Political analyst Yerlan KARIN recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was able to talk with local experts and walk along the streets of Kabul. He told about his impressions, the upcoming presidential elections in this country, and preparations for the withdrawal of coalition troops in an interview with the newspaper Vremya.
- Four years ago, when Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE, several press tours to Afghanistan were organized. Colleagues who flew to Kabul, told about the same thing - it is insanely dangerous city and an incredibly dangerous country, especially for foreigners. Weren't you scared in Afghanistan? - Not very scary. The first impression is that Kabul is in a state of siege. American balloons hang over the city, shooting around the 50 km all that happens around, some military helicopters fly all the time, and, of course, even at the airport there are more military vehicles than civil ones. In Kabul itself, many checkpoints, pickups with armed men. The staff of our embassy, who helped us both before arrival and during the trip, carefully instructed us. It is undesirable to walk unaccompanied on the street, shoot a lot, point the camera at people, especially women, and so on. Naturally, all these warnings and instructions could not be configured accordingly. Moreover, two days before our arrival in Kabul, in the Afghan capital, one of the biggest terrorist attacks took place lately - a Lebanese restaurant, popular among foreigners, was blown up. More than 20 people died, among them high-ranking UN staff. Therefore, increased security measures were introduced in the city, and the embassy in connection with this reduced our program - we planned to visit a number of provinces and leave Kabul. Although in general I would not say that after the attack of terrorists, Afghans and foreigners closed in their homes and did not go anywhere. There is a brisk trade in the bazaars, everyone is constantly going somewhere, there are a lot of cars and people on the streets. In Mazar-i-Sharif, it seems to be calm, there are no more soldiers and armed people on the street. And life there is in full swing - roads, schools, factories and business centers are being built. But, in general, Afghanistan is a place where you can not relax, where everything reminds you that the war is not over. From 2002 to 2011, Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for 35 percent of terrorist attacks in the world, and in recent years even more than 50 percent. According to the latest data, only in Kabul in January of this year, there were 16 attacks that killed 150 people. Although you get used to the state of martial law quickly. After a few days we quietly moved around, shot what we wanted. The embassy official, who sometimes accompanied us, admitted: after a while, fear dulled.
“What was the purpose of your trip?” I was not mainly interested in the situation in Afghanistan itself, but in some questions within the framework of my research project on terrorism. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is one of the regions where all kinds of extremist associations are stationed. According to various estimates, there are more than 15 thousands of mercenaries from 75 countries in the Afghan-Pakistan zone! Going to Afghanistan, I decided not to focus only on the tasks of my topic, but to expand the list of issues and discuss with local experts the situation both in the country and in the region as a whole. I want to emphasize that I am not an expert on Afghanistan, so that people would not think that, having returned from there, I learned and understood everything about this country and now I can tell everything about it. There are stronger experts, but I wanted to personally see the situation myself.
- Did you manage to observe the election campaign? Elections are not far off - in April- No, the campaign has not yet started officially. But it was already known about the main contenders for the presidency: 11 candidates were registered in total. The incumbent head of state, Hamid Karzai, can no longer run, therefore he is trying to somehow influence the political situation. Karzai has not signed a security agreement with the United States, and this is the main topic right now - this is being discussed in offices, at home and on the street. Everyone assumes that this is the last opportunity for the current president to bargain for himself some political dividends or guarantees. There is no clear leader among the candidates; they call completely different people as candidates - the brother of the current President Kayum KARZAY, the former Foreign Minister Abdulla ABDULLU and others. But many are inclined to believe that there will not be a new president in Afghanistan in April. Most likely, it will not be possible to avoid the second round if the Taliban do not disrupt the vote at all. Therefore, local experts are inclined to negative scenarios - to the extent that elections can lead to a split of the country. But at the same time, everyone agrees that even if a new president is elected, he is unlikely to control the whole country.
