Afghanistan: Stabilization Is Far Away

The military and political situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. The daily terrorist attacks, carried out by the Taliban movement and other radical groups, are aimed not only against government and military facilities, but also against the civilians. The Taliban already controls about 40 percent of the Afghan territory, mainly the rural areas, but it increased subversive operations in big cities, including Kabul. The Islamic State (ISIS) is building up its strength and influence in Afghanistan, and seeks to control other groups of the armed opposition. In a number of cases we observed the joint Taliban/ISIS terrorist attacks, but so far it is more a tactical and situational cooperation. The Taliban leadership is seriously afraid of its militants luring away, especially the most extremist ones, to the ranks of the ISIS.

The Taliban movement most likely will try to preserve its independence and Afghan identity, hoping if not to overthrow the current government, then to get a possible power sharing within the framework of the policy of national reconciliation. At the same time we cannot exclude a more extreme development of events, if ISIS manages to subordinate the Taliban movement. In this case the situation in Afghanistan will become extremely explosive.

In the present difficult situation, the Afghan authorities clearly failed to achieve their goals in many directions. The implementation of the state administration reform stalled. The concept of the government of national unity that the Americans have proposed does not function. The Pashtun-president Ashraf Ghani  cannot find a common language with the head of the executive power – Tajik Abdullah Abdullah. The growing "pashtunization" of government bodies and military command personnel causes growing dissatisfaction and opposition of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities. This creates objective preconditions for further aggravation of interethnic contradictions and the emergence of conditions for a possible civil war.

The government does not manage to cope with the growing corruption that seriously impedes the implementation of economic and social programs. The Afghan army and the police suffer significant losses in the battles with the armed opposition, demonstrating inability to curb its onslaught. The main reasons are low combat efficiency, insufficient military pay, corruption, desertion. The terrorist activity of the opposition and the inability of the authorities to prevent the growing wave of terrorist attacks lead to an increase of anti-government sentiments of the population in both Kabul and other cities of the country.

The US also demonstrated its powerlessness to fight with terrorist groups in Afghanistan. After a 16-year-long massive military presence in Afghanistan, the Americans drastically reduced their military contingent and actually abandoned active military actions against the opposition, limiting to training the Afghan national security forces, providing logistical support and intelligence data. Generously funded by the US and other NATO members, and widely publicized measures of effective state-building, the civil society creation, socio-economic stability, gender equality appeared unsuccessful.  The Afghans dislike the "Western values."

During his campaign the US President Donald Trump spoke for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in order to reduce financial costs. Now he seems to reconsider his position, but demands that the military develop an effective, "economically justified" US strategy in Afghanistan.

No matter what options are offered to the president, the US military and intelligence community, which has a strong influence on Trump, is unlikely to give up further military presence in Afghanistan. It remains an important geostrategic zone, that allows to monitor the development of the situation in a vast region, including two representatives of the new "axis of evil" - Iran and Russia, as well as China.

Russia cannot remain indifferent to the developments in Afghanistan. Moscow is seriously concerned about the growing terrorist activity of anti-government groups, which threaten the Afghan government and pose a danger for the whole region. Russia offers to unite efforts of the neighboring countries of Afghanistan in assisting it to combat terrorist groups and stabilize the social-economic situation. Upon an initiative of Russia and China, a decision was taken to resume the work of the SCO-Afghanistan special contact group. It will work out recommendations for assisting Kabul in the anti-terrorist struggle, providing technical, economic and financial assistance. The recent admission of India and Pakistan into the SCO as full members can help to establish cooperation between these countries in stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.