20 March 2003, Volume 2, Number 10
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SPECIAL ISSUE: WAR IN IRAQ
WILL THE SECOND PHASE OF THE WAR ON TERRORISM REVERSE THE GAINS OF THE FIRST?By Amin Tarzi
Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks against the United States, it became clear that the Al-Qaeda terrorist network based in Afghanistan was responsible. The United States demanded that the Taliban regime, which at the time controlled most of Afghanistan, hand over the entire leadership of Al-Qaeda and close the estimated 28 training camps that the group operated throughout Afghanistan; but the Afghan regime, which had close links to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, chose to ignore the U.S. ultimatum. Thus, it became clear from statements made by U.S. officials that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were both considered to be legitimate targets of retaliation for military action, preparation for which had began the day after the terrorist attacks. On the diplomatic front, the United States began securing international support for its impending response through the 12 September UN Security Council Resolution 1368, as well as through regional cooperation with allies. On September 20 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the war on terrorism would not be limited to law-enforcement measures alone, but would include a military response. Such actions, he stated, would not only be targeted against the terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda, but also at all terrorist groups with a "global reach" as well as against their sponsoring states.
This was a clear message that the war on terrorism would not be limited to Afghanistan, which while hosting Al-Qaeda was not necessarily its sponsor.
Inside Afghanistan, the main opposition to the Taliban, the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (popularly known as the Northern Alliance), consisted of a loose alliance of guerrilla groups controlling about 15 percent of Afghan territory. Immediately after 11 September attacks, the United States established contact with different factions within the United Front, providing them with logistical support and fostering closer relations with some of the Afghan political movements and influential personalities residing outside Afghanistan.
On 7 October 2001, the United States began the combat phase of the war on global terrorism by launching aerial attacks on targets in Afghanistan. Originally the military campaign was to have been codenamed Operation Infinite Justice, but due to the concern for the Muslim belief that such justice may only be handed out by God, the name was changed to Operation Enduring Freedom. The military objective of Operation Enduring Freedom was to destroy Al-Qaeda's bases and leadership as well their Taliban hosts. Politically the campaign was intended to ensure that Afghanistan does not, once again, become a heaven for terrorism.
The first objective of Operation Enduring Freedom gave the Afghans a change to rid their country from the Taliban and the menace of Al-Qaeda -- a task that had eluded them for years and was increasingly looking like an impossibility without direct military and political intervention by the United States. The result, while not without flaws, led to the establishment of an interim and later a transitional administration in Afghanistan, with a roadmap calling for general elections in 2004. The second objective of Operation Enduring Freedom -- namely, to ensure that Afghanistan did not return to lawlessness or become potential haven for international terrorist networks -- depended on the success of building a viable state in that country and gave the Afghans the hope that they would be the beneficiaries of a long-term commitment from the international community, led by the United States. Despite repeated claims by U.S. officials that the job of state building was for the Afghans themselves, the Afghans believed that their country was the brightest spot on U.S. radar screens and would be receiving due attention.
Then on 29 January 2002, President Bush delivered his first State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress, in which he shifted the focus of America's war on terrorism from terrorist organization with a global reach to preventing regimes that threaten the United States with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) -- naming Iran, Iraq, and North Korea and calling them an "axis of evil." In time, it became evident that, of the three countries, Iraq was deemed the most immediate threat and would become the first trial of what has become known as policy of "anticipatory self-defense." With Operation Enduring Freedom in full swing, diplomatic efforts and contingency military planning to deal with the Iraqi threat began by the United States. For those who advocated a regime change rather than a diplomatic route, Afghanistan became a model of what Iraqis might expect with the world embracing the new Iraqi leadership as it did that of Afghanistan. In the words of Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" commentator Zvi Bar'el, phrases such as "the liberation of Afghanistan," "the creation of representative national institutions," "human rights," and "women's rights" were initially used by some U.S. officials regarding Afghanistan, and the "the same phrases" are now being heard in connection with Iraq ("Ha'aretz" 14 March 2003).
However, those advocating a vision of a multiethnic, viable state in Afghanistan increasingly became aware that the attention of the United States had clearly shifted toward Iraq and that the overall commitment to Afghanistan had entered a phase of crisis-management. They feared that the promises of a sustained effort toward building state infrastructure in Afghanistan by the United States would be slowing. In his last trip to Washington in February, the head of the Afghan Transitional Administration, President Hamid Karzai, asked the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that not to forget Afghanistan "if Iraq happens,'' adding that it would be "very, very unwise to reduce attention to Afghanistan'' in the event that war breaks out in Iraq. During the same meeting, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat-Delaware) said, "Afghanistan has already dropped off the radar screen" of the United States, and he asked, "What level of commitment will the administration display once Afghanistan winds up behind Iraq, North Korea, and whatever comes next?"
