I know i am too late for this post and there are already too many commentaries on blogs about Afghanistan regarding the year in review. I am trying to review the year from an Afghan perspective, which might be a bit different from the ones you have read on western media outlets and blogs by foreign journalists.
For the U.S and NATO, 2010 was another bloody year of failure to speed up transition in Afghanistan. We remained on downward spiral, not only from security perspective, but also governance, nation-building and the socio-economic change. The year ended with stories of corruption at its worst, such as the bags of cash coming from Tehran to the Presidential Palace. The uniqueness and peculiarity of this corruption story was that both Karzai and Tehran confirmed the reports. The promises of a holy war against corruption made by the President while taking oath for his second term in office was not in action in 2010. Favoritism and tribal political centralism was still a phenomenon at a time when Afghanistan needs promotion of merit and nationhood the most. But alas we are the unluckiest of nations on earth, faced up with the most corrupt and inefficient leaders, who rather than leading us towards a hopeful future, are becoming crisis mongers buried in their personal interests and tribal mindset.
In 2010, many more provinces in North and South East went to militants. The major military operations in Helmand and Kandahar have not proved the expected results. Nor the insurgents are on a position of hide-and-run to be compelled for negotiations. While the efforts of our President who had made the fight against corruption and efforts to persuade Taliban for talks as his prime tasks of the year, brought no success. The story of talks about talks with the Taliban culminated with a beautiful imposter fooling the entire Government of Afghanistan and NATO which exposed the whole episode of talks about talks with insurgents.
It started with hope, but all those London to Kabul conferences, the Jirga and then finally producing the Peace Council has not shown a positive outcome so far. Besides the civilian casualties, increasing insurgency, rampant corruption and talks about talks with Taliban, below are some other important incidents of 2010 for Afghanistan.
Salang Pass Catastrophe
Over 160 people died in the catastrophic avalanches of the 12,700-feet-high Salang Tunnel on Feb 08. That was a deadly catastrophe, but the Government has learnt nothing from it. Salang Pass is the only road connecting capital Kabul to Northern parts of the country. It goes through heavy snowfall every year and dozens of people die during January and February. The tunnel built by the Soviet Union is now in a deplorable condition, and can bring any tragic catastrophe again, if the Government does not pay attention for repair and reconstruction work. There should be an Emergency Committee ready for any unexpected incident, and the Government should have learnt from the tragic incident of last year.
The cabinet nominees of President Karzai were rejected for three times from the Parliament, but still after one year, many ministries are run by acting ministers. It seems these acting ministers will complete the whole tenure of five years. The previous parliament, that rejected them could not compel the President to respect their mandate and the Constitution.
The very ineffective first parliament of the democratic history of Afghanistan completed its tenure in 2010. They could not even implement their own resolutions, while the Presidency could easily and completely bypass them. They will be remembered as the first parliament of Afghanistan, who were most disorganized, divided, rubber-stamp and weak house of ragtags. Quorum was not complete for many of the important sessions of the house. Members were not seen once during the entire year in any session of the parliament. The story of bribery to MPs for buying up their votes was the story of every town after nominations, impeachment of ministers of some important voting session. It was this first infamous and ineffective parliament that approved the shameful drafts like the “Rape Law”—the so-called “Shiite Personal Status Law”—which allowed marital rape of women. The hottest discussions of our first parliament was all about banning TV serials, talking about ban on jeans and paint for boys and girls.
Now the new parliament is again with a similar fate. We don’t know what will happen with the constitutional crisis. The rulers are taking the country toward a crisis by their efforts to alter the election results.
The Kuchi-Hazara Dispute
Do you remember that blood Friday in Kabul in the holy month of Ramazan when an armed clash between the Kuchis and Hazara claimed several lives? Every year there is a bloody episode of Kuchi-Hazara conflict in Behsud, but 2010 brought it to the edge of catastrophe when the conflict reached in capital Kabul. That Friday the firing of Police and civilians pelting stones was terrifying for Kabulities. Police failed to control the situation that day, as angry mob burnt down a police station. Half a dozen people died that Friday. The Karzai Government has not been serious about the resolution of the Kuchi-Hazara conflict. Every year dozens die in the dispute between the two groups in Behsud, which reached Kabul in 2010. It can still become a burning fire this summer, the time every year conflict starts. The Govt. and all parties need to get serious for a permanent resolution of the issue.
The Kabul Bank Saga
The Kabul Bank crisis had panicked masses, as well as the Government and international community, but now it seems nothing had happened. I am not sure to credit the Central Bank for its success to manage the crisis, at a time when thousands of people were lining up in front of branches of the bank across the country to withdraw their deposits, but actually it was the Government that created the panic and mayhem with the sudden takeover of Kabul Bank and public announcement of it.
And those responsible in the crisis went unpunished. The shareholders of the bank were bigwigs and allies of President Karzai including one of his brothers. Their corruption and luxurious villas in Dubai caused the crisis that almost brought a financial crisis in the economy and banking meltdown.
Conscript Military Service
There was an intense debate on electronic and print media, as well as among people about the idea of conscript military service proposed. President Karzai talked about it first time in Munich Security Conference. Afghanistan had conscript army service mandatory prior to 1992. After the fall of the central government and eruption of civil war, the military structure was destroyed. In the wake of difficulties for recruitment for army, the idea of conscript service was proposed. But the history of forced military service is not very positive in Afghanistan. People used dozens of tricks to escape their service, while the influential tribal people and those having ‘good-relations’ with officials were always let go without service. However, the discussion did not come up with something, nor the Government pursued the idea.
Hope for 2011?
I don’t see prospects of any improvement this year too. President Obama announced his last year’s review and there was no change in the policy, nor he indicated any strong support for the talks with Taliban that is being pursued by the Peace Council nowadays. I hope the surge strategy under the leadership of General Petraeus will weaken the insurgency and help the process of talks. But the US and NATO should not close their eyes in hope of talks, while the Northern provinces become the next Helmand and Kandahar. I am also very skeptical of any success regarding the talks with Taliban. Unless the leadership of Kandahari Taliban, mainly the so-called Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani Network under any divine miracle change their Jihadi agenda and thinking, things won’t work. I am skeptical that even if Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment try to support the talks and attempt to persuade these elements, its hard to make a political compromise with them. The Obama Administration should press hard Pakistan, giving the military establishment its wishing ‘role’ in talks with Taliban on some conditions, for the last chance. If even then, such a strategy does not work, the only way is ultimate defeat of Taliban leadership, which is possible through more successful ground operations, drone attacks on the leadership hideouts of Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and increase of intelligence on ground to chase and track the insurgent leadership.
Websites of the Year!
At the conclusion, i am also telling the readers of this blog the two best websites of year about Afghanistan for me. The Afghanistan Analysts Network is my website of 2010, with the best analysis about Afghanistan. Though not as known as the mainstream media reporting on Afghanistan, but their writers are most accurate and unmistakable, even compared to those breaking reports of NYTimes or Washington Post and BBC. My second best is the AfPak Channel, not only for the great AfPak news links they share on twitter, and daily briefs, but also the quality of commentary on Afghanistan by their contributors.