Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3


Afghan Reconstruction beyond 2014

Gulshan Sachdeva


At the recently concluded Bonn and Istanbul conferences, both the international community as well as the regional players have just re-affirmed their long-term commitment to the future of Afghanistan, which goes much beyond 2014. The Bonn Conference of December 2011 was attended by 85 countries and 15 international organizations. At the conference, all participants dedicated themselves to "deepening and broadening their historic partnership from Transition to the Transformation Decade of 2015 2024." The final declaration talked about mutual commitments in the areas of governance, security, the peace process, economic and social development, and regional cooperation. Earlier, in November 2011 at the Istanbul Conference which was attended by the so-called "Heart of Asia" countries consisting of Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE and all Central Asian republics, participants reaffirmed their strong commitment to a "secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan in a secure and stable region." Apart from other things, in the context of Afghanistan, the regional countries also agreed to respect for the territorial integrity of states; non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states; dismantling terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens; disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism and support for the stability and peace in Afghanistan, as well as respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. On the face of it these developments looked very promising. Moreover, the American officials also talked about working for a New Silk Road Strategy for Afghanistan. Despite all these developments, however, future of Afghanistan looks more uncertain today than at any time in the last one decade.

One important reason for this uncertainty is that almost every one involved in the Afghanistan project believes that by 2014 a significant number of coalition forces would have left the country, even if some American forces continue to stay for longer periods mainly in non-combat missions. In June 2011 president Obama announced that the US policies had already accomplished most major goals and that drawdown of 33,000 US troops will take place by September 2012. Despite doubts about the durability, the transition to Afghan leadership began, as planned, in July 2011, and is continuing. The security responsibility for many provinces and cities has already been handed over to Afghan authorities. Apart from broad discussions on 2014 drawdown by international forces, developments of the last few months, including the assassination of Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2010, speculations on negotiations with the Taliban, ongoing regional anxieties and continuing global economic crisis have pointed towards increasing unpredictability about Afghanistan’s future. Besides, the tensions between the US and Pakistan and instability within Pakistan have further complicated future scenarios for Afghanistan.

Preparing for 2014

NATO’s transition plan envisions the Afghan government as fully responsible for its own security by December 2014.1 Although this transition has already began, yet it is quite clear to all that due to weak Afghan government and insurgent safe havens in Pakistan, the country will still need direct security assistance even after 2014. As a result, Afghan officials are negotiating "strategic partnerships" with the US and other partners. It is hoped that the US troops that will remain in Afghanistan will come under the auspices of a strategic partnership agreement under negotiation with the US. It is reported that the agreement is likely to be modeled along that of a "Security Agreement" agreed with Iraq in 2008. This agreement, however, may not have an end date for U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. To reduce uncertainty, Afghanistan withdrawal will also leave significant forces behind. Negotiations for this agreement which began in February 2011 are still not complete. Some reports indicate that negotiations have bogged down over Afghan insistence on firm deadlines for Afghan institutions to assume control over detention centers and decisions on nighttime raids on insurgents. In the meanwhile, Afghanistan has already signed its first ever "strategic partnership" with India. It is also hoped that Afghanistan will sign partnership agreements with the UK, France and Italy soon.

Although there have been some gains in recent months, still the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly since 2007 and will remain difficult in the foreseeable future. With the drawdown of foreign forces, situation will become more challenging for the Afghan administration. Although overall number of security related incidents in the last few months of 2011 declined somewhat, suicide attacks continue to pose a serious challenge. Between September and November 2011, there were 36 suicide attacks, of which 9 were complex attacks.3

Recently the Joint Coordination & Monitoring Board (JCMB), which is responsible for overall strategic coordination between the Afghan government and the international community has reached an agreement to increase Afghan National Police Force from 134,000 to 157,000 and Afghan National Army from 171,000 to 195,000.4 Although these numbers have already increased significantly, the security forces will need much more mentoring than provided so far. Due to higher rates of desertion, many more also need to be trained on regular basis. So far Americans have provided a major share of resources for training. In fact, about 50 per cent of their committed and disbursed resources for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan have gone only to train security forces. Europeans have also contributed for police training. Apart from lack of socio-cultural understanding of new Afghan soldiers, the western training has also been very expansive. If India is able to share some of their burden, a significant amount of resources can be freed for other development programmes. This will also provide a major role for India in any future security scenario. Although details are not known at the moment, it is likely that a major portion of training agreed in the strategic partnership agreement will be conducted in India itself.

