Afghanistan After the US Withdrawl
Author: Ebenezer Agbeko
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 07/18/2014
Sandwiched among Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and also deficient in vital economic resources, Afghanistan has been engulfed in conflicts and war spanning many decades. Although poor leadership coupled with poorly designed and shortsighted domestic policies that engender international isolation and non cooperation by its belligerent leaders particularly the Taliban regime cannot escape emphasizing or mentioning for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, equally important factor is the forces of external powers that either fuel the conflicts by playing on internal Afghan ethnic fragmentation or tribal divisions and grievances or initiate them in a bid to achieve their parochial interests and geopolitical agendas in the region. Some regional states such as Pakistan, India, and the Islamic Republic of Iran have all in one way or the other, and in different degrees and forms, used and continue to use Afghanistan as a proxy to battle out their interests and political influence in the region. Again, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, there is little or no argument that Afghanistan virtually became the turf or the battleground upon which the Soviet Union and the United States locked horns in their ideological, military and politico-economic competition in the international system.
This article examines how the actions and/or inactions of Afghanistan’s regional states impact the reconstruction and stabilization project in the country vis-à-vis US geostrategic policy in Afghanistan and towards the region. It discusses or points out avenues in which such regional neighbors as Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and India can facilitate and contribute positively to the recovery of Afghanistan. The article also discusses the planned US troop withdrawal in December 2014, and how the departure of US and NATO’s International Assistance Security Force (ISAF) could potentially dictate the behavior (or foreign policy) of Afghanistan’s neighbors. This article contends that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are not ready and will not be up to the task of taking charge of security in Afghanistan post-US and international community’s disengagement from the country. It is also argued that post-December 2014, Afghanistan and its citizens will face monumental security challenges and the manner in which the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan National Army (ANA) as well as the country’s political leadership handle such security dilemmas will determine, to a large degree, whether things will fall apart or hold together in Afghanistan.
HOW AFGHANISTAN’S REGIONAL NEIGHBORS IMPACT ITS RECOVERY/RECONSTRUCTION AND STABILIZATION
Today, in post-Taliban Afghanistan, reconstruction of the political, economic, legal, and security apparatuses should be a shared responsibility between international aid partners and the regional states. By deeply and rigorously involving the regional states in Afghanistan’s recovery efforts beyond the current levels, and in terms of contributing towards rebuilding the country’s security forces (police and military), judiciary and legal infrastructure, political system education, as well as Afghanistan’s economy states like Pakistan, Iran, and India become constructive forces and important stakeholders in Afghanistan’s recovery and future, as well as partners of development in the country instead of being disruptive political influences and security banes.
Regional power engagement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts is very crucial because for Afghanistan to survive, flourish, be economically viable, stable, and democratic, ensure rule of law, and educates its citizens, particularly its children and young women either in the short-term or long-term as the Bush administration envisaged, it will require the assistance of its neighbors. Afghanistan cannot, geographically speaking, detach itself from its neighbors and neither can its neighbors detach themselves from Afghanistan. In his work Afghanistan and its Neighbors, Marvin Weinbaum (2006, 1) writes “…Afghanistan’s future and that of the regional states are closely bound. Constructive partnerships involving Afghans and their neighbors are essential to regional stability.” It is apparent that Afghanistan on its own does not have the spine to be able to create better economic conditions and conducive security environment for its citizens without the combined assistance of its regional states, international aid agencies, development partners, NGOs and the international community as a whole. Such a holistic approach to reconstruction will not only quicken the pace of the rebuilding process but also build the confidence and faith of the locales in the process. Local partnership, inclusion, participation and a sense of community ownership is important in catalyzing local development and facilitating success in any reconstruction project in post-conflict states.
Myriad challenges bedevil Afghanistan on many fronts. For example, building a strong national army and police force that are combat-ready and possess the capacity to manage or contain security situations in the country, constructing an impartial and effective legal system with functioning institutions, and eradicating opium or poppy cultivation among others. These are some of the areas that Pakistan and Iran can be particularly effective. India has contributed approximately $565 million to the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the six largest donor – divided among infrastructure repair, humanitarian assistance, and instantiation and human resource development (Weinbaum 2006, 12). Though this is a significant contribution, New Delhi ought to do more in the areas of human resource development, education, and humanitarian assistance because these aspects of development directly and concretely impact the lives of the Afghan people, especially women, children and the youth. Also, there could be security cooperation among these countries where intelligence can be shared especially about the Taliban and al-Qaeda who pose great security threat not only to the recovery and stabilization of Afghanistan but also to the stability of other regional states, Iraq and Pakistan in particular.
