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

Village of Wosulwali Kolangar

By Mathieu Potter

Acknowledging the precarious security situation in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Nicholson spoke before Senate officials in February of 2017 and requested several thousand additional troops for operations on Afghan soil. However, as the 30,000-soldier troop surge under then-President Barack Obama demonstrated, an increase in military force is at best a band-aid solution to Afghanistan’s instability and has proven insufficient to achieve sustainable peace. Moreover, a larger foreign presence has the very real potential to occasion an escalation of the conflict. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has stated that a troop surge is not the answer, and risks reinvigorating the Taliban’s narrative of the threat posed by foreign occupation.

why it is anything other than a fantasy to suggest that 20,000 or even 30,000 troops in Afghanistan under Trump — as opposed to the 8,400 U.S. troops currently deployed there as part of a NATO support mission — will be able to achieve the victory denied to 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan under Obama in 2010?

The reality is that Afghanistan’s struggles with security, good governance, and economic development are the result of a web of interconnected factors. There is no quick fix solution to Afghanistan’s woes, but there are policy avenues that promise potential solutions to some of the more pressing issues.

First and foremost, an end to political infighting and the implementation of key reform initiatives are necessary if the central government in Kabul is to retain any shred of legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Afghans. While the international community, whose financial aid supports much of the NUG’s activities, should increase its pressure on the Afghan President and the Chief Executive to agree to a constructive power-sharing relationship, political harmony cannot be imposed. Good governance will above all demand that Afghans in positions of power rise to the responsibilities of their offices and act in the interests of their nation.

The postponement of political and electoral reform – along with the NUG’s very public displays of infighting – deprives the NUG of its authority and legitimacy among the Afghan people. There is evidence that popular discontent is growing.

Regarding the insurgency, over a decade of conflict has made clear that use of force will not bring a decisive end to violence. Strong political commitment to the peace process is imperative in light of the Taliban resurgence and the emergence of the ISIS affiliate ISK in Afghanistan. A recent agreement with long-time warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami group proves that peacemaking is a viable alternative to counterinsurgency. While the situation with the Taliban is decidedly more complex, developments within the group may serve to create an opening for peaceful negotiation.

 There is growing disaffection within the Taliban about the armed campaign. Many Taliban feel that the war has lost direction and purpose, and is corrupting the movement.

The group’s territorial gains in 2016 were often costly and demoralizing. Moreover, reports indicate that the Taliban’s top leadership is viewed as weak, and the movement is gradually splintering into factions. As such, elements within the Taliban may be increasingly receptive to peacemaking. Opportunities such as these cannot be squandered, and it is imperative that Kabul place the peace process at the core of its long-term security strategy.


For more on the American calls for additional troops, see: Trump Has Called the Afghan War a “Mess”. His Generals Want To Escalate It (Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept, 15 March 2017)

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 developments within the Taliban, see: Ready for Peace? The Afghan Taliban after a Decade of War (Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, RUSI Publications, 31 January 2017)




U.S. Missile Strike in Syria

For an important statement on the U.S. cruise missile strike in Syria, see: US airstrikes in Syria: US forces must avoid repeat of civilian casualties (Amnesty International, 07 April 2017)

For more on the legality of the U.S. action in Syria, see: Illegal but legitimate? The consequences of U.S. action in Syria (Craig Forcese, The Globe and Mail, 6 April 2017)


Tags: Afghanistan, Donald Trump, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hamid Karzai, Hezb-e-Islami, ISK, Islamic State, National Unity Government, Syria, Taliban, Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Troop surge