Stability in Afghanistan: The Challenges to Security

The survival of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of western troops by 2014 is an issue that is being highly discussed around the world. The debate that arises from here is whether the process of peace building has reached a stage where the American forces and the ISAF can handover the responsibility of maintenance of security to the Afghan forces and expect a stable Afghanistan in future. The political stability and economic development that is essential to sustain a strong security force is also ambivalent. The long-drawn war on terror could not put up a very promising picture as the Haqqani Network, Hizb-e-Islami, and the Taliban are still trying to gain resurgence in most parts of the country in various levels, using diverse psychological and military strategies and tactics through sophisticated forms of network centric approaches.

The critical elements for stability in Afghanistan is predominated by security, economic development, rule of law, and the regional context. The legitimacy of the Afghan government depends on its ability to provide the factors of security, development, and justice, which are interrelated and interdependent. The peace building process that includes the key element of state building faces serious challenges that include strong insurgencies, the opium economy, diminishing international aid in the future, a lag in stimulation of economic development, and the withdrawal of foreign troops leaving the security apparatus to the weak Afghan forces. The issue of liberal democratic government, the constitutional court system, and a free market economy, which are the foundations of a modern state, are still being questioned by Afghans, who consider it to be a Western ideological expansion, bringing a challenge to the state building and nation building process.

This article endeavors to bring out the challenges to security in Afghanistan focusing on the Afghan national security forces, regional strategic interests, and the essential elements to promote security and stability, and analyzes from the stage of peace building Afghanistan has reached so far and the possible risks it may face in future.

Challenges to security

Afghanistan is moving towards a stage where the fully independent functioning state is going to take over, with its institutions in place to meet the requirements for efficient and effective governance. For governance to take shape effectively, the predominant variable that determines stability must be taken care of, and that is security. To examine this, the crucial factors that are directly related to security are taken into account, which is the security forces, the regional environment, and the political and socio-economic essentials to promote security.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF): The ANSF will take complete responsibility post-2014 of all the tactical and operational matters of providing security. They are gradually taking over responsibility of the more dangerous areas, which were previously being handled by foreign forces. As far as institutional and organizational building of security forces is concerned, the ANSF has seen a commendable growth and development. According to the ‘Report on progress towards security and stability in Afghanistan’, April 2012, published by Department of Defense (USA), the Afghan forces has 344,108 security personnel with 194,466 in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and 149,642 in the Afghan National Police (ANP). But, in the complexities of modern warfare based on counter insurgency and counter terrorist (CT/CI) operations numbers cannot determine the result of war. The issues that matter more are quality, capability, and the organizational structure of security forces, and this is precisely where the credibility of ANSF to provide adequate security is questionable.

The primary problem of the ANSF is the lack of resources. According to estimates, $3 to 4 billion are required for ANSF to function efficiently per year. 100% of the cost of building and maintaining the security forces come from the international community, primarily the United States.[1] This is the biggest challenge to the Afghan state because with the present economic conditions, the state is incapable of providing such resources to the ANSF. Afghanistan cannot afford an Air Force, nor does it have the essential human capital, which adds to military difficulties, as far as regional balance is concerned.[2] The crucial factor for military advantage is the collection of intelligence, and in this light, Pakistan’s FATA region, which is a major contributor to the instability of Afghanistan for which reconnaissance and surveillance is crucial, is an area where the ANSF remains helpless without U.S intelligence assistance.[3]The quality of the Afghan troops is another hurdle due to lack of education. This brings problem to quality recruitment. The ethnic composition of the armed forces is also a challenge because Afghanistan’s national identity is still determined by tribes to a large extent. The Taziks dominate most of the officer and NCO ranks and this may lead to patronage politics within the army, which has a shortage of quality NCO’s and an army with illiterate soldiers that constitute 70% of the troops.[4] Another challenge to ANSF is the opium economy which is the primary mode of finance of the Taliban and the support of the Pakistani’s Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to the Taliban who provide safe heavens to them in its territory.[5] The challenges to the ANSF depicts that post-2014 is not likely to be a very promising picture in the security front after the withdrawal of American and ISAF troops and the gradual decline of international aid to support the Afghan state.

