan into a training center for international terrorists and a world center of drug production threatened the very existence of the independent Tajikistan.
Today there is a certain concern in Tajikistan that after the withdrawal of NATO forces the situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate and the extremist groups that threaten the security of Tajikistan may become active again. This concern is based on the fact that the ranks of extremist groups, including the "Taliban", contain dozens of Tajikistan citizens. There are a lot of them in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - about 100 people. Therefore Tajikistan supported the antiterrorist operation of international forces in Afghanistan. Since the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation in October 2001 Tajikistan has taken responsibility for ensuring the smooth transit delivery of international humanitarian assistance to the population of Afghanistan, simplification of customs and border procedures, and the provision of its air and ground space for the rescue and relief operations by the forces of the international coalition.
Today, there are all the conditions for the further expansion of the Tajik-Afghan relations in various fields, and these relations are based on the legal basis. Since 1992 to the present day, about 40 agreements and contracts were signed between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Only as a result of the first official visit of the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon to Afghanistan held in April 27-28, 2005, there were signed 11 interstate and intergovernmental agreements, the most important of which is the "Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and good neighborly relations between Tajikistan and Afghanistan". Today, based on the previously signed agreements there is a successfully developing bilateral cooperation in economy, trade, education and culture, in the fight against drug trafficking, etc.
Trade and economic cooperation
The dynamics of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries has shown a big increase in sales. For example, according to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan, the foreign trade turnover of the country of Afghanistan in 1998 was 1.0 million US dollars; in 2002 it has grown to 6.4 million US dollars, and in 2006 this figure amounted to more than 15.0 million US dollars. According to the Statistics Agency of the Republic of Tajikistan, the trade turnover between Tajikistan and Afghanistan for eleven months of 2011 amounted to more than 123 million U.S. dollars that is by 53.8% more than the same period in 2010. A special role in this was played by the regional projects, in particular the construction of new roads, railways, hydroelectric plants, power lines, etc.
The event that defined a new vector of the development and strengthening of the trade and economic Tajik-Afghan relations was the International Exhibition with the participation of enterprises of Tajikistan and Afghanistan opened in the Tajik capital on the 26th March, 2012, as a part of the Dushanbe Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan / RECCA-V /.
Exposition of the Afghan show was very diverse. Products were brought by about 40 Afghan companies from Kabul, Balkh, Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, Bamyan and other provinces.
Exhibition hours included extensive business program, in which the Tajik and Afghan businessmen, representatives of state-owned enterprises and private companies took the active part.
Cross-border trade has been successfully developing in recent years. There are four points of border trade on the border with Afghanistan: in the villages "Ruzvay" of Darvaz district, "Humragi" of Vanj district, "Tem" of the city of Khorog and "Ishkashim" of Ishkashim region. These points are very important in providing the population of the northern provinces of Afghanistan (Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz, etc.) with necessary goods. Currently another bridge, linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan in Shurabad, are being built. The parties intend to intensify efforts for the full functioning of border crossing points of Kokul-Oyhonum and Kaldor-Ayvadzh.
Another important area of cooperation is hydropower engineering. Back in March 2002 the Ministry of Energy of Tajikistan and the Ministry of Energy and Water of Afghanistan signed a protocol on the restoration of power lines and the construction of new facilities. At an early stage of the project the energy company "Barki Tochik" completed work on the restoration of power lines. As you know, in summer Tajikistan has the ability to export electricity to neighboring areas of Afghanistan. With the completion of hydropower projects’ construction in Tajikistan, the export potential of the energy to Afghanistan will increase even more.
According to the Agreement on Cooperation between the Ministry of Energy of Tajikistan and the Ministry of Energy and Water of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan signed in 2006, since the end of 2008 Kabul gets 300 megawatts of electricity, and with the commissioning of Sangtuda-HPP-1 and Sangtuda-2, and then the Rogun HPP it is planned to supply from 1000 to 1200 megawatts of electricity to other countries through Afghanistan.
Now they agreed to build four EPT from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and on to Iran and Pakistan.
Currently there are commissioned EPT-220 kW. - Heran (Tajikistan) - Puli Humri (Afghanistan). In case of a solving the issue on the funding, there will begin the laying of electric-power transmission of 500 kW from the border of Tajikistan to Kabul and on to Peshawar.
The Iranian side, which is building the HPP Sangtuda-2, confirmed its commitment to the construction of electricity transmission networks, in particular, electric-power transmission "Rogun-Kunduz-Mazari-Sharif-Herat-Mashed", and the expansion of trilateral cooperation with Tajikistan and Afghanistan in this area. They also plan to lay electric-power transmission of 110 kW to Imamsahiba area and beyond - Faizabad. There are also plans to build another 765 kW electric-power transmission from Raguna-Nurek and Sangtuda to Khorog, then to Wakhan-Chitral and Peshawar.
