The Geostrategic Nightmare of Afghanistan A geostrategic outlook does not depend on one single topic or attribute of a country. It encompasses concepts from geography, politics, demography, and topography to characterize a region. When we look into the country of Afghanistan we look into the concepts of Afghanistan being land-locked, their vast mountainous region, their relatively large population of extremists as well as the country being over all less developed than many other nations in the world. Afghanistan’s overall geostrategic outlook is often changing due to the struggle for power and the changing government.
The above four concepts play a large role into how the country operates and it’s overall well being. Afghanistan is an interesting candidate for this assessment due to the large influence the United States currently has there and the possibility of that changing in a short period of time due to military withdrawal. The development of Afghanistan is a rocky road filled with war and terror. In 1979 the Soviet Union attempted to invade and conquer Afghanistan. This pushed the country into a long period of turmoil and strife.
Afghan fighters ultimately were victorious in their struggle with the Soviet forces but their victory was short lived. After Soviet forces withdrew the country fell into a disastrous period of warlordism. The country was divided into several regions each controlled by a different military commander. The commanders constantly engaged each other attempting to gain more territory. During the war with the Soviets and the subsequent civil war that followed over 1 million afghans lost their lives and nearly 1/3 of their population took refuge in foreign countries (Byman, 2005).
This set up the scene for the takeover of the Taliban. The Taliban gained support from the people for having a reputation of faith and honesty. As the movement grew it became more extreme leading the country further into devastation. The country fell into the hands of the Taliban in 1996 and up until 2001 was the “government” of Afghanistan. A good determination of the development of a country is its infant mortality rate and age expectancy. As of 2012 the CIA fact sheet ranked Afghanistan as the country with the highest infant mortality rate amongst the globe.
The life expectancy being at 49 years old. When we evaluate the literacy rates we see that only 28% of the population over the age of 15 can read and write. The rate being significantly lower amongst women due to the repression of females during the Taliban reign. A result of the long term war in the country is the environmental nightmare of thousands of abandoned land mines. This is yet another sign of a lesser developed nation not having the technology to properly locate and destroy the landmines which result in nearly 50 casualties a month (Faramarz, 2011). Since the U.
S invasion the country has began to make economical and democratic progress but there are still strides that need to be taken. Unfortunately as U. S. forces begin to withdraw the possibility of the country falling back into the hands of the Taliban is very high. The government is still weak with it only having it’s second democratic election since the constitution’s ratification and the military even weaker with heavy reliance on the U. S. and allied forces. This makes and military strategy null and void. Throughout the military we have seen several instances of Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on U.
S. forces and their fellow soldiers. In regards to the military planning sector of their geostrategic outlook the country has no solid ground. The forces have grown in numbers and they are becoming better trained but their ability to defend against a full scale assault from outside forces would be mediocre at best. Furthermore in analyzing Afghanistan’s geostrategic outlook we must look at the large population of extremists that maintain a stronghold in Afghanistan. The Taliban has already been mentioned above and they are where the radical movement starts.
As the Taliban took control in 1996 it began to become more extreme and militant in their reign. Their leader, Mullah Omar, had the vision that he must spread the laws of god amongst the earth at any cost. A leading scholar in that region, Olivier Roy, stated “of course the problem with the Taliban is that they mean what they say. ” (Byman, 2005) The Taliban was a lone organization up until the time Bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan. The two organizations, Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban began to communicate more frequently and the Taliban soon realized it would be to their advantage to associate with Al-Qa’ida.
Al-Qa’ida was not the only extremist group to join alliance with the Taliban. The Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, Pakistani’s fighting for Kashmir, Chechen fighters battling Russia and Suuni muslims opposed to Iran’s government all took shelter in Afghanistan (Byman, 2005). The extremists based in Afghanistan were responsible for several terrorist attacks on the U. S. In 2000 a naval ship, the USS Cole, was attacked killing 17, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the 2009 failed bombing of flight 253 all have had connections to Al-Qa’ida.
In 2001 when the U. S. and allied forces began their assault on the regime the Taliban fell from power quickly. The Taliban then turned to guerilla warfare, killing aid workers and ambushing military convoys. They have been successful in their guerilla tactics as the war is nearly 11 years old and the U. S. still has forces their still being attacked by the Taliban. When considering the nations outlook it is important to understand the amount of power that the Taliban had in its reign on the country.
