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  • April 5th, 2017

A bleak outlook for Afghanistan and a way forward: Part One

ISX2013-0039 Members of the 6 Mobile Strike Force Kandak move into position during their validation exercise at the Consolidated Fielding Centre, Kabul, Afghanistan during Operation ATTENTION on September 2, 2013. Photo: Sgt James Funk © 2013 DND-MDN Canada ~ ISX2013-0039 Des membres du kandak de la 6e Force de frappe mobile se mettent en position, pendant leur exercice de validation au Centre consolidé de mise en service de Kaboul (Afghanistan), le 2 septembre 2013, dans le cadre de l’opération Attention. Photo : Sgt James Funk © 2013 DND-MDN Canada

by Mathieu Potter, NPSIA Masters student and Rideau Institute Progressive Public Policy Intern

As conflict in Iraq and Syria captures the bulk of media attention, ongoing instability in Afghanistan has seemingly failed to generate much interest among the Western public. This is perhaps an indication of a broader ‘fatigue’ with Afghanistan’s ongoing and intractable conflict with insurgent groups like the Taliban. Despite a decade-long NATO-led and UN-sanctioned campaign to stabilize and develop Afghanistan, positive progress has largely been overshadowed by an apparently endless series of challenges and setbacks that continue to plague all major sectors of Afghan society.

Some of the challenges identified in the Afghan security sector include issues of loyalty and high desertion rate, the level of corruption and the lack of full control over government militias, human rights violations and the lack of intelligence capabilities and gathering.

According to a recent report to the European Parliament, Afghanistan’s security is degrading. The Taliban insurgency has made significant territorial gains, with estimates placing them in control of close to a fifth of the country.  To make matters worse, the Islamic state in the Khorasan (ISK), an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), emerged in 2015 and currently operates in Afghanistan’s eastern region in reported collusion with the Pakistani Taliban. While the ISK’s ambitions have been stymied by conflict with the Afghan Taliban and pro-government forces, the group (should claims of responsibility be taken seriously) has shown itself capable of inflicting serious casualties with an attack on Kabul’s main military hospital. As violence escalates, the brunt of the conflict is borne by Afghan civilians who, according to UNAMA, suffered their highest number of casualties in 2016 since reporting began in 2009.

With all this politicking, it’s easy to see why Afghans and Afghanistan’s allies alike are frustrated and confused.

Afghanistan’s woes are not solely attributable to its deteriorating security situation. Political power struggles and rampant corruption have severely undermined the legitimacy of the central Kabul government and harmed its support among the population. The delivery of public services remains inefficient and rife with corruption. Meanwhile, meaningful reform and development initiatives have taken a backseat to infighting within the ironically named ‘national unity government (NUG) between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The power struggle extends beyond the executive, with Afghanistan’s parliament voting to oust seven NUG ministers for a perceived failure to achieve their mandates.

With Afghanistan muddling along at best and teetering towards collapse at worst, it is evident that a new approach is required if the beleaguered nation is to have some hope at sustainable peace.

See  Part 2 (later this week) for further analysis and a proposed way forward.

For the European Parliament report, click on: Afghanistan: Challenges and perspectives until 2020 (Directorate-General for External Policies, European Parliament, February 2017)

For more on the Kabul military hospital attack, see: After Deadly Attack on Kabul Hospital, ‘Everywhere Was Full of Blood’ (Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed, The New York Times, 8 March 2017)

On civilian casualties in Afghanistan, see: Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2016 (UNAMA, February 2017)

For more on Afghanistan’s struggle with corruption, see: Corruption in Afghanistan – What Needs to Change (Transparency International, 16 February 2016)

For more on the conflicts within the Afghan government, see: Power Struggle Continues Inside Afghan Government (Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, 29 November 2016)

Photo credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera

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