Connect with us

South Asia

And Afghanistan Survives as the Graveyard of Empires

Avatar photo



Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan once tried hard to conquer the area now known as Afghanistan. Not just as “The Graveyard of Empires” which was regarded as a reputation for the Afghan people in thwarting the expansionist ambitions of the invaders from Great Britain to the Soviet Union, it as also “a graveyard for colonialist and neocolonialist foreign powers aiming to dominate it,”  Romain Malejacq, political scientist wrote in his book “Warlord Survival.”

In 2010, anthropologist Thomas Barfield then wrote in his book “Afghanistan. A Cultural and Political History” that the way of Afghanistan gets rid of foreign invaders is to make the country ungovernable, unstable, and difficult to control, so that the colonizers eventually go alone. However, Thomas wrote, this strategy ultimately haunts the Afghan people themselves because every conflict that occurs actually makes the state and government institutions there become weaker, so that every ruler who appears tends to choose an authoritarian and brutal way of power.

Historically, the modern history of Afghanistan began in 1747 with the founding of the Durrani Empire by Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pashtun military commander who previously served in the Persian Empire, led by Nadir Shah. After the assassination of Nadir, Durrani gave birth to the Afghan kingdom (Durani Empire) which was dominated by Pashtun tribes. Its position was geographically between the Persian Empire and the Mughal Empire (the Muslim empire that controlled parts of India). The Durrani Empire lasted until 1823, then succeeded by Dost Muhammad Khan, who emerged in Kabul in 1826. Dost was the emir (or ruler) of Afghanistan who later founded the Barakzai dynasty.

Entering the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was caught in the great game between Great Britain (East India Britain) and the Russian Empire. Fearing that Russia would use Afghanistan as a springboard to attack South Asia, the British decided to move first. The British invaded Afghanistan in 1839 and established local rulers as puppets of British rule. The British action ended badly. Historian William Dalrymple in his book “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42” called it the “greatest disaster” of Imperial Britain

During the First World War, despite receiving envoys from Germany and Istanbul and receiving gold, the Afghanistan chose neutrality, rejecting the Ottoman Empire’s call for pan-Islamism, Islamic solidarity against Russia and Great Britain. But soon after the war was over, after assassination of his brother,  Amanullah Khan (1919-1929) then suddenly launched an attack on British troops in Afghanistan (known as the Third Anglo-Afghan War), and considerably won, then gained independence from Britain which was agreed upon via the Treaty of Rawalpindi (August 8, 1919).

Amanullah is a secular modernist who tries to represent all ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. And Amanullah was brushed off by ethnic Tajiks, led by King Habibullah Kalakani, continued to King Mohammad Nadir Shah who reappointed the Barakzai Regime, then was succeeded by his son Mohammad Zahir Shah in 1933. He was the last King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah (1933-1973) who is still well remembered by some groups in Afghanistan for his success in bringing about the Afghan constitution in 1964, establishing a legislature and promoting freedom for women.

Zahir Shah struggled to get US support to match the Soviet Union and also struggled to get Soviet support to keep up with US. As fate would have it, and yes Afghanistan was again trapped in the great game between US and the Soviets during the cold war. At first, Afghanistan was fairly successful in playing its role in the Cold War. Afghanistan got fund from both sides. The Soviets built infrastructure projects in Afghanistan under Zahir Shah, such as the north-south Salang Tunnel and Bagram airfield. The United States also provided agricultural and other development assistance, such as a USAID-led irrigation project and a hydroelectric power plant in Helmand Province, the Kajaki Dam.

Afghanistan began to become less stable in the 1970s, during the Nixon Administration, who was strongly anti-communist and somewhat allergic to the Islamic movement. And during medical treatment to Italy in 1973, Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammad Daoud. Daoud abolished Afghanistan’s monarchy and declared himself Afghanistan’s first president in a dictatorial fashion. His reign was only 5 years, Daoud was then overthrown and killed in April 1978 by military officers under the direction of two top officials of the People’s Democrat Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Hafizullah Amin and Nur Mohammad Taraki, via Revolution Saur (in April 1978).

Taraki became president, but a year later, in September 1979, he was overthrown by his own friend, Amin. Even though both are from the same faction, the Khalq PDPA faction that was of rural Pashtun ethnicity. Amin tried to impose a radical socialist style to change the traditional system of society by redistributing land and bringing more women into government. But resistance emerged (anticommunist) which sparked an uprising from Islamic parties.