It is incontrovertible that Pakistan’s security landscape also hinges upon its symbiotic security relationship with Afghan security. Afghan insurgency bleeds also into Pakistani territory thereby culminating in frequent terrorist attacks against Pakistani security forces. As Janjua (2009, 24) noted “Pakistan’s security milieu has been intertwined with the Afghan situation since 1979”. Just as jihad was mounted from Pakistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as other radicalized Islamic groups (for example, the Haqqani Network) have found sanctuary in Pakistan (Rudra and Farrell 2011; Coll 2010; Waldman 2010). These groups utilize Pakistani border regions and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or Regions (FATA/R) of Khyber Pashtunkwa, Baluchistan, and Karachi as safe havens and breeding ground (Waldman, 2010). The radical and terrorist groups use these places as staging ground to organize and to put up anti-coalition resistance, and to carry out cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, thus breaching and undermining Afghanistan’s territorial sovereignty. Killings and arrests of high profile Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership in Pakistan, including Osama Bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces, not only entrenches already held notions of Pakistan’s long standing relationship with these radical groups, but also augments India’s assertion and accusation of Pakistan as openly harboring and training terrorists and radical elements in areas including the Kashmir region. For years it (Pakistan) adopted the policy of resorting to non-state radical or militant actors as an integral part of its foreign policy machinery (Riedel 2011). The Pakistani intelligence arm (the ISI) for example, has provided armaments, logistical support, technical support and planning advice to the insurgency (Waldman 2010). Weinbaum (2006, 9) pointed out “There is little doubt that top Taliban commanders find sanctuary within Pakistan and opportunity to plan and launch operations. Pakistan’s Afghan policy appeared for much of the international community as one piece with its support for the Kashmir insurgency and terrorism.”
For Pakistan to be a constructive force in Afghanistan, its security forces the ISI in particular ought to envision a new security future of Afghanistan where cross-border attacks emanating from Pakistani soil are treated with all the seriousness they deserve and halted or nip in the bud. This paradigm shift will not only dramatically curtail Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan which is also bleeding from similar attacks. The reorientation of Pakistan’s strategic and security policies is therefore paramount to the long-term stability of both countries and the region at large. Pakistan should also keep the supply routes that snake into Afghanistan open, safe and secured, at least minimally, to the NATO and the Coalition Forces to facilitate delivery of important supplies to the Afghan side. Needless to say, these supply routes could potentially (if not already) become an important contributor to commerce and trade on both sides of the border thereby boosting the economies of the two countries, as well as opening up economic opportunities for the teaming youth in both states and the region generally.
In their work “Who owns the peace?” Goodhand and Sedra (2010, 81) also identified some of the challenges associated with the Afghan recovery: First, “How to build security institutions robust enough to counter growing insecurity, but also fiscally sustainable and not prone to abuses of power and violations of rights”, and also, “How to catalyze economic growth and investment, while promoting redistributive policies that generate social inclusion.” It is incontrovertible that building robust security institutions will require both the assistance of the international community and the cooperation of regional neighbors for such institutions to be lasting and effective. This is because each regional state retains links to client networks in Afghanistan that are capable of fractionalizing and incapacitating an emerging Afghanistan (Weinbaum 2006). Therefore, disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating into Afghan society hundreds of private militias will require cooperation and assistance of Afghanistan’s regional neighbors.
American strategic policies in the region, particularly about Afghanistan will determine, to a large degree, the course, the shape and form that Pakistani and Iranian actions take in Afghanistan and the region in general. There are already suspicions of Déjà Vu in the region and among Afghanistan’s regional neighbors that America and the international community will again abandon the region just as they did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and more especially after Osama Bin Laden had been killed. In the light of this suspicion, each and every regional neighbor of Afghanistan would like to position itself, and balance its interests now, and for the future in the event of U.S. and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal from the Afghanistan. Many of them had to bear the brunt of such action of the international community particularly the United States backsliding on its commitment to the region in the 1980s. This abandonment created a void in an already bruised and weak state (Afghanistan) and is one of the major reasons responsible for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda gaining a stranglehold on Afghanistan and using it as a breeding ground to orchestrate their diabolic attacks. Janjua (2009) argues twice Pakistan served as a close and crucial ally of the US, first against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and second against the Taliban/Al-Qaeda in 2001, and in both wars Pakistan not only was the closest ally but the worst sufferer as well. In the light of these antecedents, Islamabad would like to calibrate its security policy towards Afghanistan and the region in such a manner that the departure of American and coalition forces from Afghanistan will not leave the country (Pakistan) in dire security straits just as a similar vacuum in the previous decades created. Albeit the United States has pledged not to abandon Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal, questions and concerns remain about the depth, type and commitment of US and international engagement (Felbab-Brown 2012).
