The Guardian • Issue #1960


Afghanistan, will the US lose the war as well as the peace?

It’s little wonder that Joe Biden wants to get his troops out of Afghanistan. To date, the cost of invading Afghanistan has cost 2.26 trillion USD, according to Brown University research. Of course, in addition to this will be the lifetime care cost for American veterans wounded since 2001, and whatever the future interest payments are on money borrowed to support this war.

It has been estimated that approximately 241,000 people have died thanks to this invasion: 71,344 civilians; 2,442 American service personnel; 78,314 Afghan military and police; and 84,191 fighting on the other side. These figures do not take into account the thousands more injured or permanently disabled.

For Australia, the financial cost of sending Australian troops (from 2003 onwards) to Afghanistan is estimated at about 2.5 billion AUD, but the total cost of operations in Afghanistan comes to 9.3 billion AUD, and Australia’s total military budget in 2014-15 was 29.3 billion AUD. Even more telling are the deaths emanating from our involvement in this thankless war – forty-one Australian soldiers killed and 260 injured during the conflict – outstripped by the suicides of defence force personnel on returning home. So far 292 have taken their own lives.

Since 9/11, the US has been involved in the invasion of Iraq, and also interference in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere: often inveigling Australia to join in its conflicts, all of which result in the people there being left with catastrophic levels of poverty, economies in chaos, and now, with the added burden of the pandemic, health care in crisis. Nearly 3 million Afghan refugees have fled their country to escape the violence, making Afghanistan one of the world’s biggest sources of refugees, and over 2 million Afghans have been internally displaced.

We should all be choking on our beers when Americans like Tod Walters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, comes out with statements such as “Everything we do is about generating peace. We compete to win […] and if deterrence fails, we’re prepared to respond to aggression, primarily through NATO.” An absolute indication, if ever one were needed, that NATO does not merely advise or train Afghan troops, but goes much further.

Within days of taking office, the Biden administration signalled it would not abide by the US-Taliban agreement, citing the importance of supporting a “stable, sovereign, democratic, and secure future for Afghanistan”: the same language used whenever the United States and NATO conspire to destabilise foreign countries hostile to US and European capital. Now the US and European Command and NATO, together with the Afghan forces they finance, appear to be shifting from their “so-called” terrorist campaign to a “peace-building” campaign! Which, to anyone appreciating the strategic location of the region, would appear to be simply a cover for the real objective of fighting a new Cold War against Russia, China, and any other country in the region not aligned with the US/European Imperialist consensus.

China’s increasingly rapid influence in Afghanistan is, no doubt, of concern to the US. Beijing has long been worried about the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), known to have bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as the threat of ETIM fighters and other jihadists entering Xinjiang through the Wakhan Corridor could radicalise Uyghurs there. China’s Ministry of Defence has admitted that they are engaged with Afghanistan in joint law enforcement operations in these border areas.

China has always maintained close ties with the Afghan government, signing the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Good Neighbourly Relations with Kabul in 2006 and, in 2008, winning a 3 billion USD contract to extract copper from the Mes Aynak mines in Logar province. Unfortunately, the Mes Aynak project has failed mostly because of the poor security situation in the country.

Beijing has stepped up its engagement with Kabul in the last six years, as it is imperative that an unstable Afghanistan does not derail its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, both of which depend on a stable region. It is in this context that China’s role as a peace broker, aid donor, and investor as well as its military role in Afghanistan must be seen.

Because of the constant warring, Afghanistan’s production of export goods has seen the railway line linking China’s Jiangsu province with the Afghan rail port of Hairatan, running empty from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan on its return route. China is Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investor today due to its interest in resource extraction and infrastructure building. It extracts oil from the Amu Darya basin in the north and, in the telecommunications sector, China’s role has grown from supplying Afghanistan with telecom equipment in 2007 to the construction of fibre-optic links in 2017.

In order to aid stability in the region, address its own security concerns and realise its economic ambitions, Beijing has provided 240 million USD (2002-2013); in 2014 – 80 million USD, pledging an additional 240 million USD over the next three years. In 2017, China extended 90 million USD towards development projects in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province alone.

China’s BRI would increase Afghanistan’s road and rail infrastructure, providing the landlocked country with links to more markets. However, until the country can peacefully go into production road and rail lines, it will suffer the same fate as the Jiangsu-Hairatan rail link. So how successful can China be in stabilising the country? Because it has not been seen as an oppressor, its role as a facilitator has been acceptable both to the government and the Taliban. It is also Pakistan’s closest ally and in meetings with the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) and the 6+1 Dialogue, China brings ideas and expertise which aid its brokering efforts. Also its inducements of regional trade and economic development aids co-operation from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, whilst not being averse to cutting deals with the Taliban.

China’s role in Afghanistan is growing, yet its influence there remains limited compared to the US. While China has been able to establish ties, not only is Washington’s influence over the Afghan government considerable, but the Taliban also wants to talk with the US.

A peace process in Afghanistan cannot move forward without the US and China working together, but won’t get far if there’s a repeat of US drone strikes, like the one which killed Taliban commander Mullah Mansour, in 2016 and caused the collapse of the QCG effort.

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