The insurgency grew more massive, jeopardizing the position of Amin’s government, compounded by Soviet suspicions that Amin had begun flirting with US after his visit to Washington, which sparked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979. The Soviets then replaced Amin with Kamal Barbrak to run Afghan government in the Moscow (Communist) style, which led to the birth of the Mujahideen.

Furthermore, as is well known, the struggle of the Mujahideen which was backed up by funds and weapons from US and Saudi via Pakistan made the Soviets drenched in blood for 10 years in Afghanistan, by repatriating around 13,000 coffins to Moscow, which sparked an increasing antipathy of the Soviet people to the soviet communist party. The Soviets signed the Geneva agreement in 1988 to leave Afghanistan the following year, 1989. Two years later, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed.

US and the Saudis had a big role in helping the Mujahideen, some of whose members later became the Taliban and Al Qaeda. After the Soviets left Afghanistan and Najibullah step down, an unstable Mujahideen government was formed. Five years after its birth, the Taliban, thanks to the support of Pakistani intelligence (ISI), succeeded in removing the Mujahideen government and installing Mullah Omar as leader of the Afghan emirate in 1996.

Then the events of 9/11 2001 forced US to follow in the footsteps of the Soviet Union by invading Afghanistan, removing the Taliban government for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden. US was stuck there far longer than the Soviets, from the Bush Junior administration, Obama, Trump, and ended up in Biden’s hands. Just like the fate of the Soviet Union, US went home as  loser aka defeated. If the target is “just kill Osama bin Laden,” then indeed that target has been met.

But if the target is “nation building,” then US has failed at the time  Ashraf Ghani’s government just ran away before Kabul was taken over by the Taliban. In fact, US has never really left Afghanistan after the new government was formed in 2004, even though it has experienced “lost focus” since the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and the assassination of Osama in 2011. Until finally in 2021, Joe Biden firmly and consistently decided to completely exit Afghanistan with a “non-victor” status similar to when US left Vietnam in 1975. Joe Biden’s consistency, however, has helped cement the status of “The Graveyard of Empires” for Afghanistan.

Joe Biden might comment “not my business” over the uncertainty over the sustainability of Ghani’s government in Kabul. Or Antony Blinken may be confident in saying Kabul is not Saigon’s Moment. But the rapid occupation of Kabul and Ashraf Ghani’s flight to Tajikistan to Usbekistan to UEA, would be a direct slap in the face for US as China, Russia and Pakistan are standing behind the Taliban now. Evidence of US’s 20-year presence at a cost of more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan has turned out to be nothing more than a cowardice of President Ashraf Ghani. And the end of the retalibanization is uncertain, because the regional great game is still ongoing and there is absolutely no certainty that the Taliban will be free from Al Qaeda. In other words, the storyline of the fight in Afghanistan is still long, with the shadows of another version of 9/11 still hanging in US’s skies. And as usual in the history of Afghanistan, if the invaders have left, then they will fight with each other which will make the Taliban regime II remain an unstable regime. Yes, that’s a sign that Afghanistan survives as The Graveyard of Empires.

Political Economic Observer and Senior Fellow at Economic Action Indonesia Institution/EconAct

Continue Reading

South Asia

The Significance of the United Nations High Seas Treaty for Bangladesh

Avatar photo



As the sun sets below the horizon over the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is at a pivotal juncture in its distant past. The state of the seas is crucial to Bangladesh’s economic development and sustainability in the future because the country’s waterways and maritime heritage serve as a major defining feature. Thus,  the United Nations High Seas Treaty in 2023 provides Bangladesh with a once-in-a-generation chance to safeguard its interests and promote sustainable growth in an age of mounting international challenges.

The historic treaty to protect international waters from exploitation, oil extraction, and climate change has been signed after two decades of talks under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In March of this year, countries reached an agreement on a worldwide commitment to protect marine life, and in June, the United Nations officially adopted the treaty for the protection of the world’s seas. The treaty was ratified by 67 nations on September 20, 2023. Under this treaty, the UN has recognized international jurisdiction over two-thirds of the seas. This implies that every nation has the right to engage in fishing activities, shipping, and scientific research in that particular region.