Reducing Dependence on Pakistan?

In the last ten years, the US has depended heavily on Pakistan to resolve Afghan problem. The apparent deterioration in the US-Pakistan relations, however, may force the US to look for other allies. To reduce its dependence on Pakistan, the US since 2009 has increasingly relied on a series of commercial air and ground routes called the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Under this network, non-lethal supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan is sent through Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The NDN comprises three principal land routes. The first one is from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, through Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and into Central Asia. The second route is from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The third route originates in Latvia and travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and passes into Afghanistan via Tajikistan. Already close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN. According to U.S. Transportation Command, around 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN, 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan.5 The dependence on Pakistan was about 90 per cent in 2009.

At the moment the NDN only allows for one-way transit of goods to Afghanistan. It also only allows for the transit of non-lethal supplies, such as cement, lumber, blast barriers, septic tanks, and matting. As a result, sensitive and high-technology equipment is transported by air. According to a recent report by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, it also costs roughly an additional $10,000 per twenty-foot container to ship via the NDN instead of Pakistan. Still, it seems that this option will be increasingly used by the coalition forces in future. Since NDN and Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan are going to play increasingly important roles in supporting coalition operations, the coming years may see greater Central Asian role in US stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. As a result, the US may also try to balance its security and political priorities in the region.

Current International Engagement in Afghanistan

The current international state building project is mandated by the United Nations and being implemented mainly by the western alliance led by the United States. More than 70 nations have committed over US$ 90 billion for Afghan reconstruction. Through the end of 2011, the United States has pledged US$ 67 billion, out of which a significant portion has already been disbursed.6 About 50 per cent of this aid had gone into building Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Other commitments are in the areas of economic and social development, governance, counter narcotics and support to many civil society activities. These figures do not include resources provided for about 100,000 US troops serving in Afghanistan. Altogether, it is estimated that in the last one decade, the American taxpayers have provided about $443 billion to war in Afghanistan.7

Next major commitment to Afghanistan is from Europe. Individual Member States of the European Union (EU) and the European Commission are making significant contribution to security and justice reforms, development and reconstruction, counter narcotics and regional cooperation activities in Afghanistan. EU is also involved in security sector reform and deployed a police mission. Together they have committed around $12 billion for reconstruction activities. Besides, 25 out of 27 EU nations have participated in NATO-led ISAF mission with around 30,000 troops. On reconstruction, the UK has spent about $ 2222 million and has also been a lead nation in counter-narcotics programmes. Germans have provided resources worth more than $2 billion. It was the lead nation for police reform before it was transferred to EUPOL in 2007. In an integrated approach, the Netherlands believed that defense, development and diplomacy are crucial for achieving peace and stability. It spent about $1015 million till 2011. Due to domestic political pressure, the Netherlands has already withdrawn its 1900 troops from Afghanistan. Compared to Dutch and German approach, French government focuses more emphasis on security. Italian involvement is low key and more restricted. It has also focused on strengthening the judicial system. Despite significant improvements in some of these areas, public opinion within Europe remains skeptical about their countries’ involvement in Afghanistan. Even before president Obama’s speech on 22nd June 2011, in which he announced US drawdown, many European governments were under pressure to reduce or end their military mission. Now France and UK have announced their drawdown plans. Italy, Poland and Germany have also indicated that they will wind down their military involvement in 2014. Overall, it is not an easy task to conclude what European policy makers agree on Afghanistan. Still, it is aptly summarized by Daniel Korski when he says that they seem to agree on "the opening of negotiations with "reconcilable" Taliban insurgents, more civilian reconstruction, a development-based approach to counter-narcotics, more training for the Afghan security forces to enable them to lead the counter-insurgency effort, and regional initiatives that include not only Pakistan but also India, Iran and China".8