Supply of electricity from Tajikistan to Afghan Badakhshan is done by the company "Pamir Energy". They plan the construction of new electric-power transmission across the Tajik Badakhshan with the transition to Afghan Badakhshan.
The electricity is the most important and beneficial direction of the Tajik-Afghan cooperation in the future to both countries. Tajikistan has great hydroelectric potential. As it is known hydropower resources of Tajikistan are more than 527 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
Even in the 70-s of the last century there was prepared a construction feasibility study on the river Panj, a major tributary of Amu Darya, 14 stations with a capacity of 300 to 4000 MW and an annual production of 86.3 billion kilowatt/hours. In particular, the most powerful Dashtidjumskaya hydropower with a capacity of 4,000 MW and an annual power production of 15, 6 billion kilowatt/hours, for the building of which there was also prepared the technical and economic base.
As the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon stated on the Second Conference of Central and South Asia for the sale of electricity held in October 27, 2007 in Dushanbe, its construction is of vital importance not only for Tajikistan, but also for the region, in particular for economic recovery and development of the Islamic Republic Afghanistan, irrigation of one and a half million hectares of land, water supply of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in the region. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy of the RT has negotiated about a resumption of gas supplies from Afghanistan to 2 billion cubic meters and the construction of 110-120 km long pipeline from the natural gas fields Sheberghan (Afghanistan) to Rumi (Tajikistan). This project required an investment of $ 15-17 million and the need for appealing aid of country-donors. As you know, during the Soviet era Shebergansk’s gas was supplied to Tajikistan through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Today they plan to change the route of the pipeline and to increase its length of almost 100 km in Afghanistan in order to ensure the supply of fuel to the south of Tajikistan, and from there to the enterprises of the republic.
Another important aspect of the Tajik-Afghan cooperation is transport. Taking into account the length of the border, Tajikistan can be considered as one of the main transit routes to Afghanistan. In this regard, the parties understand the need to build bridges across the Panj River, the need to develop road networks and infrastructure. Five bridges have been already built; the construction of another bridge is being conducted. The largest bridge is on the Amu Darya River, which is a contribution to the revival of the Great Silk Road. This bridge, which will be able to let through more than 1000 vehicles between the two countries a day, has already had a positive impact on economic development and regional integration in Central Asia.
In the future, they plan to build the railway "Dushanbe-Kurgan-Tube-Kunduz. With the completion of these facilities and reconstruction of roads in the north of Afghanistan, Tajikistan will get access to the ports Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean in the shortest time.
There is an effective cooperation in the fight against drug smuggling between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the cooperation in combating illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors was signed in the city of Kabul back in 2005.
In cities of Faizabad and Kunduz there are open and functioning representatives of the Drug Control Agency under the President of Tajikistan, an activity of which produces positive results. According to the former Chief of the DCA under the President of Tajikistan F.Dzhonmahmadov, annually there were confiscated up to 80% of the heroin seized in all Central Asian states. During the eleven months of 2006, the total number of drug seizures was 4 tons 465 kg, almost 2 tons of which is heroin.
Tajik-Afghan cooperation is developing in the field of education and science. Tajikistan has a good opportunity to train Afghanistan’s professionals of mid-level and higher qualifications in many specialties. Such cooperation has a long history, and it actually hasn’t ended until today. Many Afghan students study in universities of medical, polytechnic and agrarian profiles of Tajikistan. In past Tajik specialists taught at universities in Afghanistan, and now the question to use this experience is considered.
A protocol on cooperation between the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Academy of Sciences of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was signed and, according to it, Afghan scientists are trained in academic institutions in Tajikistan, protect candidate and doctoral dissertations.
Recently the relations between the two countries in the sphere of culture have been developing. There are regular meetings of art and culture figures, the demonstration of Afghan films, performances of creative groups, different exhibitions. Joint filming of feature films is conducted. Culture Week of Afghanistan was held in November 2006 in Dushanbe, within this week there were organized various exhibitions, concerts, art groups from Afghanistan. One thing is clear, common culture, language, traditions and customs, a common religion attracts people of the two countries to each other.
Undoubtedly, the Tajik-Afghan relations based on equality and mutual benefit, have good prospects, if the situation in Afghanistan is stable after the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. Further development of relations between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, including the implementation of the planned large-scale joint projects in the field of hydropower and transport, is largely dependent on the military-political situation in the country and in the region as a whole, after the withdrawal of NATO troops.

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