Quo Vadis Afghanistan
A suicide attack outside a mosque in northern Afghanistan’s Maimana Oct.26 as worshipers gathered for prayers marking Eid al-Adha of Feast of the sacrifice killed at least 41 people and injured more than 50, increasing speculations on whether stability will ever be achievable in Afghanistan, especially after the slated withdrawal of international forces in 2014. The apparent target of the blast was a regional police chief. While authorities put the blame on the Taliban, its spokesman announced that they were investigating who was responsible. Although northern Afghanistan has been more peaceful than the rest of the country, the latest attack appears to be revenge for the killing of Taliban’s district leader along with several militants during an operation by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
It came after the recent surge of so-called insider attacks against U.S. and NATO forces where Afghan security personnel turned their weapons on their foreign partners. This created trust issues between NATO and Afghan forces that led to a change in NATO strategy. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) joint operations with Afghan forces were scaled down in September after the number of ISAF casualties from insider attacks reached 55 this year.
With the withdrawal of international forces in 2014, the ANSF is going to take over the responsibility of securing the country. Although ANSF has started leading many operations, they are still in need of further training and equipment. Without international – especially U.S. – support, it would be difficult for the Afghan government to cover operation expenditures, provide air support and obtain necessary weapons. Keeping at least some of the American forces on the ground to prevent a resurgence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban will undoubtedly assist ANSF.
Moreover, the international funding channeled to Afghanistan for the last 11 years has focused mainly on the economic recovery and kept many Afghans from turning to illegal activities such as drug dealing. The decline in funding will obviously fuel instability. Maintaining a level of necessary foreign investment into Afghanistan, however, depends on security and stability.
Political stability, too, might suffer with the withdrawal of international forces. There will be presidential elections in early 2014 and parliamentary elections the following year. The latest reports highlight the need for reform in the election process. Without them, President Karzai may want to prolong his stay in power. Achieving political stability could also mean bringing the Taliban back into the fold. The latest attack came just before President Karzai repeated his call for the Taliban to join the government. Both the Afghan government and the US have been seeking separate peace negotiations with the Taliban as the deadline nears for foreign troops to leave.
After the long existence of U.S. and NATO forces in the country, it has now become hard to consider a stable future for Afghanistan without them. Just to highlight this, violence has recently intensified across the country, leading to concerns over how the ANSF, often the target of attacks, will manage after most foreign troops leave. The last debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Oct. 22 provided a glimpse of US policy options in Afghanistan. Neither seemed willing to maintain U.S. forces in the country and both agreed on ending their presence there by the end of 2014. They believe that the U.S. completed its mission in Afghanistan, echoing what Vice President Joe Biden said about how “stability and security in Afghanistan is their responsibility, not America’s.”
But is it?