Afghanistan: A moment of pride or concern?

Was last week’s ceremony marking the official handover of security responsbility from ISAF forces to the Afghan government a moment of pride or concern?

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Afghan forces have taken responsibility for the country's security
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Humayun Bayani
On 24 June 2013 13:03

Last week’s ceremony held in Kabul, marking the official handover of security from NATO/ISAF forces to the Afghan government, was an important moment in recent Afghan history, after a decade-old international intervention in Afghanistan.

And yet, at the same time, another ceremony held hundreds of miles from Kabul in Qatar – marking the official opening of the Taliban’s office in that country – sounded alarm bells over the start of a new era for the conflict in Afghanistan. Is this a moment of pride or concern?

As the final piece of the transition puzzle, the ceremony was greeted with fanfare. But practical questions still remain unanswered as NATO, a party to the war, frantically tries to wrap up its military commitment in order to leave.

Does the Afghan government, specifically its newborn army and police, have the necessary commitment, morale, and loyalty to act alone in the face of Taliban’s threat? Can it remain clear of the tribal and ethnic factionalism that has marred politics in Afghanistan? Has the transition process been a long-term solution for the conflict or is it just another quick fix?

Complicating the situation further, the opening of the Taliban’s office in Qatar cannot be a coincidence. The White House’s announcement that it plans to resume negotiations with the Taliban confirms that the US government, as well as its Afghan counterpart, is hastily stepping up efforts. The former is in a bid to save face in its withdrawal from Afghanistan; the latter for its political survival, especially that of President Karzai’s clique in the vacuum that will be created by the international forces drawdown.

History, from as recently as a decade ago, shows how the quick fix approach in Afghanistan can protract a once-winnable war, and descend the country into chaos. In that instance, the use of warlords and criminal gangs in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda deeply betrayed public confidence that the US was in fact bringing peace, law, and order, and establishing a democratic government.

Now, with the complete handover of security to 350,000 Afghan forces and the White House’s announcement, a parallel comparison can be drawn with the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Soviet-backed government in Kabul was left in vacuum when the USSR had directly entered into talks with the Mujahedeen and withdrew from Afghanistan, after it had received reassurance from Mujahedeen groups to allow Soviet soldiers a safe passage.

While the Soviet-backed government of Najibullah was able to stand against the Mujaheedin for a while, in the end its collapse led to factional fighting and a bitter civil war, the scars of which are still seen on the facades of buildings in Kabul today. The USSR ‘Afghanisation’ of the war was a first step to the full-scale civil war. This time the US wants to Afghanise the war by initiating talks with the Taliban, then letting Kabul suit.

The Taliban’s first official press conference to the media in Qatar affirmed this. According to the Taliban’s spokesman, the group would like to seek a political solution to the conflict in the country and, more importantly, declaring its opposition to any sort of attack from Afghan soil on other countries, reassure the Americans that no incidents similar to 9/11 will be orchestrated from Afghanistan.

But the Taliban still held that it wanted the establishment of an Islamic state in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s emphasis on this fact means business as usual. The Taliban may reassure the US for its security at home, but the group will not relinquish the imposition of a Sharia-based Islamic state.

While the US and its NATO allies may have resorted to withdrawal due to public pressure at home, Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain with the Taliban gaining political recognition and the Afghan government, led by President Karzai, looking for survival beyond 2014. There is still doubt whether the presidential election set for April of that year will be held as expected; so too whether the election will be held free from fraud and irregularities.

President Karzai may well put off or cancel the election under the pretext of a possible crisis in 2014 that will come about as a result of the withdrawal of foreign troops. What is for sure is that it will be Afghanistan’s newborn democracy and human rights that are stuck in the middle of any conflict.

It is a cause for concern then that any decision made in haste may waste years of efforts in Afghanistan to maintain peace and provide the ground for democracy to flourish – not to mention extremism defeated. Quick fixes, far from a solution, can protract and exacerbate a situation.

The Afghan army still remains tenuous and heavily dependent on foreign forces, headed by a weak administration vulnerable to factionalism. While reconciliation seems part of the solution to Afghanistan’s problem, sacrificing progress made by Afghanising the conflict, and letting the Taliban and the Afghan government decide the country’s fate, will slide the country back into the position it found itself in 2001.

The Taliban may reassure the US it will not be harmed but it is the moral obligation of the US and the international community to support the Afghan population in its aspiration for freedom and democracy. This will involve preventing the country from being torn apart by the menace of the Taliban and the warlords whose preeminence is partly due to quick fixes offered by the US itself during the past decade.

Humayun Bayani holds a BA in Political Science and Public Administration from American University of Afghanistan. He is a member of Afghanistan Watch, a civil society organization working in the areas of human rights, justice and transparency

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