Afghan crisis deepens as deadline nears

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AFGHANISTAN’S finance minister has said deadlock over the disputed presidential election has cost the economy $5bn, so far.

Omar Zakhilwal has said he will have to cut salaries and lay off government workers if the crisis is not resolved by September 2.

Foreign investment is at a standstill and government revenues have fallen sharply since the first April presidential vote.

Two contenders have claimed victory but have so far failed to reach a deal on a government of national unity despite a personal intervention from US President Barack Obama.

A full audit of the votes is still under way under United Nations scrutiny. There is a worsening air of crisis and prices of basic foods have already risen sharply, while the Taliban have staged some of their biggest assaults for many years, taking ground in the south and east.

Ashraf Ghani, who was leading in the preliminary recount results, has been challenged by his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who topped the vote in the first round of the election. Abdullah has accused election officials of ‘massive fraud’. He won 45% and Ghani 31.5% respectively in the first round.

Many of Abdullah’s senior supporters want him to take a tougher line, believing that their candidate won the vote, and must insist on being President.

The US and the former Afghan government reached a deal to allow thousands of US soldiers to remain after NATO withdraws combat troops at the end of 2014, but the then President Karzai refused to sign it.

As well, he condemned the US occupation for its drone attacks on Afghan villages, and the huge civilian casualties that the US-UK forces inflicted on the Afghan people. He has demanded that the US meet certain conditions, including that US troops be prosecuted by Afghan courts for crimes committed in the country, before the treaty is signed.

With no government, there can be no signing of the treaty and there cannot be a legal US military presence in Afghanistan. The Afghan Finance Minister, Omar Zakhilwal, for good measure has added: ‘If the succession crisis goes into September and even beyond, then we could run into a situation where we would find it difficult to pay salaries.’

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product growth is ‘absolutely in the negative,’ added Zakhilwal, who supports Ghani.

The September 2 deadline for forming a new government comes just two days before a crucial North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Wales, where member states will discuss their commitments to Afghanistan after 2014.

Afghanistan still depends on international donors to pay the salaries of its army and police, and those funds are tied to a successful democratic transition.

At a 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, the US and its allies committed over the coming decade to sustaining a force of around 228,500 Afghan soldiers and police, at an estimated annual price tag of $4.1 billion.

Zakhilwal says he plans to request to keep a total force of 352,000 until at least the end of 2017, requiring an annual budget of $6 billion.

That issue is likely to arise at a meeting on September 1 in Brussels, when the US and other donors will discuss the Afghanistan National Army Trust Fund, one of the main funding streams for Afghan security forces.

Afghanistan’s outlay for security is supposed to increase progressively from at least $500 million next year, and donor states want Kabul to keep its end of the bargain.

The prospect is that without a government, and with the national economy smashed, except for the record heroin production in British-occupied Helmand province, that the financial basis for maintaining vast Afghan security forces will crash.

This means that the Taliban, which is already stepping up its operations, can have a realistic expectation that tens of thousands of sacked, or discontented Afghan soldiers will join its ranks and that after September 2 the Taliban will begin its return to power.

This will be a colossal defeat for US and UK imperialism!