The Afghan challenge

THE so-called annual spring fighting season in Afghanistan was always going to be a challenge for the President Ashraf Ghani-led national unity government. But already a difficult spring appears to be morphing into a torrid summer. Not only is there a sense that violence is spreading to new areas, it also seems to be intensifying in old trouble spots. Meanwhile, discouraging are the prospects for Mr Ghani`s urgent outreach to the Afghan Taliban achieving anything tangible. Attempts at dialogue appear to have gone nowhere, and the Afghan president has found himself under pressure at home for his allegedly pro-Pakistan stance. Now, with a visit to India scheduled for later this month, the Afghan leader may find that the tightrope he has been treading since assuming office last September is about to get even narrower. But security is only one side of the puzzle. Governance and the economy complete the trio of issues that the national unity government must contend with even as it becomes obvious that the half-year old new dispensation is only able to deliver patchy results at best on those fronts.

Part of the problem is that even as Mr Ghani tries to impose discipline and accountability on the decade-old Afghan state structure, he is emulating his predecessor by zealously centralising decisionmaking. Political disputes aside famously, despite two rounds of proposed nominees, parliament is yet to confirm more than a handful of ministers the suggestion in Kabul is that there is really just a two-man team: Mr Ghani and the head of the national security council, Hanif Atmar. Mr Atmar has been given a much larger role in engaging the Afghan Taliban in talks than his predecessors, displacing the High Peace Council to a great extent. Surely, Afghanistan`s problems, least of all its economic and governance woes, cannot be addressed by trying to micromanage affairs from Kabul. At the same time, there is also a sense that Mr Ghani looks too much to outside powers to help with the security side of Afghanistan`s problems. Be it looking to the Americans to continue to buttress the Afghan security forces` capabilities, to looking to Pakistan to nudge the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, to hoping that China a diplomatic and political novice in Afghan issues will somehow achieve breakthroughs where others failed, Mr Ghani seems to look more outside than within Afghanistan`s borders. That is hardly the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process long touted as the only realistic solution.

Dawn Editorial