Beyond the long-term effects the war in Iraq might have on the state building process in Afghanistan, in the short term, war in Iraq might lead to increased terrorist activities in Afghanistan -- which might in turn lead to the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which maintains peace and security in and around Kabul. Both Germany and the Netherlands, the current joint commanders of ISAF, have threatened to pull their troops out of Kabul if the war in Iraq sparks anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan. Such a departure, or even the threat of pullouts, will weaken Karzai's already fragile administration and could plunge Afghanistan into an internal conflict, regardless of the actions of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.
During their meeting in the Azores on 16 March, leaders of Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States outlined a "vision for a better future for the Iraqi people" once the regime of Saddam Hussein is ousted from power. The four leaders also pledged to work together to "bring security to Afghanistan, and to root out the terrorists who remain there."
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER FAVORED DIPLOMACY...Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim said on 10 March on his return from an official trip to the United States that "diplomacy is the best solution to the Iraq crisis," Iranian state radio's Dari service reported from Kabul. However, Fahim said he did not discuss the Iraq issue with the U.S. officials he met with during his trip, the report added. The report commented that Afhan President Karzai had also stressed that war in Iraq should be prevented. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND SAID AFGHANISTAN OPPOSES WAR IN IRAQ...Fahim said at a news conference in Kabul on 17 March that Afghanistan is against a possible U.S. war on Iraq and only supports a peaceful settlement to the Iraq crisis, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT GOVERNMENT CHANGED POSITION AT THE LAST MOMENT.The Afghan government on 19 March expressed backing for the United States in its effort to disarm Iraq, Radio Free Afghanistan reported the same day. A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, issued roughly 12 hours before the expiration of U.S. President George W. Bush's 48-hour ultimatum demanding that President Saddam Hussein and his sons leave Iraq, said the use of force is justified because Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "does not seem to have complied with all UN demands to fully disarm and eliminate all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in due time." The statement added that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved and that the Iraqi people must control their destiny under a democratic system. The Afghan Foreign Ministry further urged the U.S.-led coalition forces to put special measures in place for the protection of civilians in the event of war in Iraq. The statement concluded by wishing the Iraqi people peace and security. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN AND RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CALLED FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION TO IRAQ CRISIS...The Russian Foreign Ministry, following a visit to Kabul on 12 March by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, issued a statement on Iraq saying "the parties [to the bilateral meeting] unanimously called [for resolving] this issue through political means in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441," Interfax reported the same day. Ivanov met on 12 March with President Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, along with other senior officials. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNED OF 'ANOTHER WAR IN ASIA.'"If there is a war in Iraq, there will be another war in Asia, and this will surely impact everyone's situation," Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah was quoted as saying in the March issue of the Paris-based magazine "Arabies Trends." "Should a war be necessary, there will be consequences, but these will by no means stop the pace of change in Afghanistan or the move toward normalization and stabilization.... War on Iraq will not have that type of impact on our situation," Abdullah added. (Tanya Goudsouzian)
KABUL PAPER CAUTIONED OF IMPACT OF IRAQ WAR ON AFGHANISTAN..."There is a palpable fear that, if there is war with Iraq, saving Afghanistan will be put to one side," "The Kabul Times" commented on 12 March. The English-language daily quoted the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, as saying, "In postconflict situations, would-be promises tend to be forgotten as time goes [by]." "For Afghans, the second round of the 'war on terror' in Iraq may just undo the gains of the first," the newspaper commented. "The greatest challenge facing the U.S.A. in Afghanistan is convincing the people they are not like the Russians," the newspaper quoted an unidentified Afghan minister as saying in reference to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE CONCURRED.Brahimi said in Kabul on 17 March that he was concerned "over a possible U.S. attack on Iraq," Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Brahimi said the Afghan people are opposed to a war in Iraq and that such a war would be "a threat to Afghanistan and would cause insecurity in the region," Iranian state radio reported. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER URGED U.S. NOT TO FORGET AFGHANISTAN.President Karzai told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 26 February that he hoped the United States would not forget Afghanistan "if Iraq happens,'' adding that it would be "very, very unwise to reduce attention to Afghanistan'' in the event that war broke out in Iraq, AP reported on 26 February. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANS AGREE WITH PRESIDENT ON IRAQ FALLOUT.Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, many Afghans said they opposed a U.S.-led offensive against Baghdad, but for largely different reasons from their antiwar counterparts in the West. Afghans cited fears that the United States and the rest of the international community would forget about their war-ravaged country as the focus shifted to Iraq.
Afghans recall that the United States lost interest in their country after the former Soviet Union withdrew in 1989. Without military and diplomatic support from the West, Afghan factions ended up fighting one another for control.
Residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, have been largely aware -- through radio reports -- of what has been happening in Iraq. In interviews with RFE/RL on 19 March, they expressed their fears that history would once again repeat itself in their country: One resident said he was "worried that if the war starts in Iraq, the foreign aid will be stopped to Afghanistan." Another agreed, adding that he was "worried that with the war in Iraq, the UN and the foreign countries, especially America, which plays an important role in our country, will focus mostly on Iraq. Afghan people are afraid that the war will return to Kabul and our people will be forced to leave the country. We are very worried about it."
Yet another, while supporting regime change in Iraq with "minimum civilian casualties," said, "The war in Iraq will have a negative impact on Afghanistan because the world's attention will turn away from the country."
Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, chief of the Afghan Central Bank, told RFE/RL on 19 March that the process of reconstruction in his country had not really even begun: "If the West does not continue its financial assistance to Afghanistan, I am sure the reconstruction process would face a catastrophic problem."
A Swiss-based Afghan expert, Abdul Majid Aziz, told RFE/RL that he was confident that the United States would not neglect Afghanistan, despite its preoccupation with Iraq: "I don't think the Iraqi issue will lessen America's attention to Afghanistan. America is a powerful country. Both the Afghan and Iraqi issues are parts of American foreign policy, and the two issues relate to each other. I don't believe that because of the Iraqi crisis, America will pay less attention to Afghanistan." (Amin Tarzi)
DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY PLEDGED LASTING SUPPORT FROM THE U.S."The U.S. commitment to participate in the reconstruction process is a long-term one," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told journalists in Kabul on 15 January following a meeting with President Karzai, "Kabul Weekly" reported. "Whatever happens in other parts of the world, the U.S.A. will not let Afghanistan down." Wolfowitz was on a one-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan. (Kimberly McCloud)
ISAF'S FORMER COMMANDER EXPRESSED UNEASE IN EVENT OF WAR IN IRAQ.Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, the Turkish commander of ISAF in Afghanistan until February, said at a 22 November news conference at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., that he and other ISAF commanders feared that "if there is any Iraq operation, it means terrorist attacks against ISAF may start," AP reported. (Amin Tarzi)
GERMANS VOWED TO REMAIN IN AFGHANISTAN.German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 9 February that German troops would remain in Kabul in the event of military conflict in Iraq. He said Berlin was trying to avoid a war in Iraq, but, if a conflict erupted, the ISAF mandate "is based on UN Security Council resolutions and the declared will of 29 states to actively participate in the fight against international terrorism," "Welt am Sonntag" reported. Struck added that he saw neither a political nor a military connection between ISAF and the Iraq issue. (Amin Tarzi)
GERMAN CONTRIBUTION TO ISAF UNRELATED TO GERMAN POLICY ON IRAQ.Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering, a spokesman for the ISAF, told RFE/RL on 13 February that there was no link between Germany's refusal to contribute forces to a possible military campaign against Iraq and Berlin's enhanced commitments in Afghanistan. "Germany's commitment to ISAF has been very strong from the very beginning onward. It has nothing to do with Iraq," he said. However, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 13 February told the Bundestag that German special forces "are serving side by side with the Americans in Afghanistan" because Germany places importance on fighting international terrorism, RFE/RL reported. "German soldiers -- together with the Netherlands -- assumed command of the UN ISAF international security force in Kabul," as part of this commitment, he said. There has been speculation that Germany assumed greater responsibility in the ISAF as part of an effort to mend relations with the United States, which have been strained by Germany's refusal to back U.S. policy vis-a-vis Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). (Amin Tarzi)
GERMANY, NETHERLANDS THREATENED TO WITHDRAW FROM ISAF.Both Germany and the Netherlands said on 21 February they might pull their troops out of the ISAF if tensions in Iraq sparked anti-Western sentiment, RFE/RL reported the same day. German Defense Minister Struck said his country might withdraw its forces if a war in Iraq escalated tensions in Kabul, the report added. Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Bart Jochems said his country also had plans to withdraw its troops if anti-Western sentiment threatened troops in Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)
GERMAN MILITARY OFFICIAL WARNED OF ATTACKS IN KABUL...Colonel Bernhard Gertz warned of the threat of terrorist attacks against German soldiers stationed in Kabul in the event of a war in Iraq, the German daily "Bild" reported on 17 March. Gertz said the German Defense Ministry expected "terrorist missiles to hit the German camp" in Kabul under such a scenario. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN SAID AL-QAEDA MIGHT INCREASE ACTIVITIES IN AFGHANISTAN.U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King said on 17 March that in the event of a war in Iraq, "it is possible that Al-Qaeda may react in Afghanistan," Radio Afghanistan reported. King said that such attacks, if they occurred, "will have no effect on the international coalition forces" in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)