In March 2001, the Taliban began more than a month of bombing and demolition, which destroyed the two III-V century Buddhas of Bamiyan (Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan), part of UNESCO’s world heritage. On 7 October 2001, the Unites States and some allies invaded Afghanistan. This was in response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and a continuation of the war on terrorism (with the specific intent of capturing Osama bin Laden). The result was the fall of the Taliban regime. Towards the end of 2001, the major heads of the Afghani opposition and the diaspora met in Bonn and agreed on a plan to create a new government structure. This led to the appointment of Hamid Karzai as President of the Afghan Authority in December 2001.
As a result of its extremely tormented history, especially in recent years, the country is still in a situation of deep economic and social crisis, besides having directly suffered the consequences of the recent conflict. For example, the Soviet anti-personnel mines still render vast areas of the nation extremely dangerous. Since 2008, the security situation in Afghanistan has continually worsened with the increasingly aggressive action of the Taliban guerrillas, the multiplication of attacks and clashes, and an increased number of victims. Despite the presence of international military forces, the situation deteriorated during the first five months of 2009 with a 60% increase, respect to previous years, of attacks on foreign and government troops. These were especially in Helmand Province, the heart of opium production, but also in Kandahar, Kunar, and Khost, along the Pakistan border. Furthermore, the anti-government forces grouping – a broad accumulation of a single Taliban network – not only consolidated its control of the Pastun area in the south and south-east, but also destabilised formerly peaceful areas in the north and west of the country.
The presidential elections of 2009
On 20 August 2009, in Afghanistan, presidential elections and elections for 34 provincial councils were held. The situation was marked by an escalation of violence during the weeks preceding the elections. The long-drawn-out counting of votes, during which it became increasingly clear that Karzai had been re-elected on the first count (with at least 50% plus one of the votes), ended on 17 September. The Independent Afghan Electoral Commission (IEC) made public the results of the polls from all the centres, giving the outgoing president Hamid Karzai 54,6% of the votes. The broadcasting of the results re-electing Karzai on the first count, however, did not mean he was officially declared the winner. In the meantime, a recount of the votes was under way in many centres following reports of cheating, episodes of intimidation, and irregularities by the main contenders that were upheld by the declarations of EU observers. On 8 September, the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission), ordered the recount of 10% of the votes involving about 2,500 centres, chosen according to definite criteria.
The second count gave Karzai a lower percentage of the votes, enforcing a run-off between the two main contenders, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, scheduled with difficulty for 7 November 2009. Nevertheless, when Abdullah decided to withdraw from the competition, the Independent Central Commission proclaimed Hamid Karzai the winner of the elections of 20 August. The Taliban’s first reaction at the conclusion of the elections was broadcast in a communiqué in which, while it asked the people to remain “united against the enemy and the conspiracy,” and to fight for an Islamic government, stated that all decisions regarding the outcome of the elections had been taken in Washington and then transferred to Afghanistan. It was to the Taliban that Karzai addressed his first appeal after the elections, asking them to lay down their arms and participate in the country’s peace process. Observers stated that the possibility of opening a dialogue with a Taliban element that agreed to a form of power sharing in exchange for giving up their arms was the new political fact of Karzai’s second mandate.
Meanwhile, in May 2011, Bin Laden was found and killed at Abbottabad, a small city in Pakistan. In 2012, after 12 years, the number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan amounted to 1,800 with a further thousand allied fatalities. These are fewer than the number of Afghan civilians killed which, according to some estimates, were between 15,000 and 35,000. In May 2012, the Atlantic alliance sanctioned the approval of the strategic policy of a formal withdrawal from Afghanistan before the end of 2014. It would commence a year earlier with the reduction of conventional troops, replaced by ‘special forces’ and drones, and the transformation of trainers into ‘advisers’.
At present there are 117,000 NATO troops with 350,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen who, starting in 2014, will be obliged to operate independently. But 2014 is a symbolic date and much will depend upon the decisions of the single governments participating in the Afghanistan war. France has decided to abandon the battlefield bringing forward the date of its withdrawal and reducing the role of its fighting troops. Great Britain has announced that it wants to repatriate a sizeable section of its contingent before the reference date (with an increase in the number of drone aircraft for directed attacks). The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has not excluded an anticipated withdrawal of NATO forces from some areas. This change will be characterised, security permitting, by a progressive and speedy process of adaptation, the change of objectives, the speeding up of transition, and the redeployment and reduction of troops. (M.B.)