Afghanistan Impulsive Strategies
As withdrawal looms closer, instead of convergence, Afghanistan and the U.S seem to be moving in opposite directions.
The December 2014 withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan is viewed with much skepticism although there are solid reasons to believe that the Taliban will not overtake the country even if one assumes that efforts with negotiations, presently underway at different levels, fail and the Taliban continue their armed struggle beyond 2014.
Those predicting a doomsday scenario must assess the changes that have occurred at the social and political levels in Afghanistan over the past 12 years. The country’s civil society is much more aware than ever before and the education ratio has considerably risen, particularly among girls. A political culture is slowly and gradually taking roots by replacing the gun culture and warlordism that became the norm during the civil war till the end of the Taliban regime in late 2001. The role of the media has also been critical for evoking a desire of peace and order in Afghan society. Hundreds of radio and television channels as well as newspapers and magazines have sensitized the Afghan society to the need for lasting peace.
However, many observers and foreign diplomats (both former and current) are not happy with an accelerated pace of withdrawal in 2014. Many believe the Afghan security forces and the political leadership does not possess the capability to sustain the system it is handed over without reaching a compromise with the Taliban, who have amassed power and expanded their networks and lethality over the past few years.
This apprehension was rightly summarized by Kurt Volker, former US permanent representative to NATO, in his op-ed piece for the Financial Times on January 8: “After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the West abandoned Afghanistan. The result: civil war, Taliban rule, human rights catastrophes and an al-Qaeda sanctuary. Now, as we accelerate towards a major troop reduction and transfer of national leadership in 2014, we are on the verge of a repeat.” As part of his solution to the Afghan imbroglio and to prevent the country from skidding into a civil war and haven for exporting extremism once again, Ambassador Volker suggests a Plan B that focuses on “substantive goals, not on the timing of exit.”
True, this could be the best way to
focus first on goals and then on an exit strategy, but this will require much more time which does not seem to be
Now that the number of security forces has reached 350,000, the Afghan parliament is in place and a democratically elected president is going to complete his final term in office during (what many hope) will be a smooth transition, the time is ripe to shift the full responsibility to the Afghans.
an option with the second Obama administration. Public pressure demands an early withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end to the country’s active military involvements abroad. Furthermore, two expensive engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have inflicted insurmountable pressure on the US economy, which is a serious concern for policy makers in Washington.
The Iraq war may have been one of the most expensive and difficult ones waged by the US but the withdrawal decision taken by the first Obama administration was encouraging. The Iraqi government is doing well so far and the security situation is currently stable. In addition, proponents of the withdrawal strategy believe that the US will not stay in Afghanistan for a prolonged period. They can continue supporting the Afghans in ushering in reforms in the social sector and providing financial and defense support, but the ultimate responsibility to lead the country towards a better future will rest with the Afghan leadership.
Now that the number of security forces has reached 350,000, the Afghan parliament is in place and a democratically elected president is going to complete his final term in office, during (what many hope) will be a smooth transition, the time is ripe to shift the full responsibility to the Afghans.
However, there are visible prob- lems that hamper lasting peace and stability. The professional capability of the nascent Afghan army and po- lice, a stagnant economy, weak and poor governance, widespread corruption, a warlord culture and widening ethnic divisions, all ring alarm bells for an already fragile democracy. But one must also look at the building of political institutions, the level of awareness among Afghans, signs of political maturity, the building of roads, schools, hospitals, etc. and the desire for peace even among the warring sides.
Take the Taliban for example. Initially opposed to recognizing the Afghan constitution, today the group has entered into agreements for talks in Qatar; a clear sign that they are ready to respect the constitution and accept the democratically elected Hamid Karzai as the president of Afghanistan. Additionally, the Taliban have also explicitly disassociated themselves from all forms of terrorism and have expressed a desire for peaceful coexistence with regional neighbors and the international community. Call it a change of mind or political maturity, the indicators show a visible change, provided the Afghan leadership, the international backers with the United States leading, and regional neighbors show sincerity by setting aside their individual national interests and joining hands to focus their efforts on Afghanistan.
Expressing optimism over the relatively free press, the young and growing urban population and ‘robust economic growth’, Afghanistan National Security Advisor, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta told the Wall Street Journal in January: “Afghanistan will be much more stable than the countries around it.”