Pick­ing up the Pieces

With re­build­ing ef­forts un­der­way, Afghanistan will con­tinue to pose a chal­lenge for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and re­gional pow­ers even af­ter troops with­draw in 2014.

Southasia - - Cover Story - By Daud Khat­tak Daud Khat­tak is Act­ing Di­rec­tor at Mashaal Ra­dio, RFE/RLPrague, Czech Repub­lic. As a se­nior jour­nal­ist, he has cov­ered the Tal­iban move­ment in Pak­istan and Afghanistan. He writes for the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

T he Brus­sels-based In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG), in its re­cent report on Afghanistan, fo­cused on what has been the sub­ject of dis­cus­sions from com­mon Afghans to the closed­door meet­ings of diplo­mats: what is go­ing to hap­pen to the coun­try af­ter 2014? This will be a de­ci­sive year for Afghanistan and the global com­mu­nity as in­ter­na­tional troops be­gin with­draw­ing af­ter hand­ing over full charge of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity to nascent Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

The report ti­tled, “The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Tran­si­tion” paints a bleak pic­ture of the fu­ture of an al­ready strug­gling na­tion. It men­tions a government cri­sis likely to emerge from the fail­ure of the ex­ist­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion to hold pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on time and free of fraud as re­ported dur­ing 2009 as well as eth­nic di­vi­sions among the Afghan civil so­ci­ety. Most trou­bling, how­ever, is that the report ques­tions the ca­pa­bil­ity of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces to ab­sorb shocks from var­i­ous eth­nic groups in case of a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis and from the Tal­iban and other armed groups, anx­iously await­ing in­ter­na­tional with­drawal.

The Afghan government an­grily re­acted by terming the ICG report as “non­sense and garbage.” A government spokesper­son, in an ap­par­ent bid to dis­pel the de­spair ex­pressed in the report, said that NATO with­drawal in 2014 is not go­ing to make any dif­fer­ence pro­vided the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ful­fils its pledges of fu­ture sup­port. The spokesper­son is right to some ex­tent as the pro­com­mu­nist government in Afghanistan lasted for three years in­stead of three months as was pre­dicted by many ob­servers fol­low­ing the with­drawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and col­lapsed only when the aid pipe­line from the crum­bled USSR dried up.

Equally en­cour­ag­ing are the re­marks from Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai stat­ing that he would not stay a sin­gle day be­yond his con­sti­tu­tional term in of­fice and would hand over power to the one who emerges suc­cess­ful in the next gen­eral elec­tions. Let’s be­lieve the Afghan government spokesper­son for a moment that the 350,000 se­cu­rity forces, where the de­ser­tion rate is 20 per­cent right now, would stay in­tact and fight the Tal­iban. Let us also trust Pres­i­dent Karzai when he says that he is not go­ing to stay in of­fice be­yond his con­sti­tu­tional term. There still re­main sev­eral ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ which irk the minds of Pres­i­dent Karzai’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

What if the pres­i­dent sup­ports a mem­ber of his fam­ily and uses his in­flu­ence to elect him as the next leader of the war-torn coun­try thus pro­vid­ing an ex­cuse to the mi­nor­ity Ta­jiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras etc to chal­lenge the process, mir­ror­ing what hap­pened dur­ing the 2009 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions? And who will guar­an­tee that the de­ser­tion rate of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces will drop af­ter the with­drawal and lo­cal troops will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to de­fend their land against the em­bold­ened Tal­iban? Ad­di­tion­ally, the years of war and civil strife have cre­ated se­ri­ous di­vi­sions in the Afghan so­ci­ety, leav­ing peo­ple with a ma­jor trust deficit. Pash­tuns, Ta­jiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and oth­ers seem more in­ter­ested to safe­guard the rights of their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties and rally be­hind their eth­nic lead­ers in­stead of stand­ing be­hind a na­tional char­ac­ter.

But this is only one side of the pic­ture. Apart from the sev­eral ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ con­nected with the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan, some en­cour­ag­ing signs do emerge. De­spite the in­creas­ing num­ber of Tal­iban at­tacks, the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces (ANSF) are very much in­tact and are of­ten praised by the of­fi­cers of the in­ter­na­tional troops in their fight against the Tal­iban. Apart from a few green-on­blue at­tacks over the months, there is no news of mutiny by units or a bid by of­fi­cers to over­take the government.

Young lead­er­ship is emerg­ing in the coun­try and new po­lit­i­cal par­ties and al­liances are be­ing formed il­lus­trat­ing a grow­ing trend to­wards bal­lot in­stead of bul­let. It is a fact that sev­eral func­tionar­ies of the Afghan government and a num­ber of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are on the list of hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions for vi­o­lat­ing hu­man rights dur­ing the civil war and are ac­cused of still pos­sess­ing their piles of arms and pri­vate mili­tias. The other side of the coin shows that voices are be­ing raised against such peo­ple from time to time by the Afghan so­ci­ety.

Afghan par­ents, who were once proud of their chil­dren serv­ing as holy warriors, are now more con­scious of arm­ing them with mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion, skills and knowl­edge. This change in mind­set can be judged from new strate­gies. The Tal­iban who once openly spoke against girls’ ed­u­ca­tion now say that they are not op­posed to the ed­u­ca­tion of women “if that is in line with Is­lam.”

That Afghanistan has not achieved sta­bil­ity with leaps and bounds is no doubt a fact, but ex­pect­ing this would re­quire a deeper look into ground re­al­i­ties. Afghanistan finds it­self in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion, marred by three decades of war, huge man­power liv­ing abroad, a pop­u­la­tion im­pov­er­ished by war and in­ter­fer­ence by neigh­bors as well as re­gional and su­per pow­ers.

Though the ICG warn­ing of “time is run­ning out” may be meant for the Afghan government and the Afghan peo­ple, time is es­sen­tially run­ning out largely for Afghanistan’s neigh­bors to stop in­ter­fer­ing and let Afghans de­cide which way they would like to be gov­erned. Time is run­ning out for re­gional pow­ers to stop de­feat­ing each other on the Afghan turf and har­ness co­op­er­a­tion in­stead of con­fronta­tion. Time is also run­ning out for NATO part­ners to stop im­pos­ing a so­lu­tion of their choice and sup­port Afghans to find a real­is­tic so­lu­tion to the cri­sis while prevent­ing re­gional dom­i­nance.

In the face of mount­ing Tal­iban strength in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas, a fail­ure in sta­bi­liz­ing Afghanistan would not only prove to be a mam­moth waste of blood and money but will also in­vite more de­struc­tion in the re­gion, en­dan­ger­ing peace in the greater South Asian re­gion.

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