Egypt in Afghanistan?
By Salama A Salama
The war in Afghanistan is drawing to an end, with the US and NATO coalition forces practically admitting defeat. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are now in control of much of the countryside, and inside the cities their combatants hide by day and fight by night.
Representatives of 70 countries, including Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, were recently in Kabul, attending the Afghanistan Donor Conference, a gathering of all nations that, in one way or another, contributed to the war effort in Afghanistan.
The conference signalled a shift in policy. Responsibility for keeping law and order in the country, it was generally agreed, will be transferred to the Karzai government by 2014. Foreign forces would begin withdrawing in 2011, in keeping with an earlier promise by President Barack Obama.
The Americans have boosted their forces in Afghanistan, from 30,000 to 150,000, but that doesn't seem to be helping. The Taliban have broken through government and US defences, even as the conference was going on. One salvo fell so close to the Kabul airport that international officials -- including Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general -- and the foreign ministers of Denmark and Sweden had to delay their arrival.
According to plans made at the Afghanistan Donor Conference, security responsibility will be assumed by Afghan forces. The latter is to try to co-opt "moderate" elements of the Taliban and increase the size of the army and police in order to stamp out the insurgence. The Karzai government would be free to use much of the assistance money, running into billions of dollars, as it pleases.
But how can a corruption-laden government such as that of Karzai be expected to come up with workable security measures in the remaining time before the withdrawal of the US forces? As things stand, the Taliban seems to be the winning side, not the Afghan government.
Afghanistan seems to be caught up in a battle of will with its neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, and the outcome is still unclear. Should the Taliban keep up the pressure on the Afghanistan government, things may get nasty.
The war has been going on for nearly a decade now, and yet it is far from clear who will be the winner. Will it be the Americans, the Taliban, or someone else? Will the country fall once again into the abyss of civil war?
Most of the countries that went to the Kabul conference want to have a piece of the cake. They want a chunk of the stunning resources, worth trillions of dollars, found hidden under the shifting sands of Afghanistan. Needless to say, no one knows where Egypt stands on this matter, or what it hopes to accomplish.
In an article published in The Herald Tribune, economist Paul Collier of Oxford University warns that the disclosure of such wealth leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to wide scale plunder, of the enormity seen in the Congo, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. He wants the Afghan people to act in a timely fashion to prevent that. Unless the Afghans clean up their act, they will be prey to international companies and warlords for a long time to come, a fate Collier doesn't wish upon them.
Afghanistan is at a crossroads and any choices it makes now will affect its future for decades. Still, it is unlikely that US and British forces will leave Afghanistan empty-handed. Plans for the control of the country's wealth are being drawn up right now, without or without Karzai in power, with or without the Taliban defeated.
Still, I don't quite understand what Egypt was doing in the conference. Have we ever donated anything to Afghanistan.