Calcutta Notebook

Afghan People

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The Afghanistan economy has become totally dependent on American money in the last 20 years. Seventy-five percent of the money spent by the Government was funded by foreign sources. The stoppage of this flow will certainly plunge Afghan Government into near-bankruptcy and the country will slide into an economic crisis. Afghanistan does not have easy alternative sources of income. One possible source is opium trade. About 80 percent of the opium sold in the world is supplied by Afghanistan. However, it is estimated that the Taliban obtained merely 30 crore US dollars per year from this trade. They obtained more income from the “illegal” taxes collected on the legal trade. Second possible source is foreign trade. Indeed Afghanistan can earn money from trade as it has been doing in the past. However, it is moving in the opposite direction. India is among the top four countries in both exports and imports from Afghanistan. The stoppage of these exports will create problems for the Afghan exporters of fruits, dry fruits and spices. Third possible source of income is increased exploitation of its mineral resources. Afghanistan is reportedly sitting on mineral wealth valued at one lakh crore US dollars. However, much of this appears economically unviable. Afghanistan would have exploited this wealth in the last three decades if this wealth was economically viable. China, for example, has made agreement to establish a copper mine in 2007 that has not materialized, in part, due to the unstable political situation. But such mines were not established earlier—say, in the sixties—which casts doubt on the economic viability of this activity. Afghanistan is today encircled on all sides. Foreign assistance has stopped, opium trade is limited, foreign trade with India has been banned, and exploitation of mineral wealth remains uncertain. Therefore, there will be inflation, capital flight and economic distress in the coming months.

The Taliban or the people of Afghanistan are not likely to bend due to this distress, however. There are examples of Syria, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela where people have suffered but stood by their governments’ anti-West postures. The Taliban are deeply religious people. A paper titled “Rhetoric, Ideology, And Organizational Structure of The Taliban Movement” by The United States Institute Of Peace says the four major themes of the Taliban are “national sovereignty, military strength, the sacredness of the Taliban’s jihad, and the authority of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate.” A paper by Mohammad Ayub Mirdad of University of Airlangga, Indonesia says, the particular goal of Taliban “is to replace corrupt and heretical government with the rule of ‘Sharia’ and establish an Islamic state.” A paper by Foreign Policy Research Institute of USA titled, “Afghan Insurgents: Motivations, Goals, and the Reconciliation and Reintegration Process” says, the Taliban are “not exceptional men by any measure but they are highly motivated and committed to the cause and seem to have the endurance to fight for years and even decades. They are not a small cadre of indoctrinated fanatics whose elimination will undermine the fighting ability of the Taliban. Rather, they are ordinary men motivated to fight against those who they feel are destroying their way of life and attacking their values, community and faith.” The Afghan people would be willing to bear through economic distress given such motivations.

The close connection between Taliban and Pakistan is well known. Taliban is a Sunni outfit while Shias constitute about 20 percent of Afghani population. The latter are persecuted. Iran is Shia. Therefore, Iran will be naturally inclined against the Taliban. The second player is China which faces two contradictory objectives. On the one hand, it would like to make Afghanistan an economic vassal state by giving huge loans under the Belt and Road initiative. On the other hand, they have to prevent ideological inroads of Talibani hard-line Islam into Xinjiang religion of Turkestan where China is facing Uighur militants. China is not likely to make a deep relationship with the Taliban in this situation.

India’s situation is made difficult due to the Taliban’s connection with Kashmir. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees writes that the Taliban is connected with a loose coalition of Pakistani religious movements which are recruiting and training volunteers to be sent to fight in Kashmir. The liberation of Kashmir is a holy objective in Talibani parlance. Thus, establishment of normal relations between India and Taliban appears difficult as seen in the stoppage of trade with India by the Taliban immediately after assuming power. The close connection of India with Taliban’s enemy No 1, the United States, puts fuel into this fire. The antagonism of the Taliban towards the US spontaneously flows into an anti-India stance.

[Formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru]

Back to Home Page

Vol. 54, No. 12, Sep 19 - 25, 2021