To protect vital ecosystems from “extractive activities,” member states will follow the guidelines established by the Treaty on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) to establish a marine protected area (MPAs). In this regard, it is considered a vital resource in attempting to achieve the “30 by 30” goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030. As the signing process is scheduled to go until 2025, experts are optimistic that this will be a watershed moment in the history of marine conservation.

On September 20, 2023, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, ratified the treaty to avert the further destruction of the maritime environment caused by overfishing and other human endeavors.

Water is more than a natural resource in Bangladesh; it is essential for survival. Bangladesh is often referred to as the “Land of Rivers” due to the country’s extensive river network. Water is are intricately interwoven with society, economy, and culture. The waters of the Bay of Bengal, which extend into the high seas, play a vital role in our daily lives, supplying us with fish—a primary source of nutrition for millions—and connecting us to the rest of the world. Under the provisions of the new treaty, countries will share genetic resource profits equitably. The Treaty is a forward-thinking piece of international law because it gives developing and least-developed nations such as Bangladesh a voice by promoting capacity development.

From the magnificent Royal Bengal tiger to the mysterious Irrawaddy dolphin and a variety of sea turtle species, Bangladesh is home to a diverse maritime ecosystem. However, overfishing and habitat loss pose major hazards to numerous species. The United Nations High Seas Treaty seeks to establish marine protected zones in international waterways, recognizing the interdependence of oceans and coastlines. The initiative is commensurate with Bangladesh’s commitment to marine life conservation. This treaty makes an explicit effort to ensure that everyone, including developing and underdeveloped countries, benefits from a shared space, a principle that has been neglected for decades in international agreements, particularly in terms of global commerce.

The issue of overfishing is a problem on a worldwide scale, and Bangladesh is not an exception. In the Bay of Bengal, there are several instances of local fishermen having to compete with foreign vessels. As the high seas are inaccessible without using enormous amounts of energy and money, this is crucial information: 97% of commercial fishing boats in the high seas are registered to higher-income nations. Countries with lower incomes are frustrated by the fact that fish migrating to their waterways are now being caught by wealthy nations. The pact seeks to solve this problem by encouraging responsible fishing techniques and enforcing strict rules in international waters. This not only safeguards Bangladesh’s fishery industry but also contributes to global efforts to reduce overfishing.

Bangladesh is at serious risk from climate change as rising sea levels submerge agriculture in salt water and force entire coastal villages to relocate. Due to its strong link with atmospheric CO2, the ocean is vital to climate change. Again, marine bacteria that break down methane could make biofuels. By addressing climate change globally and transforming clean energy, the deal indirectly helps Bangladesh. International cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable coastal areas from climate change is enabled under the pact.

There has been a rise in transnational threats, including piracy and illicit fishing in the Bay of Bengal. The UN High Seas Treaty is anticipated to increase maritime safety by encouraging governments to collaborate and share intelligence. This means a safer marine environment for Bangladesh, where fishermen have no reason to fear for their safety and criminals have no desire to leave.

There may be a palpable concern about obtaining sufficient funds for the treaty’s implementation. By establishing a shared trust fund to pay for technological transfers, capacity building, and training for low-income governments so they can participate in scientific missions and development, the Treaty aims to offer a framework for the equitable distribution of high seas earnings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that $500 million will be required initially and yearly $100 million may be needed for a special implementation and capacity-building fund.

Despite its complexity, such as the potential harm of deep-sea mining on sensitive ecosystems, world leaders and environmental activists are optimistic about the treaty. According to Mads Christensen, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, “we welcome so many governments signing the UN Ocean Treaty. This sends a powerful signal to the world that governments will maintain momentum towards protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030, after the historic Treaty agreement back in March. But this signing is a purely symbolic moment, now politicians must bring the Treaty home and ensure it is ratified in record time”.

Although Bangladesh is devoting a lot of resources to the blue economy and other development initiatives, environmental deterioration and climate change are major concerns. In the context of a global landscape characterized by enormous environmental and climatical concerns, the United Nations High Seas Treaty emerges as a source of optimism and promise for the nation of Bangladesh. It guarantees the continued success of the “Land of Rivers” and the protection of the waterways that connect us to the rest of the globe. The importance of this deal to Bangladesh goes beyond politics and directly threatens the country’s survival. Let us seize this opportunity as we navigate the murky oceans of the 21st century and collaborate with the rest of our neighbors to establish a safer, more prosperous maritime future.