A look into the future will hold an estimated “50/50 chance of the country falling into civil war once foreign forces withdraw from the nation” states the former Afghanistan Ambassador to Britain’s government (Coghlan, 2012). Many human rights groups within the country have begun to side with insurgency forces due to the large amount of civilian deaths in the nation. These civilian deaths bolster the Taliban’s mission and cause many citizens to second guess the changing of regimes. In connection to the extremists within Afghanistan is there ability to stay fortified in the countries Mountainous region.
More than two-thirds of the nation is covered by mountains (Saba, 1997). In respect to the military this is largely a negative with very few positives. On the negative side it took long hours of violent fighting and treacherous climbing to eradicate the insurgents from their mountainous bases. An insight into the troubles the mountains cause is the documentary Restrepo. Restrepo was considered the deadliest outpost in Afghanistan due to it’s mountainous region that left little room for error when ambushed or attacked by insurgents. The U. S. nd NATO forces had to adapt their fighting styles for these environments which was a large task. Another negative to having such a large percentage of mountainous regions is the ability to go unnoticed for immense lengths of time due to the impossibility of checking every cavern or crevice in the mountains. Throughout the war in Afghanistan and the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden it was guessed by many officials that he was barricaded in one of the many caverns in the mountainous regions. Without any topographical data or knowledge of the land this made the man hunt very difficult borderline impossible.
The mountainous region of Afghanistan caused many tactical dilemmas to allied forces. From an economical standpoint the large percentage of area covered by mountains limits the agricultural market greatly. The percentage of land suited for agricultural within the country is close to 15 percent with only six percent being utilized. One of the only positives to having such mountainous areas is the ability to create military strongholds once the insurgency has been eradicated. The mountains make assaults from neighboring states difficult due to the treacherous travels.
The region makes military planning difficult and has quite an impact on the economy due to the little room for agricultural. Transitioning from the mountains impact on the land we also note one important aspect to the nation’s economy and it’s heavy reliance on foreign aid is that the country is land-locked, no access to the sea. The nation being landlocked has been a dilemma for NATO strategists during the Afghanistan war especially in 2011 when Pakistan closed two key border crossings to NATO supply convoys due to a deadly military strike taking place in their country (Hodge, 2011).
Due to the country having no access to the sea and an unstable import/export market it makes them heavily reliant on foreign aid. As of 2011 it was founded by the United States Geological Survey that Afghanistan could possibly be the site of trillions of dollars worth of minerals. This was welcome news to the people of Afghanistan but a main problem is transportation and export of these minerals due to the landlocked state. Moving the precious minerals safely from the state is a large concern to many of the privatized mining corporations taking seed in Afghanistan.
A recent deal with Iran will give Afghanistan access to the Iranian port Chabahar which will boost regional cooperation and reduce stress on Pakistan which is where most of Afghanistan’s materials travel through (FOX, 2012). Landlocked countries have always had issues economically due to the limited transportation of their resources and the higher costs of imports. With the new agreement with Iran as well as the mineral discovery the landlocked state could be headed towards economic stability. As we consider the above four concepts in relation to Afghanistan’s geostrategic outlook we see many pitfalls.
As a lesser developed nation their economy is currently based upon opium sales and narcotics trafficking, it’s newly formed democratic government is fighting off civil war and it’s military is still weak and influenced by the insurgency. The country being a poorer nation still has a high infant mortality rate and a rather low life expectancy. Coupling the third world nation with the haven for extremists we see a gloom future. Although the nation has began to make steps forward they’re still very unstable and apt to collapse at any point.
The extremists cause many underlying problems within the military and political planning of both Afghanistan and the allied nations fighting for democracy within the country. The citizens of the nation being unwilling to change and uneducated on the great improvements that democracy can bring is another danger to the nation. As the US forces continue the fighting we see the civilian death toll rising which has caused many human rights groups within the country begin to back the former regime. This could be detrimental to further political planning within the country.
The nations geographic elements of being mountainous and landlocked each place their own amount of stress on the geostrategic outlook based on the lack of agricultural land forcing the country to rely heavily on imports and foreign aid while the landlocked position causes transportation of these goods to become a logistical nightmare. These political, economical and geographical concepts when combined forecast a bleak reality on the country of Afghanistan. Due to the rather weak political structure each of these concepts has a major impact on the country.
The backbone of the economy being opium production is one sign that the country needs to make great strides before the nation will thrive. The impending threat of civil war after the US forces withdraw is another unpredictable factor into whether the country will survive or fall back into the hands of extremists. In regards to geostrategy and geopolitics Afghanistan will be a country to keep a close eye on and either it will become a geostrategic success or a miserable failure.
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