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Ruttig on Afghanistan’s prospects

October 25, 2014

Summary: Thomas Ruttig sees little optimism for the next 2-3 decades in Afghanistan.
Thomas RuttigI was lucky enough to have the internationally renowned Afghanistan expert, Thomas Ruttig, from the Afghanistan Analysts Network drop in on my little part of the world the week before last as a host of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and the Association of Foreign Affairs in Malmö. Given that the venue was a mere 10 minutes away by bicycle, it seemed ill-advised and impolite not to take the opportunity to hear him speak on the situation in Afghanistan. So here are a few notes from his talk.

As ever, he mixed pessimism and pragmatism in a user-friendly way. Although the election crisis was now as resolved as it was perhaps ever going to be, there remained other crises to confront – social, economic and, of course, military.

Election
•Because of the extensive fraud, controversy and confusion, there was no official “result” announced, although it is generally accepted that Ashraf Ghani is likely to have had the majority of the votes, with Dr Abdullah Abdullah in second place in approximately a 55% to 45% finish.
• The Government of National Unity (with Ghani as President and Abdullah as some form of Prime Minster/CEO/Second in Command is now slowly being formed. Actually forming a government in this way, although it was perhaps the best way to resolve the impasse may have undermined the democratic process.
• Command over the army, police and intelligence institutions will be important: these bodies are still not really “state” institutions, more loyal to specific factions.
• Ashraf Ghani appears to have reopened the Kabul Bank court case (a massive fraud and embezzlement scam in which highly placed senior officials were allowed to borrow money which then disappeared). Ruttig saw this as a good sign that Ghani will not be afraid to tackle fraud and impunity amongst senior individuals.

IMG_0781Ongoing conflict
• The Taliban are resilient, with their morale strengthened. They have new tactics involving larger-scale operations as they are more confident and have to be less concerned about the impact of American airpower as ISAF pulls out. But the Taliban unable to administer and control areas.
• As an interesting aside (for me at least), Ruttig mentioned the myth that “Chechen” fighters had ever been involved in fighting in Afghanistan (presumably either with the Taliban, HIG, Haqqani or Al Qaeda). He said he had researched every lead and suggestion and found them wanting. As far as he was concerned, the Chechens had never fought in Afghanistan.
• Regarding attempts at a political solution, this “hasn’t really made much progress”. Ghani and the government need to make up their mind what to do with the Taliban – fight or talk. The conditions for enabling talks have deteriorated – there are no concepts concerning what to do.
• In terms of overall international military assistance after 2015, Ruttig suggested that it might not be a bad idea for German troops (amongst others) to remain in Afghanistan after 2016.
• As a result of the conflict the mood for investment overall in the country is negative – Afghans are taking their money out of the country.

Conclusions

• Ruttig favoured the Ghani approach of having “national dialogues” involving the country in debates about its direction, noting that the structural problems in the country – social, political, economic – were bigger problems than the Taliban.
• Overall the prospects are pessimistic. There are still a lot of risks for Afghanistan. The prospects are for 2-3 decades of a “very hard situation” for the country. Everyone is looking at Ghani now to see what he does and how successful he is.
• In response to a direct question about with it was fair to repatriate Afghan asylum seekers in other countries, e.g. Europe, Ruttig gave an emphatic “no”, adding, “You are not sending them back to a good future”.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2014 3:11 pm

    just found this – thanks for the flowers (‘renowned…’, ‘user-friedly…’).it was nice to meet you, and thanks for summarising my presentation. btw, the research on the chechens is mainly christian bleuer’s, a brilliant guy on central asian and other affairs. (watch the AAN website for more by him around christmas)

  2. December 22, 2014 9:59 am

    Thanks Thomas! Will take a look – the importance of the work that you and the AAN team do will increase in the coming year, I think, as numbers of credible sources dwindle. Cheers, Tim

    • PeerPeters permalink
      April 19, 2017 4:49 pm

      Dear Tim Foxley, the picture of Thomas Ruttig, october 2014 is with you? I am a picture-editor with DER SPIEGEL magazine, can we use it in an article this week? Regards PP

      • April 20, 2017 9:55 pm

        Hi – no the picture isn’t mine, you’d need to check with Thomas… 🙂

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