Continue Reading

South Asia

No Alternatives for Taliban but Danger of Future Civil Conflict

Avatar photo



afghanistan terrorism
A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Events and processes in Afghanistan are moving according to a negative scenario. Despite the significant information blockade, there is still some news regarding the situation in Afghanistan. The country’s economy is deplorable and has no significant moves towards stabilization. The humanitarian situation is stable but critical. Political repression against the Taliban’s opponents continues and became systemic. And it mainly occurred against national minorities, in particular Tajiks and Hazaras. The actions of global terrorist groups also cause particular concern and warning among reliable international players. Statements regarding threats from international terrorists are made by the UN, the USA, India, and the countries of the European Union. 

Paradoxically, despite the difficult economic and social situation, political transformations are still problematic to foresee. Afghanistan under the Taliban run is a classic case from the theory of political science of a rigid militarized authoritarian regime with average legitimacy. The masses cannot express their political views given repressions by government institutions. There is no rule in Afghanistan yet that could challenge the Taliban nationally. Currently, and possibly in the mid-term, there is no alternative to the Taliban. The opposition, consisting of national minorities, does not have the necessary military potential and support among the population. Regardless, international diplomatic circles and representatives of the world’s leading countries actively explain to the Taliban leaders that such a situation won’t last forever. The world centers of power are not interested in the total destabilization of Afghanistan and the beginning of a civil-military confrontation there. As the socio-economic situation of the Pashtuns, who form the core of the Taliban, deteriorates, contradictions can result in an armed uprising. And even the most oppressed ethnic groups will sooner or later begin to resist the authoritarian control of the Taliban.

One of the factual aspects of possible future destabilization could be Pakistan’s policy. Even though Islamabad is the key creator, sponsor, and mentor of the radical Islamist movement, which used terrorism as a method of political struggle, there are certain contradictions between them. In September, the Pakistani leaders decided to expel all Afghan refugees illegally living in the country. According to Pakistani media, this means that about 1.1 million Afghans will go to Afghanistan in the near future. The Pakistani government states that this number of Afghans have fled to Pakistan in the past two years — in addition to several million others living in the neighboring country for years. The decision to expel illegal Afghan refugees was made against the background of the fight against terrorism, currency smuggling, and illegal trade in sugar and fertilizers.

Ariana News informs that the plan to deport more than 1.1 million Afghan refugees was supported by the government and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. It also means the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Pakistan consulted with all interested parties, including the Taliban. The Pakistani police have raided Afghan migrants over the past few months. Hundreds have been arrested, and many have already been dispatched homeland. Most Afghan migrants are Pashtuns from the poorest rural areas, but their mass flow to Afghanistan will lead to additional economic and social difficulties.

The contradictions between the Taliban and Pakistan also lie on a different plane. So, the recent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, wreaking havoc, paints an alarming picture of rising instability across Pakistan. Especially the TTP’s recent incursion into the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan is very concerning for the Pakistan military apparatus. According to the Pakistanis themselves, after the seizure of power in Kabul, terrorist groups intensified on the territory of Pakistan. Before the Taliban’s victory, official Islamabad spread the narrative that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban were unrelated. However, today, it is becoming evident that this is not the case, and strengthening one unit leads to activating another. 

It is difficult to predict the political events in Afghanistan, but it is evident that without attention from the responsible world centers of power, destabilization and strengthening of the international terrorist underground is unavoidable. 

Continue Reading

South Asia

The Tug-of-War of Regionalism in South Asia

Avatar photo



The South Asian area, encompassing countries such as Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, exhibits a significant degree of variety, accompanied by a multitude of intricate factors. The establishment of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) in 1985 was a sincere endeavor to cultivate regionalism within the subcontinent. Notwithstanding its conceptual merit, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has seen limited success in realizing its goals, principally due to the persistent tensions between its prominent constituents, India and Pakistan. The absence of coherent political intent has adversely affected regionalism in South Asia.