Japan has pledged around $1.8 bn. to reconstruction. Together with the UN, Japan is a leading nation in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and also involved in the construction of Kabul-Kandahar highway and Kabul international airport terminal. China has committed about $130 million grants to Afghanistan. It remained disengaged in the country until Afghan administration opened its energy, mineral and raw material to foreign investors. In 2007, Chinese companies were selected as preferred bidder for the Aynak project, the second largest copper mine in the world. China plans to invest 2.9 billion in the project; with investment reaching to five billion in the future. The Chinese company also plans to build a 400 MW Power station and a railway line to facilitate exports. It is becoming clear that in any future scenario, China will be more involved in Afghanistan. Iran has spent about $300 million in Afghan reconstruction mainly in infrastructure and capacity building. Russia has also made settlement of Afghanistan’s debt to former USSR, which according to some Russian expert estimates totals to $10 billion.

Indian Engagement in Afghanistan

With a broad understanding that peaceful and stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional stability, India is also trying to play an active role. With this engagement, policy towards Central Asia has also got some boost. So far it has pledged assistance worth $2 billion. Indian projects cover areas like road construction (218 km Zaranj-Delaram road), power (transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul), Salma dam project, construction of parliament, and many projects in the areas of agriculture, telecommunication, education, health and capacity building. More than thousand young Afghans also come to India every year on short and long term fellowships.9

To upgrade their relationship, last year Afghanistan signed its first ever "strategic partnership" with India. The India-Afghanistan agreement has the potential to provide at least some direction to the uncertain post-2014 situation in Afghanistan. Apart from increasing capacity building as well as socio-cultural and educational linkages, the agreement points towards two major things. First, India has agreed to assist in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan national security forces. Secondly, it recognizes that regional economic cooperation is vital for long term economic prosperity of Afghanistan and the region. In addition, the agreement creates bilateral institutional mechanism consisting of annual summit meeting, regular political consultations led by foreign ministries of both countries and establishment of strategic dialogue on national security led by national security advisors of both countries. A few weeks after signing the agreement, a consortium of seven Indian companies led by the state-owned Steel Authority of India (SAIL) won a $10.3bn deal to mine three iron ore blocks in central Afghanistan. These blocks have iron ore reserves of around 1.8 billion tonnes and are located in the Bamiyan province, 130km west of Kabul. Indian companies are also planning to bid for copper and gold projects.

Importance of Afghanistan for India and the Region

Strategic location of Afghanistan will always be important for India, particularly in the context of difficult India-Pakistan relations. However, importance of Afghanistan for India is much bigger than normally perceived in this narrow context. Once Afghanistan becomes stable, trade through Pakistan and Afghanistan could also alter India’s continental trade. By 2015, India’s trade with Europe, CIS plus Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan would be about US$ 500 billion annually.10 Even if 20 % of this trade is conducted through road, US$ 100 billion of Indian trade would be passing through Afghanistan and Central Asia. With improvement in India-Pakistan relations, an important portion of Indian trade (particularly from the landlocked northern states including Jammu & Kashmir) will be moving through Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the possibility of this trade passing through Afghanistan and Central Asia, most of the infrastructural projects in the region will become economically viable. These linkages will also transform small and medium industries and agriculture in Central Asia and Afghanistan. For this to happen, first of all a massive effort is needed to rebuild Afghanistan’s transport network and economy. From the commitments of international community and multilateral institutions, it seems that this would happen immediately once Afghanistan becomes relatively stable. The second major impediment in realizing this potential is existing difficult relations between India and Pakistan. While looking at the regional economic dynamics, it is clear that both India and Pakistan would be paying huge economic costs for not cooperating in the Afghanistan. If trade stops in Pakistan, many road and other infrastructural projects will never become viable because of low volumes.