The regional context: Historically, Afghanistan has been used by regional and extra regional actors for strategic interests. The great game between the British and the Russians, followed by U.S and Soviet Russia, and then the strategic game of Pakistan, who is a crucial actor at the moment and whose maneuvers are directly related to Afghanistan’s security, shows how the world has always tried to extract its strategic interest from Afghanistan. The concept of buffer state and strategic depth has always been an obstacle to the stability and development of Afghanistan and its people. The help given to the Taliban by Pakistan is well known and Pakistan has always used the Afghanistan card against India over the Kashmir agenda. All money, material, and men enter Afghanistan from Pakistan.[6] The FATA region is becoming unmanageable by the Pakistani state. This adds to the problem of insecurity in Afghanistan as it keeps eastern and southern Afghanistan very unstable. India at the same time wants a stable Afghanistan so that it can be integrated to the regional economic dimension from which both countries can gain growth and development. But Pakistan sees every movement of India in Afghanistan as a security threat. Therefore, the security dilemma of both India and Pakistan is a major issue that is directly affecting the stability of Afghanistan. India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan haveto work in a cooperative framework so that the region can prosper, which will add to the economic development, legitimacy of the government, and security of Afghanistan, and this in return will narrow down the space for insurgency in Afghanistan. But looking at Pakistan’s obsession with the Kashmir agenda, it is unlikely that it will drop the Taliban card once and for all. On the other hand, the U.S-Iran rivalry also has ramifications on Afghanistan. Iran does not want foreign troops in Afghanistan, and there is some evidence that a few elements of Iran did support the Taliban with materials to keep the U.S forces tied down and to show their network to the U.S incase the U.S decide to attack Iran.[7] Iran is also worried about the drug trafficking and the influx of refugees which require cooperation to handle, and if they are not dealt with collectively and cohesively, it may lead to further instability of Afghanistan and the region.

International geopolitical rivalry and regional competition for strategic advantage has direct repercussions on stability of Afghanistan. The region will have to work together for Afghanistan to exist and not fall into another civil war post 2014. Afghanistan and Pakistan need to negotiate on the Durand Line, and Pakistan will have to stop providing support to the insurgent groups in Afghanistan whose roots are firmly entrenched in the FATA region. Iran needs to engage with Afghanistan through a multiethnic inclusive approach, dropping the sectarian prism through which it visualizes Afghanistan giving priority to the Shia community.[8] Afghanistan has great potential to become an economic hub by connecting Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, and south Asia and enhance economic cooperation and interdependence. The prospects of regional cooperation can enhance the peace building process and make a huge difference to the future of Afghanistan.

Political and socio-economic essentials: The peace building process is always a political process that requires the act of dialogue and negotiations with various parties to the conflict in order to produce agreements and create a durable peace. The big challenge to the Afghan state is the transformation of the political system and the legitimacy of the government. To build a state on the foundations of democracy requires the consensus of the people. This is possible only if the population is informed, empowered, and engaged with the polity, which requires a strong educational foundation in the country. Afghanistan has seen a tremendous change in the field of education; it has more number of schools including schools for girls than ever before. The boost in education is a positive move and has added great value to the peace building process. This will help in the acceptance of a democratic state with a constitution based on equality, justice, and the rule of law. But the peace process and the political will does not show a picture in which such values of democracy will find any place. The challenge to equality comes from the factions that do not believe in giving equal rights to women because they find it contradictory to religious values. The rural Afghan society still believes in the traditional tribal councils with hard Islamic laws for justice and refrains from using the court system that would provide justice based on fair constitutional laws. The peace process shows that the parties would consider the culture of impunity over justice to bring non-state actors into negotiating tables and also find them a place in the governing structure so that further cycle of violence do not occur.

The civil wars and the Taliban rule have destroyed the economy of Afghanistan. Its economy today is aid dependent, and 90% of the Afghan budget comes from the international community. The opium economy is another challenge that’s hampering the legal economy of Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghanistan will have to speed up the process of the transition of its aid dependent economy to a production-based economy to survive on its own in the future. Most importantly, for a production-led market economy to function, stability and security is a primary factor to make the environment conducive to investments, and for an efficient security force to exist and handle security issues requires huge funds for which a strong economy is a prerequisite.

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Bhaskar Sharma

Bhaskar Sharma is a postgraduate student in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. 

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