THE AFGHAN CRISIS AND THE 2011 PROBLEM: WHAT NEXT?

Rustam MAKHMUDOV


Rustam Makhmudov, Independent researcher (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)


Introduction

This May, President Obama confirmed that his country had embraced a new strategy in Afghanistan by saying: The U.S. can start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House supported the new strategy with a 30-thousand-strong additional contingent in this country and a bigger military budget.

The analytic community was left to guess: would the withdrawal be complete or would it introduce new approaches to an old problem? What was behind the new presidents initiative? How would it affect Central and South Asia, to say nothing of the global geopolitical balance of power?

These and a multitude of other questions are born by the fact that as part of the U.S. foreign policy orbit Afghanistan is no longer a thing in itself (to borrow a philosophical term), but just one element among many others in the intricate geopolitical and geo-economic mosaic.

It is beyond the scope of one article, no matter how long it is, to deal with all the aspects of the current processes, therefore I have limited myself to the financial and economic issues behind the planned withdrawal, the impact of the Pakistani factor, and the possible consequences as seen from Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and the Central Asian capitals.

The U.S. Economy as the Key to the Continued Mission in Afghanistan

In 2002, American troops arrived in Afghanistan mainly for geopolitical reasons: historically, the country was, and remains, the nerve plexus of Inner Eurasia intimately associated with much of what is going on in Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf.

Washingtons real aims are open to conjecture, but one thing is abundantly clear: the U.S. is rich enough to afford being involved in Afghanistan. This was a sort of symbol of Americas global leadership and of its ability to knock together a counterterrorist coalition.

History has taught us that moral authority is but one pillar of leadership: it also requires money. Indeed, leadership survives as long as there is enough money to pay for it (no matter how cynical this sounds).

Before the financial and economic crisis hit the world in August 2008, Americas mission in Afghanistan did not put any particular strain on the U.S. budget. Throughout George W. Bushs presidency, the steadily increasing military budget drew no objections from Congress; the loss of manpower and materiel was still bearable. Early in 2010, after nine years of fighting, American casualties topped 1 thousand (for comparison, during the ten years of its Afghan campaign, the Soviet Union lost about 15 thousand).

The crisis shook the very foundations of the American financial and economic model, even though the Bush Administration preferred to ignore this; later it had to accept Henry Paulsons Plan to keep the financial system afloat. Under Obama, the issue came to the


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