From an economic standpoint, it can be observed that South Asia is now experiencing rapid growth, positioning it as one of the most swiftly developing areas globally. India, characterized by its burgeoning middle class and notable technical progress, assumes a prominent role in the global arena. Nevertheless, smaller economies such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have comparable growth rates. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) implemented by China has developed as a notable economic entity in the area, giving rise to both prospects and concerns. The issue of significant debt obligations linked to Chinese investment has raised apprehension.

The political structures in South Asia exhibit significant variations. India, being the greatest democracy globally, stands in contrast to its neighboring nations, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have had instances of military coups and civil turmoil throughout their history. In contrast, Bhutan continues to function as a monarchy, employing a distinctive methodology for pursuing progress, which is evaluated by means of Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross Domestic Product. The presence of a wide range of political systems presents significant obstacles to the process of regional integration. The growing engagement of China in South Asia has prompted a reconfiguration of geopolitical interests. Nations such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives are progressively turning their attention to China in search of economic opportunities and military collaborations, thereby introducing complexities to the regional dynamics. Moreover, the United States’ strategic shift towards Asia highlights the growing significance of this area within the context of global geopolitics. Given the competing interests of these more influential nations, the smaller nations within the area frequently encounter themselves ensnared in a precarious position.

The South Asian area has a diverse array of religions and ethnicities, contributing to the intricate nature of interregional dynamics. The socio-political ramifications of the Hindu-Muslim split, Buddhist communities, and Sikh populations, among other groups, are noteworthy. The adverse impact of the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka and the religious difference between India and Pakistan on the promotion of regionalism is evident.

Border issues, such as the ongoing Kashmir war between the neighboring nations of India and Pakistan, pose substantial obstacles to the establishment of regional cooperation. Moreover, the matter of terrorism, sometimes endorsed by states or at the very least allowed by certain nations, presents a security concern that complicates the prospect of enhanced collaboration. The subject of climate change is gaining prominence as a matter of great importance that South Asian nations cannot afford to overlook. The geographical area under consideration encompasses many climatic hotspots, notably the Himalayas and the Sundarbans, which are progressively vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as the retreat of glaciers and the escalation of sea levels. The presence of environmental concerns has the potential to intensify pre-existing social and political conflicts. Water shortage has the potential to exacerbate disputes between governments that have shared river systems. As the South Asian area increasingly assimilates into the global digital world, it is imperative for the region to confront and address the challenges pertaining to cybersecurity. This encompasses a wide range of issues, spanning from safeguarding data privacy to addressing the challenges posed by online radicalization and cyber warfare. The significance of the socio-political components of these difficulties cannot be overstated, as the progress in technology has the potential to either facilitate regional collaboration or exacerbate rivalry and conflict.

The subject of gender equality in South Asia is undergoing significant socio-political transformations. The involvement of women in politics, business, and social action is seeing a notable upward trend, potentially yielding significant consequences for the growth and cooperation of the area. Nevertheless, persistent challenges such as cultural barriers, institutional inequalities, and gender-based violence remain significant obstacles.

The significant impact of media on creating public perception and subsequently affecting socio-political dynamics cannot be emphasized enough. Within the context of South Asia, the media frequently assumes a dual function, wherein it may serve as a conduit for promoting comprehension and collaboration or, alternatively, as a mechanism for disseminating propaganda that exacerbates societal divisions. The aforementioned phenomenon is clearly observable in the manner in which media outlets across different nations depict their neighboring countries, hence exerting a substantial influence on the potential for regional collaboration.

In light of evolving global dynamics, governments in South Asia are actively forging alliances that extend beyond their conventional allies. The interplay between India’s burgeoning ties with the United States, Pakistan’s alignment with China, and Sri Lanka’s approach to Russia has significant implications for regional politics. The task of managing these collaborations while sustaining regional stability is a multifaceted endeavor that necessitates careful equilibrium on the part of each country involved.

The socio-political dynamics of South Asia are multi-faceted, influenced by a rich tapestry of historical events, cultural diversities, and geopolitical factors. While traditional challenges like territorial disputes and political polarization continue to hinder regionalism, new dimensions such as climate change, cybersecurity, and gender equality are adding layers of complexity. However, despite these challenges, there remains an untapped potential for collaboration and growth. As South Asia evolves, understanding these intricate dynamics will be key to unlocking the region’s full potential.

Continue Reading