“And how high is the probability that the vote will smoothly flow into a civil war?” “I would not frighten it, but everything is not easy, of course. On the one hand, in the current elite few people are interested in a new civil war. Many would like to maintain the status quo. Politicians, businessmen and the military are satisfied that there is strong financial support from the West. From Kabul airport almost daily flights depart to Dubai and Istanbul. Influential Afghans have real estate abroad, foreign bank accounts are open, in general, everyone is happy. And it is noticeable that the standard of living of the ruling elite has seriously increased in recent years. Although the common population lives just as bad as 10, and 20, and 30 years ago. People say this: Yesterday I had breakfast with a flat cake and tea, and today - with tea and a cake with butter! But if something bad happens, I will always have tea with a flat cake. In general, people seem to want stability, but they are preparing for the worst. For example, we were told that lately it has risen in price weapon, and all more or less wealthy citizens feverishly make themselves visas to any countries. By the elections, everyone expects an increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. And on the first day of the beginning of the election campaign in Herat, the head of the campaign headquarters of the presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah in the province was killed. Officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior during the meetings confidently said that 400 thousands of military can provide security in more than 6 thousands of polling stations across the country. We'll see.
- It was in 2014 that the coalition forces should leave Afghanistan. What are the Afghans waiting for from this event? ”“ The same as from the elections, they are buying automatic weapons and arming them. The upcoming withdrawal of the coalition forces and the development of the situation after that is now the main topic in political consultations and expert discussions. From Washington to Almaty, in London, Moscow, Tashkent, Shanghai, the last 2-3 of the year only discuss the prospects for Afghanistan after the 2014 of the year. Everyone cares about the question: how will the region live without American soldiers? Of course, mostly negative forecasts prevail. Most experts are confident that after the withdrawal of troops in the country, the deterrent will disappear and the bickering will begin, which will escalate into another war, and Afghanistan will again become a world refuge for all radicals, as it was under the Taliban. Of course, this scenario cannot be ruled out. The Afghans themselves say that they will be able to keep the situation under control: ostensibly today, 90 percent of military operations are planned and carried out by the local army. But I would still like to clarify: the American army will leave Afghanistan, but the military will remain. There will be a contingent from 20 to 30 thousand people, plus all the members of the coalition, some of the soldiers will also be based in Afghanistan. So far this is explained by the need to conduct local operations against individual groups of al-Qaida. In addition, the so-called PMCs, private military companies, will continue to operate in the country. Simply put, mercenaries. The most famous company is BlackWater. But even the reduction of the contingent does not mean that the political influence of the United States will decrease. Speaking figuratively, if Americans leave, it is not far and not completely.
- If Afghans are actively buying up weapons, how should the countries of Central Asia behave in anticipation of the withdrawal of troops from the region? After all, we are frightened with all our might that the drug traffic will increase, extremists will come in from all sides, the number of terrorist attacks will increase. And we are in full swing preparing for this. All recent exercises, including under the auspices of the CSTO, are linked to the Afghan scenarios. In addition, of course, there will be a revitalization of terrorist groups already operating in Central Asia. And to this, of course, also need to be prepared. By the way, speaking of the drug threat: the volume of opium plantations in Afghanistan has not diminished all these years, but only increased. From 83 thousand hectares in 2003 year to 209 thousand hectares in 2013 year! But, speaking of tension in Central Asia, it is necessary to understand that not only Afghanistan affects it. The first is affected by the deterioration of relations between the countries of the region. There is no need to go far for examples - recently, at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, they have already fired at each other not only from machine guns, but now also from mortars. Please note that the number of conflicts between Central Asian countries is constantly growing, territorial disputes and disassembly of resources cannot be resolved. In short, the situation in the region is not the best. And it is in the hands of those who come to us from Afghanistan to recruit militants and train suicide bombers. In general, I believe that when there is no consolidation in the region, anything can be a source of conflict, not just the notorious Taliban from Afghanistan. Please note - the countries of Central Asia are increasing their combat power, they are actively purchasing military equipment and weapons, preparing for the possible consequences of the withdrawal of coalition troops. But in the end, these weapons are used against each other. I talked on this topic with one of the candidates for the presidency of Afghanistan. And he said an interesting thing: indeed, the forecasts of almost all are negative, all with fear are waiting for the withdrawal of troops and are afraid of returning to the past. But at the same time, if you just wait for what happens, then all these gloomy forecasts can come true. And in order to prevent the development of bad scenarios, we have to work day after day, to develop relations, and not to mine borders. By the way, Kazakhstan is one of the few countries that provides real assistance to Afghanistan, and these are not just humanitarian supplies, they are also educational grants for Afghan youth in 12 specialties. And this is a real contribution to the future of this country. Tomorrow, the citizens of Afghanistan will find a good job and will not take up arms. And we need to think about it now, and not when the coalition troops leave.