Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nicholas Haysom, has emphasised that the Afghan Government must manage its difficult transition, as the Security Council extended the UN mission there for another year, on March 18, 2016.He highlighted five major hurdles including a contracting economy, an intensifying insurgency, an increasingly divided political environment, significant medium-term financial demand, and the need to achieve progress towards a sustainable peace. “For 2016, survival will be an achievement” for the Government, he said. “Some may criticize this benchmark as being low, but survival does not mean inaction, or merely ‘treading water,’ but it means active engagement in confronting the five challenges,” he added.
On the economic front, there had been an assumption in 2012 that the economy will continue eight per cent annual growth and the exploitation of Afghanistan’s abundant mineral resources would drive economic development. “It is now clear however that neither would occur,” Mr. Haysom said. The World Bank now expects low economic growth, off a low base, which in turn has resulted in high unemployment, with hundreds of thousands of young people entering the work force each year finding no jobs.
Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama: Either Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan; and as a result, further diminish the chances of any progress in the evasive peace process.
On domestic side, leading problem is that diverse non-state security providers – warlords, tribal leaders and local strongmen – diminish the state authority in Afghanistan. The support of international actors has allowed non-state security actors to operate without the consent of communities, and radiate a sense of impunity. This has increasingly made the Afghan central government irrelevant in country’s peripheries.
On political side, President Ashraf Ghani is not taking any bold initiative, his outreach to Taliban factions is limited to small entities having little military capacity. Militarily significant Taliban outfits continue to reject calls for any possible end to the war. Peace is preconditioned by them with full withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Taliban are able to carry out high-profile attacks in all parts of the country, more than ever before; such ground realities make it hard for the Afghan people to swallow the idea that US troops are present to continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Growing strength of the Taliban and the failure of US military strategies to counter their attacks supports the notion that there could be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years. No lessons have been learnt by the Afghan- US side; and there is insistence on repeating the mistakes.
Positive momentum was generated by the successful meeting of the Heart of Asia process hosted by Islamabad and jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani. This led to the decision by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China to create a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to provide decisive impetus to Afghanistan’s peace efforts. Success of this new mechanism was predicated on the shared commitment and shared responsibility of each of its four members.
Task ahead for QCG is complex and arduous and prudence demands that expectations be kept realistic and strategic patience should be exercised. It is essential now to create an enabling environment to operationalize and sustain a peace process that is, at least notionally, Afghan-led. A number of factors are critical to establishing such an environment. There should be consistent and unified positions and declarations from the Afghan government affirming its commitment to work for a negotiated peace. In this regard recent statements by the Afghan leadership and the revamping of the High Peace Council are steps in the right direction. Also, there must be a demonstrated capacity by the Afghan security forces to hold territory on their own. This would help create conditions for the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.
Pakistan is playing its due part by offering to host direct talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. Limitation of Pakistan’s influence got exposed recently. Reportedly, Pakistani officials threatened to expel Afghanistan’s Taliban from bases in Pakistan if they did not join peace talks, but the militants rebuffed the notion. Taliban have won new zones of influence and control from Afghan security forces. They no longer need their Pakistan bases in the same way as they did in 2014 and before, so if Pakistan threatens to expel them, it does not have the same effect. Taliban’s Supreme Council has voted to reject the talks scheduled for March. Taliban are now pouring into potential combat zones for what they say will be a fierce spring offensive to be launched soon.
Earlier on March 07,The United States renewed its appeal to the Taliban to join peace talks and said Afghan and the US forces would have to prepare themselves for the prospect of increased violence in the spring and summer if the insurgent group did not agree to negotiations. Taliban leadership responded by asking its fighters to hide in the mountains to avoid any losses due to stepped-up American bombing.
State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that the United States backed a call by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the Taliban to join talks with the Kabul government. “They have a choice. Rather than continuing to fight their fellow Afghans and destabilizing their country, they should engage in a peace process and ultimately become a legitimate part of the political system of a sovereign united Afghanistan…There is and should be a sense of urgency around getting these talks up and running,” he added. Heavy fighting has continued over the winter from Helmand in the south to Jowzjan province in the north, while suicide attacks have been launched in the capital and other urban centres. In a rare exception this time Taliban continued their tactical attacks even during harsh winters; earlier, each year they used to take a break from fighting from November to March. Taliban’s recent success on the battlefield inside Afghanistan has changed the equation. They have little incentive to step off the battlefield now, given recent gains and those likely to come in the next few months.
A member of the Taliban’s leadership council, recently said that rebel representatives met in Islamabad with Pakistani officials a little more than two weeks ago. “They have asked our representatives to bring more decision-making people to the next meeting … to the meeting with US and Afghan officials. This is their dream, but they will not be able to see our senior commanders,” the Taliban council member said. A senior Pakistani security official with knowledge of the talks said: “I don’t think the talks are dead, but they are definitely plagued by a serious illness…The ones who are in Pakistan…We have told them repeatedly that they will have to leave if they don’t participate in the process…We have done what we can … but influence does not mean control. Those days are long gone.”
War in Afghanistan was a wilful creation, albeit a wrong one. Afghans are urging an end to this needless war. For the well-being of future afghan generations, comity of nations owes to Afghans a responsible end to this war. Writer is consultant to IPRI on Policy and Strategic Response.
— The writer is consultant to IPRI on policy and strategic response.