Despite difficult security situation and limited capacities, Afghanistan could emerge as an important player in regional economic cooperation. All international and regional players have appreciated its approach towards regional cooperation. This has major implications for regional peace and stability as well as India’s linkages with the Eurasian region. High economic growth in both Central and South Asian regions is also pushing policy makers to work for integration strategies. Policymakers in Afghanistan believe that after decades of war now the country has a unique opportunity to realize its potential as a ‘land bridge’ between Central Asia, South Asia and the West Asian region. Increasingly it is pointed out that with enhanced cooperation, land-locked energy-rich Central Asia could be connected to energy deficient South Asia. Similarly, Afghanistan could also realize significant revenue as transit fee and improve its economic activities in the process. So far Afghanistan has been able to market itself as an important player in regional cooperation. The country is already playing an important role in various regional organizations like Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), South Asia Association for Regional cooperation (SAARC), Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) etc. It has also initiated an institutional mechanism called Regional Economic Cooperation Conference (RECC) on Afghanistan. So far four RECCA meetings have taken place in Kabul( 2005), Delhi (2006), Islamabad (2009) and Istanbul (2010). The fifth meeting will be held in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) in March 2012. Through various declarations, countries in the region have also accepted the centrality of Afghanistan for economic cooperation.

Rethinking Reconstruction Project during the Next Phase

Apart from security another major challenge faced by Afghanistan is at the economic front. With declining western interest, the amount of resources available for development projects in the next decade is likely to be significantly lower than the past one decade. Experience suggests that withdrawals of international troops in other parts of the world have reduced civilian aid, with implications for economic growth and fiscal sustainability. Therefore, potential financing gaps in the budget could threaten security and recent progress made at the developmental front. According to the World Bank actual aid to Afghanistan in 2010-11 was about $16 billion, about the size of the nominal GDP.11 Any rapid decline in aid will severely affect growth performance and employment scenario in the country. There is an another view, however, that actual impact of declining aid may be less drastic as most of the international aid in any way was leaving Afghanistan as imports, expatriated profits and salaries.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has very limited resources. For long term sustainability, it ultimately has to work out an economic strategy in which it is able to sustain itself economically. Many US officials have talked about the New Silk Road Strategy in recent months. Many other countries, including India have supported this strategy. Since 2005, the strategy has been discussed at many academic and policy forums12. This strategy is a long term vision of an international trade, transit and energy network that links Central and South Asian economies through Afghanistan. This was a good blueprint for Afghanistan but unfortunately has been mixed with regional geopolitics and exit strategies from Afghanistan. Still, Afghanistan has no other option but to continuously working for this strategy. On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the New Silk Road strategy was unveiled on September 22nd at New York. This meeting was hosted by Germany and co-chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul. The meeting was attended by 27 countries and international organizations, including Indian and Pakistani Foreign ministers.

Many analysts have pointed out difficulties in implementing this strategy particularly in the context of difficult India-Pakistan relations as well as situation in Afghanistan. This is true that it is difficult to imagine implementation of this policy in the present tense political environment. However, despite difficult political situation, some positive developments have happened. In 2010, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed an agreement called Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA). At the moment, it is a partial agreement designed to exclude India.13 Under the agreement Afghan trucks are allowed to carry Afghan transit export cargo to Pakistani ports and also to the Indian border. If implemented properly, this has the potential to boost Afghanistan’s development and regional trade. Over time, it may also create insurmountable pressures within Pakistan and Afghanistan to open up trade across the border with India. In September 2011, Mr. Makhdoom Muhammad Amin Fahim, the Commerce Minister of Pakistan visited India and expressed optimism at the dawn of a new era of trade and investment relations with India as "both countries are now poised to open bank branches, and land routes ." The Indian Commerce Minister Mr. Anand Sharma described his visit as a "defining" moment in bilateral trade relations. There were also talk of linking SAFTA as a block with ASEAN and ECO14. Recently, Pakistani government has also initiated the process through which it can provide MFN status to India . While India had given Pakistan MFN in 1996, Pakistan has been refusing to do so.

