With the drawdown of international forces scheduled for 2014, Afghanistan is in for yet another phase of uncertainties. While the international community is perplexed by the complexities of an effective inteqal (transition) and by the modalities that are so far being worked at for ensuring it, Afghanistan In Transition: Beyond 2014? brings together varied Afghan voices to set the agenda, address critical gaps in the ongoing inteqal (the Dari and Pashtuword for transition) process, and suggests alternate course of action by setting a forward looking agenda, beyond 2014.
What is most important about this book is that it presents perceptions of the Afghan mind, through papers written by distinguished Afghans with a rich mix of academic, political and media backgrounds. The strength of this volume stems from the rich contributions by experts, providing an in-depth analysis of the perceptions, needs and preparedness on the ground.
The common thread that runs through all the chapters of the book is that the inteqal process needs to be Afghan led and Afghan owned. This book provides diverse perspectives of the Afghans by taking a realistic assessment of the achievements and challenges in building local capacities and institutions in key sectors-security, political, governance and economic, as these would form the basis of future progress. By delving into a range of complex interrelated issues such as security and political sector reform; peace processes-reconciliation and reintegration; economic opportunities, investment, trade and connectivity; civilian aid coordination and effectiveness; strategic communication; status, welfare and role of women; international and non governmental organisations – both from micro and macro perspectives – this volume highlights several critical components of the inteqal process that need immediate and sustained attention. Chapters on regional perspectives, including one on India’s engagement and one on Pakistan’s perspective as well as the US perspective provide important insights into the role of external players in the present imbroglio. This book is a valuable and timely contribution to the academic and policy discourse on the prospects of effective transition and long-term stabilisation of Afghanistan.
Edited by Dr Shanthie Mariet D’Souza and published by Pentagon Press and the Institute Of South Asian Studies, Singapore, the book was launched in the capital recently by Satinder K Lambah, former ambassador to Afghanistan/expert on it and currently Special Envoy, Prime Minister’s Office, in the presence of M Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Chief of Mission / Minister Counsellor, Embassy of Afghanistan, New Delhi (formerly Chargé d’Affaires / Political Counselor, Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington) and a select gathering. The launch was followed by a panel discussion featuring former ambassadors C R Gharekhan and I P Khosla, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, Rana Banerji, Prof Bharat Karnad and Shakti Sinha and chaired by Commodore C Uday Bhaskar.
India, as a historic friend of Afghanistan, has major concerns about the post 2014 security of that nation as well as of Indians stationed there for the process of reconstruction and assistance, a number of who were killed in many attacks by Pakistani jihadis.
Delivering the keynote address at the book launch, Lambah stressed that the international community should bear in mind ‘some guiding principles which include that any process leading to a settlement must be Afghan owned and Afghan led. This in recent past has not been the case as other countries are often driving the pace of the process. The process must not sacrifice the gains of the last decade, the emphasis on reconstruction should continue. The red lines approved in earlier international conferences should be observed. Nothing should be done in sudden haste as reversal of trends on security transmission demonstrated in Tokyo, Chicago, London and Kabul conferences could be seen as an act of desperation by the adversaries of Afghanistan…. There must be serious attempts at internal consensus building within different constituencies in Afghanistan so that the ethnic division is not deepened leading to polarisation, he said.
‘The growing political competition, natural or on the eve of the elections should not overshadow the election process. No outside interference and elimination of sanctions,’ said Lambah emphasising the strong ties which Delhi and Kabul share, elaborating that India has a close strategic partnership with Afghanistan that covers a broad spectrum of areas which include political and security cooperation, trade and economic cooperation, capacity development and education and social, cultural and people-to-people ties.
‘The cumulative level of committed Indian assistance to Afghanistan amounts to USD two billion. Indo-Afghan relations are unique, in October 2011, India was the first country with which Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement,’ M Lambah added.
Echoing similar sentiments, Haidari, said the transition is ‘not a linear’ process and the international community should not take a ‘quick fix exit strategy’. ‘As our international partners falter, our collective gains can be easily reversed and undone, this is an option we have once experienced in Afghanistan and can no longer afford…Indeed the way should be consolidating and sustaining what has been achieved in Afghanistan and this endeavour should be spearheaded by Afghans and supported by the international community, should define transition of military and civil responsibilities to the Afghan government….In holistic sense, transition is by no means, a linear process, at most portrayed to be and certainly not a quick fix exit strategy.’
The Deputy Chief of Mission also applauded India’s role in rebuilding Afghanistan and expressed hope that Afghanistan will be able to attain peace and security with support from its partners.
In a speech at West Point on 1 December 2009, President Barack Obama, stressing on a renewed focus and more resources for the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan, had announced a troop surge and along with the surge, deciding end of 2014 as the date for drawdown of forces, he had ended speculations of the United States’ aim in that country and at the same time had provided some clarity to his domestic constituency. He had also assuaged the concerns of the civilian team, led by Vice-President Joe Biden who had opposed recommendations of military commanders Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus of deploying additional troops for a population-centric counter-insurgency campaign.
However, the announcement of a date of drawdown sent a different message to the ‘friends and foes’ in the region. While it evoked concerns particularly among the Afghans, the message fed into the propaganda of the Taliban-led insurgency. US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta aggravated the situation in early 2012 by stating that the transition process could be completed by 2013, a year earlier than 2014. Similarly, plans for early withdrawal by NATO allies have further added to the concerns inside Afghanistan and the region. While the 2010 Lisbon summit declaration stated that ‘transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops’, the May 2012 Chicago Summit was seen as a turn around. President Obama and the NATO leaders agreed to end their role in the Afghan war, stating it is time for the Afghan people to take responsibility for their own security and for the US-led international troops to go home.
The Summit decision called for the beginning of full transition in all parts of Afghanistan by mid-2013 and the Afghan forces taking the lead for security nation-wide. As per that plan, ISAF will gradually draw down its forces by 31 December 2014.
Such announcements of early troop withdrawal only seem to further confirm the perception of a hasty US exit and further raise concerns inside Afghanistan. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) have increased their cooperation with each other and the Haqqanis over the past several years. The Haqqani’s safe haven in North Waziristan provides these groups with perhaps the most significant sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal frontier to train, plan, and conduct attacks in Afghanistan (Bellum, a project of The Stanford Review, 16 June 2010). With coalition forces out of Afghanistan, these groups will have total freedom of action for terrorist attacks from Afghanistan to India’s Jammu and Kashmir, planning and implementation for which began in 2012 itself.
While Haidari and Afghan diplomats at the book launch assured that the Afghan National Security Forces have developed the capability to withstand the insurgent onslaught, Western analysts have doubts about the same and maintain that the withdrawal of coalition forces, in such a situation, would lead to a collapse of the evolving security system.