On the question of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is contended here that if the United States pulls out of the country prematurely (as the Obama Administration plans to do with the December 2014 timetable) without assisting Afghanistan to build a strong and effective national army and police force (NAPF) that has the spine to deal with its own internal security challenges, then Afghanistan will descend into hell, or to be charitable chaos, and go through extremely difficult and trying moments particularly in the face of feeble central government in Kabul. The withdrawal will energize a weak Taliban to regroup and wreak havoc on the country. This is one of the myriad reasons that many analysts think that the 2014 deadline/timetable set by Washington for U.S. troop withdrawal is a bit too hasty. In an address, President Obama stated that after 2014 the US will focus on “two narrow security missions in Afghanistan” namely counterterrorism and training of Afghan National Security Forces (Address to the Nation from Afghanistan, May 2012). It appears the timeline is a reaction, among other things, to the war weariness of both the American public and the US military, as well as the shallow pockets of the U.S. at this particular point in history considering the fact that the country is still recovering from the 2008/2009 economic crunch that created one of the harshest economic conditions since the Great Depression. On the timeline and US withdrawal, Felbab-Brown (2012) argues “In and after 2014, Afghanistan will face a triple earthquake: an economic shock, a likely security rupture, and a political crisis as highly contentious presidential elections are to take place.” Arguing for a longer-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan to best promote enduring freedom, Busby (2012; 58) wrote “In light of ongoing significant transitions in U.S. force structure while leading the security transition effort in Afghanistan, policy makers should emphasize the task of preserving enduring freedom as a product of enduring commitment.”
The 350,000 plus trained Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are, arguably, not ready for the job when the U.S. and NATO forces pull out. Perhaps, the security situation in Iraq today offers the world (Washington in particular) a window into what Afghanistan’s fate may look like after the coalition forces’ departure if Afghan security forces are unable to take charge of their country. Inasmuch as the White House would like the ANSF to be ready and operationally effective, it is apparent that the ANSF are not yet up to the task. Ethnic factionalization and corruption are rampant within the Afghan National Police (ANP) (International Crisis Group Asia Report 2007; Wilder 2007). Additionally, the ANP is plagued or beset with high rates of illiteracy, desertion, drug use, and retention problems (Katzman 2012; Wilder 2007; International Crisis Group 2007). The Afghan National Army (ANA) is also replete with similar challenges. What is more, there is increasing rate of insider attacks or “’green-on-blues’ attacks in which c National Security Forces (ANSF) turn their weapons on U.S. troops” (McDonell et al 2013; Long 2013). Records by ISAF indicate that the number of such attacks increased from two in 2007 to 64 in 2012, and NATO ascribed 75% of the attacks to personal grievance whilst former Interior Minister Haneef Atmar attributed the majority to insurgent infiltration (McDonell et al 2013). There is high level of corruption in the Afghan government which undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of the central government in Kabul (Rudra and Farrell 2011, 272). These problems with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) do not augur well for a unified, cohesive, effective and disciplined security force.
For this reason and numerous others, it is crucial for the United States to keep a military base in the region not only to maintain constant military ties with the Afghan government but also for important geostrategic reasons given the emerging competition between the U.S. and China. Further, the region remains an important pressure point on the Russian Federation which views the region as within its natural sphere of influence. The United States therefore ought to vigorously negotiate with the Afghan government on the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (USABSA), and particularly with President Hamid Karzai on the Status of Forces Agreement (SFA) that will help achieve a military base in the region. It is important to point out, however, that Afghanistan will not completely fall apart or implode after the U.S. pulls out, but the country and its people will greatly be challenged on all fronts considering the keen competition among its regional neighbors. Each state trying to build an influence in Afghanistan; influences and interests that are, almost always, not in agreement. Perhaps, a more of a ‘natural’ political arrangement will take place which will involve the Taliban in one way or the other.
It is therefore crucial for the United States, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, the Coalition partners, international aid givers, donor countries and the international community to rebuild faith in the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, and also assure the regional states that they will not abandon Afghanistan but that the country’s recovery will still occupy a paramount place on their agenda alongside the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) even after the United States’ departure. It is by doing this that the disruptive forces of Afghanistan’s regional neighbors could be harnessed into a positive force and their behavior changed, and the stability of the country and the region achieved. Weinbaum (2006) therefore hit the nail right on the head in arguing that to achieve stability in the region U.S. priorities that are now so unidimensionally focused on counterterrorism must be better aligned with the aspirations of citizens of Afghanistan and those of its neighbors. Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are not ready and will not be up to the task of taking charge of security in Afghanistan post-US and international community’s disengagement from the country. Post-December 2014, Afghanistan will face monumental security challenges and the manner in which the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan National Army (ANA) as well as the post-Karzai Afghan political leadership handle such security dilemmas will determine, to a large degree, whether things will fall apart or hold together in Afghanistan.
Bio: Ebenezer Agbeko, American Public University, School of Security and Global Studies. The author can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org