What Next?

The former US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad outlined recently that what happens in 2014 and beyond will depend on the success and failure of the US strategy with regards to eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in the region; catalyzing a strategic shift in Pakistan policy from supporting those who are fighting NATO and Afghan forces — the Taliban, the Haqqani network and others – to facilitating a political settlement in Afghanistan; persuading the Afghan government to deal with issues concerning governance and corruption; and perusing a positive outlook for the region based on economic integration and establishment of a New Silk Road.15

Whatever the US does, however, none of its policies is likely to deliver conclusive results by 2014. One another European and the US strategy between now and 2014 is likely to be some kind of reconciliation with the Taliban. The recent reports of Taliban planning to open a political office in Qatar may be a step in that direction. But the trouble with this strategy as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted recently is that "If you negotiate while your forces are withdrawing, you’re not in a great negotiating position." So post-2014 phase in Afghanistan will be continuation of the same project with some significant changes. In these circumstances, India has to be pro-active in defending its own security and economic interests in Afghanistan and the region. In the changed scenario, India can be in a better position to influence outcomes by building on its "strategic partnership" with Afghanistan and developing economic integration strategies with the Central Asian States. If proposals concerning regional economic cooperation originating from Afghanistan are implemented by other countries, this could ultimately improve chances of peace in the entire Eurasian region including India and Pakistan.


1 The author teaches at the School of International Studies, JNU. Since 2006, he has also headed the Asian Development Bank and The Asia Foundation projects at the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.
2. Transition to Afghan Lead: Inteqal, NATO-ISAF Media Backgrounder, December 2011.
3. The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implication for International Peace and Security, Report of the Secretary-General to the UNSC, 13 December 2011, p. 3.
4. Kenneth Katzman, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, Congressional Research Service for the US Congress, December 2011, p.31.
5. Central Asia & the Transition in Afghanistan, A Report by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Senate, December 19, 2011.
6. Kenneth Katzman , op.cit., p.61.
7. See summary in Kenneth Katzman ,op.cit,; Also see Benjamin D Hopkins and Magnus Marsden, "Ten Years In, Afghan Myths Live On" The New York Times, 7 October 2011.
8. Daniel Korski, Shaping Europe’s Afghan Surge, Policy Brief No 11, European Council on Foreign Relations, March 2009, p.3.
9. For details of Indian projects in Afghanistan see Gulshan Sachdeva, "The Reconstruction Issue in Afghanistan: Indian & Chinese Contribution" in Marlène Laruelle, et al. ( Eds) China and India in Central Asia: A New Great Game? ( Palgrave Mcmillan, 2010).
10. For details see Gulshan Sachdeva, "Regional Economic Linkages" in Nirmala Joshi (Ed) Reconnecting India and central Asia: Security & Economic Dimensions, Washington DC: Central Asia Caucasus Institute, Johns Hopkins University, 2010, pp.115-171.
11. Transition in Afghanistan: Looking Beyond 2014, (Washington DC: World Bank, November 2011).
12. For details see S Frederick Starr (Ed), The New Silk Roads: Transport & Trade in Greater Central Asia, Washington: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2007; and S. Frederick Starr, Afghanistan Beyond the Fog of Nation Building: Giving Economic Strategy a Chance, Washington: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2011.
13. See Gulshan Sachdeva, "Afghanistan & Pakistan Sign Trade & Transit Agreement" Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, Vol. 12, No. 16, 2010,.
14. India-Pakistan Business Conclave "Exploring Business Between Neigbours" Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, New Delhi, 29 September 2011.

            15. Zalmay Khalilzad, Testimony to House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 2014 and Beyond: U.S. Policy towards Afghanistan and            
            Pakistan, Part I", 3 November 2011.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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