Academic journal article Asian Perspective

What Can the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China Bring to Post-2014 Afghanistan?

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

What Can the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China Bring to Post-2014 Afghanistan?

Article excerpt

A SERIES OF CHANGES IS CREATING PROBLEMATIC FUTURE SCENARIOS IN Afghanistan. The first major change is related to the 2014 presi- dential election. The Hamid Karzai government in Kabul rested on two fundamentals: an alliance between the Pashtun president and Tajik warlords, and foreign aid, mainly provided by the West. However, this type of co-governance may be impossible to con- tinue given the likelihood of a Tajik-supported leader becoming the next president.

According to preliminary election results, the two leading presidential candidates-Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai-have won, respectively, 43.56 percent and 55.54 per- cent of the vote in the first round.1 It is likely that either one, if elected, would transform the current basis of the Afghan govern- ment. In the political dimension, the volatile alliance between Pashtun officials and Tajik warlords is likely to face turbulence. Should Abdullah be elected president, the new government would have to include more Tajiks; should Ghani be elected, the number of Pashtuns appointed would probably surpass the Tajiks. Any imbalance would almost certainly attract the Taliban to step in, pushing the new administration toward segmentation and leaving the Taliban more space to increase its presence. On the ethnic dimension, any minor changes in the power structure could fur- ther strengthen the Tajiks' opposition to Pashtuns and the Taliban, thus sharply decreasing possibilities of political reconciliation among different ethnopolitical sides in the country.

While Karzai's government draws its primary support from the West, the incoming administration may not be as welcome by its Western counterparts. The possible resulting reduction in inter- national aid and loans could further undermine the stability of the central government, leaving more space for radical groups such as the Taliban. Although Abdullah stressed in a CNN interview the necessity of international assistance to Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the United States will provide as much aid as before to Kabul as the troop presence dwindles. To maintain its political agenda and domestic reform, the new administration will have to search for alternative sources of financial support.

Another scenario might evolve with the ascendancy of the Taliban and an increasing instability in neighboring Pakistan. In the larger perspective, however, the possible spillover effect of a chaotic situation in Afghanistan would be further aggravated by the uncertain roles of the regional states, especially those of Cen- tral Asia. Although Moscow and Beijing are keen to seek oppor- tunities to engage in the region, two risks hinder them from play- ing a role similar to that of their Western counterparts.

First is the discrepancy between advocates of a radical dogma such as Wahhabism and secular governance in Central Asian states. China and Russia have both identified religious fundamen- talism as a threat to national security that needs to be monitored carefully. Both countries also fear the (further) spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the region, given its large Muslim population.

The second risk is related to worries of being excluded from the peace process in Afghanistan, since no regional state wants another regional state to acquire preponderant influence there (Vielmini 2012). Central Asia is thus immersed in a strategic conundrum, where each step taken by one regional actor is nec- essarily ambiguous for fear that another regional actor will take advantage.

Trend 1: Afghanistan Converts to Regional Neighborhood

Based on our introductory analysis, we argue that a workable solution with immediate impact on the threats and risks just men- tioned will require regional states to act constructively. This is a hard-learned lesson from the Western involvement in Afghan- istan. Despite Afghanistan's having received a considerable amount of aid from Western governments, banks, and founda- tions, the United States and its allies had to deal with constant setbacks due to the lack of comprehensive regional initiatives. …

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