“We’ve done terribly badly in providing security to the Afghan people and this is the greatest shortcoming of our government and our international partners” said Afghan President Hamid Karzai marking the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. On 8 October 2001, ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ was launched with three purposes: locate Osama Bin Laden and dismantle al Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power, and install a democratic government in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. military approach was successful in removing the Taliban regime, the policies and strategies implemented thereafter resulted in the birth of an insurgency that shows no signs of slowing down. Heightened insecurity, coupled with a weak rule of law, widespread corruption, low development progress, and a failing peace process, have become the hallmarks of the past ten years.
It would be wrong to assume that the Taliban regime was removed solely by US intentions to root out international terrorism. The Afghan people’s desire to restore peace and stability in their devastated nation also played a pivotal role. Rightly stated by President Karzai:
“[The Taliban] were defeated because of the deep desire of the Afghan people to free themselves, because of the deep desire of the Afghan people for liberation.
Despite the billions of dollars spent in the NATO military campaign alone, the country continues to suffer from frequent insurgent-related attacks resulting in a rise in civilian causalities, as illustrated in a recent report issued by the UN. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported a 15 percent increase in conflict-related civilian deaths in May of 2011. This marked the most significant rise in civilian casualties since UNAMA began to systematically document civilian casualties in 2007.
Night raids and house searches by NATO forces is another cause for great concern amongst locals, who are losing patience with the international military strategies. Searching the homes of villagers in the middle of the night is a grave violation of Afghan norms and privacy. This is attributed to a lack of understanding of the Afghan culture which has led to aggravate Afghan relations with its international partners. Additionally, recycled military and political strategies used by the US and its Nato partners are further exasperating the conflict and sustaining security challenges.
In July 2011, Afghanistan launched the process for a complete transition of security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan security forces by 2014. However, the conditions required for such an initiative to succeed, are threatened by factors mentioned above.
Weak Rule of Law and Corruption
Very few districts in the Southern provinces have district level governance and even those restricted to ones that are either close to the city centre or have a significant presence of local and foreign troops. In fact, various districts in Southern Afghanistan where government presence is weak, there are parallel government structures established by the insurgency to fill the vacuum. This parallel structure provides governance, and acts as a dispute resolution body for the locals. Low levels of support for the insurgency, leaves locals with no other option but to turn to these parallel structures to meet their basic needs. Hence, this should not be interpreted as support for the Taliban but a necessity due to the lack of better alternatives.
The pertinence of corruption in Afghanistan is two fold. There is corruption on behalf of the Afghan government sustained by client-patron relations and bribery. And, on the other hand, there is corruption by the international community with sub-contracting schemes that see millions worth of aid being displaced. The international development community must change the way it handles the flow of aid for military and development initiatives. One means of doing so would be to direct more effort into contracting with Afghan companies, while maintaining the overall objective of improving national economic capacity and curbing corruption. In the same vein, the Afghan government must curb corruption by reforming Afghan institutions and building effective mechanisms for oversight. This has taken place on some levels, but a range of activities by both the international community and the Afghan government, are still required.
Lack of development
On the 10th anniversary of the Afghan conflict, NATO stressed that improvements had been made in areas such as education and health care. Comparing current living standards to that in the time of the Taliban, ISAF’s spokesmen hailed great achievements such as the fact that 7 million students, of which 2.6 million are girls, are now enrolled in schools, as compared to 1.2 million during the Taliban regime. Furthermore, pointing to health care, ISAF argues that under the Taliban regime, healthcare was non-existent and now advances in healthcare have contributed to a 22 percent drop in infant mortality rates.
Though these are certainly great achievements, one can argue that in sight of the level of financial dedication made to Afghanistan in the last ten years, it is not enough to sustain progress for the future. On one hand, 7 million boys and girls are enrolled in schools, yet less than one percent of the population has access to higher education. While healthcare has improved, Afghanistan still has one of the lowest life expectancy rates (44 years) and one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world. Despite progress being made in certain areas, the growth has failed to reduce acute poverty levels in the country.
Failed Peace Process
Approximately two years after the initiation of the peace process, the Afghan government has failed to entice the insurgency to renounce violence and join the peace process. The insurgency had in fact, launched a series of attacks on government officials, killing former President and Head of the HPC, Professor Rabbani and Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the President, in a bid to overhaul the peace efforts. As a result, the reconciliation process has been put on hold although the reintegration of foot soldiers is still an ongoing process.
Thus far, 2,100 insurgents have been reintegrated following the creation Provincial Peace Committees (PPC) (the provincial arm of the HPC) in 33 to see through APRP activities at the sub-national level. Nonetheless, incapacity plagues the HPC and the PPC and this coupled with the government’s inability to ensure the security of ex-combatants and provide them with quick financial reimbursements, is critically hindering the reintegration process.
Measuring the achievements of the past ten years by comparing those with the standard of life under the Taliban regime, is misleading and miscalculated. In order to get a comprehensive understanding of the achievements since 2001 and those under the Taliban regime, you would have to compare two equal scenarios. The Taliban regime was an unrecognized government with no capital or aid flowing in, unlike the present democratic government and the billions of dollars worth of aid the country has witnessed since 2001.
In order to assess the political, economic and security achievements of the past ten years, we must compare it to where the Afghan government, Afghan people and the international community envision Afghanistan to be in the future. We must also look at whether our current achievements will facilitate our continued progress towards a sustainable political, economic, and secure future. Currently, when compared to where Afghans want to be in the next ten years, the future looks grim and less promising than it did in 2001.