Beyond the Afghan war

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M. Ziauddin

 Afghanistan is one of world’s poorest of poor countries and its so-called strategic location continues to remain seemingly nebulous. Yet the richest of the rich world powers and the second rate regional powers have lately started coveting this war- torn country rather ardently. Strange, isn’t it!
The US has spent something like $6 trillion on its 17-year long war effort in Afghanistan and has also suffered fatal casualties numbering a little over 4,000 including 2500 servicemen. But suddenly the US seems to be looking beyond these losses to what seems to be lucrative peace dividends. Last week President Trump wrote a nice letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan requesting Pakistan’s cooperation in getting peace talks started. There was no ‘do more’ mantra in the letter.PM Khan reciprocated positively and on Friday last he announced that his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban which, according to the schedule, will take place on Monday (today).
These talks are, for a change, expected to be more meaningful than those that have been going on between the US and the Afghan Taliban in Qatar where the latter have an office. The venue of Monday’s talks has not been disclosed for security reasons, it is presumed. And it is also not known if any official delegation from Kabul would participate in these talks.
Afghan Taliban have insisted all along that they would not talk to any representative of President Ashraf Ghani administration, that they do not accept the current Afghan Constitution and that the only issue to be discussed with the US was the time-table for withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.
The fact that the Afghan Taliban have agreed to talk to the Americans seemingly without any pre-conditions indicates that they have perhaps withdrawn their insistence for prior announcement of US troops’ withdrawal time-table from Afghanistan. And the Americans seem to have given up their insistence that the Afghan parties to the conflict enter into direct peace talks on bilateral basis.
Perhaps the US and the Afghan Taliban are seeking a via media for Afghan Taliban’s participation in the general elections scheduled early next year without having to scuttle the country’s current Constitution.
On Saturday last foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China met in Kabul and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for intensification of their counter-terrorism cooperation.
On November 9, 2018 Russia hosted talks with Taliban delegates and members of Afghanistan’s high peace council, as the Kremlin sought a role as peace broker between the two sides to the Afghan conflict. Delegates from both sides of the line in Afghanistan sat together at Moscow’s President Hotel, alongside representatives from Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
India so far has pledged $3 billion for socio-economic development projects through 2020. China is said to have a $3 billion contract signed to develop a copper mine about 25 miles southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Russian interest so far appears to be limited to nudging the warring Afghan parties to peace talks. Islamabad has already sought New Delhi’s cooperation in Afghan peace process.
Perhaps both the US and Afghan Taliban as well as China, Russia, India and Pakistan want a quick peace settlement in Afghanistan so as to enable all these countries to get a foothold in the country to buy a share in its rich mineral wealth estimated be worth $ 3 trillion.
Afghanistan has over 1400 mineral fields, containing barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, talc, and zinc, among many other minerals. Gemstones include high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and ruby. There are six lapis mines in Afghanistan, the largest being located in Badakhshan province. There are around 12 copper mines, including the Aynak copper deposit located in Logar province.
According to Mark Landler and James Risen (New York Times July 25, 2017) President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan, has latched on to a prospect that had tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.
“US officials said (Trump) viewed mining as a “win-win” that could boost that country’s economy, generate jobs for Americans and give the United States a valuable new beachhead in the market for rare-earth minerals, which has been all but monopolized by China.”

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