There’s still hope for Afghanistan – Russian envoy

Despite fears that the planned withdrawal of US troops will plunge Afghanistan into chaos, there are still two years left in which to help Kabul buck the doomy predictions, says Russia’s special envoy to the country, Zamir Kabulov.

The recent conference on Afghanistan in Bonn demonstrated the solidarity of the international community with the Afghan people and government.  What was also evident was a desire to help the country emerge from an ongoing tragedy which sees suicide bombers killing dozens of civilians every other day.

European leaders at the conference were unstinting in their promises to offer all possible help to the country.

“It [the conference] was designed to ensure that the Afghan people will not be left alone after 2014, when the transition period is over,” the Russian envoy said.

After air strikes by US helicopters massacred 24 Pakistani servicemen at a checkpoint within Pakistani territory, the deeply-eroded relations between Islamabad and Washington will definitely complicate the transition process in Afghanistan – because Pakistan plays a complex but critical role in the war-torn country.

Zamir Kabulov revealed that the Taliban movement which appears dominant in Afghanistan is itself subject to terrorist attacks because it is not the only player fighting the governments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While Pakistan has ignored the Bonn conference, everybody hopes that Islamabad will continue its efforts to stabilize the region in co-operation with the Afghan government and the international community.

Russia’s envoy to Afghanistan does not believe that anyone will benefit if the US changes its withdrawal plans, not least because they do not plan to leave the country altogether.

“We know about the plans of Americans to establish and maintain a number of military bases [in Afghanistan] with perhaps substantial forces deployed,” revealed Kabulov, adding that Washington’s plans have raised questions for the Russian leadership.

“We want to have a transparent picture for these military bases,” he stated, explaining that foreign military bases have never aided stability in this region, and are doubly unlikely to do so if the final goals and agenda of the troops remain unknown.

“We cannot really understand the aim of bases there because if 100,000 American troops – plus 50,000 of other [allied] troops – failed to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, how can the remaining troops [do so]?” Zamir Kabulov asked. “We really need an answer [to this question].”

The Russian envoy recalled that after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989, “the quality of the military force left behind was so high that they were able – with some outside logistics support – to provide security in the country and stand alone against all odds [for several years].

“If we make a parallel with the current situation – I’m not quite sure that the Afghan army and police have … this level of capability to do it alone,” Kabulov concluded.

“That is why we always made a point that the Russian Federation does not want any non-regional military force to stay in Afghanistan for long. And at the same time, we do not want them to run away, leaving everything behind uncompleted,” he said, specifying that the transition should be accompanied by the building of genuinely effective Afghan military forces.

The second thing Russia insists on is that the military powers leaving the region should first help to build a sustainable economy capable of covering the basic needs of Afghanistan, including security.

“Unfortunately, as we can see at the moment, the Afghan national police and army are not able to stand alone to control the country and power its security,” the envoy argued, saying the Afghan leadership is not secure today – leave alone in a hypothetical future without military support.

“It is imperative to help President Karzai to have not just well-equipped and loyal national military forces, but a sustainable and working economy that can cover its expenditures,” he emphasized.

Envoy Kabulov compared the renewed infrastructure left behind after the Soviets quit  Afghanistan with the results of the American occupation of the same country for the same period of time, drawing a bleak contrast.

While conceding that the Americans had allocated generous funds for the building of schools and other social structures, he stressed that “it is really difficult to recall any industrial or infrastructural projects that can support the nation’s economy. 

“If things go the way they go now – there is a prospect of chaos,” he said. “But there is still hope and there is still time to correct mistakes.”

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