More effort needed in Afghanistan

AN inaugural Pentagon report submitted to Congress evaluating the post-December transition from leading the war effort in Afghanistan to a so-called train, advise and assist mission named Resolute Support has in diplomatic language spelled out the security and governance challenges in Afghanistan today. Clearly, the massive spring offensive by the Taliban has been a setback for hopes of stability in Afghanistan while the unity government has struggled to get beyond persistent political troubles that have made it all but impossible to improve governance there.

President Ashraf Ghani is a leader pulled in many directions with his hands often tied and multiple factors beyond his control. In truth, however, what is playing out in Afghanistan at the moment is partly the result of the US not having a reasonable or realistic strategy there for years now, with President Barack Obama in particular seeming more focused on an exit from Afghanistan than anything else.

Consider the various ways in which the US has contributed to the ever-increasing uncertainty hanging over the fate of Afghanistan. If the unity government is not working out or does not appear to be able to overcome internal differences, is that really a surprise? But it was US Secretary of State John Kerry`s dramatic diplomacy that created the unlikely marriage between President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in the first place. Then, when the White House announced its surge-and-exit plan in 2009, it was apparent straight away that an artificial timeline had been imposed a timeline within which the Afghan army and police forces simply would not be able to develop the capacity to defend large swathes of the country. Even more problematically, the US long dithered on talks with the Afghan Taliban and then belatedly attempted to nudge along an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned embryonic peace process. Collectively, that history has surely informed the rapidness of the deterioration in 2015.

Yet, the missteps and mistakes of the past should not mean that the deterioration of 2015 cannot be reversed. One consistent positive is that all of Afghanistan`s neighbours and that includes Pakistan agree that civil war in Afghanistan is not in anyone`s interest.

Moreover, over the past couple of years at least the US-Afghanistan Pakistan trilateral ties have moved in the right direction, with the US and Pakistan stabilising their bilateral links and the Pakistan military-Afghan government relationship witnessing unprecedented cooperation. The China factor too is a new and positive influence, while the spectre of the Islamic State making inroads in Afghanistan could induce the Afghan Taliban to take talks with Kabul more seriously. Key to reversing the alarming deterioration of 2015 though will be realistic goals by the Afghan government and the outside powers. Afghanistan is not going to become a vibrant and thriving democracy with strong institutions and a sustainable economy anytime soon. A modicum of stability and governance will do and the route to that clearly lies through a more urgent effort at talks.

Published in Dawn