The US and NATO mission in Afghanistan was to eliminate the Al Qaeda terrorist network, dismantle the hardline Taliban, and ensure some important Western values such as democracy, women’s rights and women’s education in the country.
Sixteen years on, the country still is in turmoil. According to US intelligence reports about 20 terrorist groups including Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS are active in Afghanistan.
The Afghan forces are losing grounds to insurgents. Taliban fighters have reached the doorsteps of Kabul. The Afghan government is dysfunctional with all its three branches of power acting illegally and against the Afghan Constitution.
The international community’s financial and military efforts in Afghanistan will go into vain if it does not engage fully and impartially in resolving the current political dispute among different parties. The dissatisfaction of major players within the government can lead to a civil war and the collapse of political system, which will only pave the way for the Taliban and ISIS to gain more territory.
The current system of government—a coalition government—was not foreseen in the constitution, and is therefore in contrast with it. The base of this coalition government, as prescribed by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, is a political agreement between the two front runners in the 2014 presidential election run off – both of whom publicly accused each other of orchestrating massive fraud in the elections. The truth is that former Secretary Kerry destroyed the very democratic system of the government in which the US and other international community invested men and money.
Three years down the road from the establishment of the National Unity Government (NUG), the government has failed to fulfill any of the three major articles of the agreement: reforming the electoral system and the electoral commission, distributing the long awaited electronic or digital national ID cards and convening a grand assembly to amend the Constitution to legalize the position of the Chief Executive Officer.
Even putting these failures to one side, the government is three years into its five-year term yet still needs to appoint all its cabinet ministers. Eleven ministries, nearly 45 percent of Afghan cabinet, are run by acting ministers, seven of whom were given no confidence votes by the MPs last November for their failure in spending the development budgets in their ministries.
By law, those ministers should have been out of office within a couple of weeks, but the president ordered them all to continue in their positions to date. An order that is in complete contrast with the Afghan Constitution. The acting ministers’ limited authority has added to the already corrupt system and has slowed down the public services even more.
The president appeared in a press conference on 11 July 2017 and told reporters that he plans to introduce the new candidate ministers to the Afghan Parliament in the next six months.
The parliament, which in a real democratic government is a check on the executive branch, also lacks the legitimacy to stand against the president, because their paychecks are dependent on the president issued decree.
The parliamentary election is nearly three years overdue. The MPs sitting in House of Representatives are illegal and against the law, while the Senate is one-third short of its members because the district council election never took place in the past 16 years.
Putting the corruption aside, the judiciary system is incomplete with three judges in the Supreme Court yet to be appointed by the president.
A major turn back to democracy in the formation of National Unity Government (NUG) was the demolition of true political opposition. Since both front-runners running the government, there’s no real opposition to hold them accountable to the people.
The only opposition the government has is the civil society with its very limited resources. When the civil society raise the people’s voices through organizing demonstrations and public gatherings, the government suppress them in a completely totalitarian method.
Instead of taking measures to improve security, the government continued to cover up the shortcomings of the security officials, partly for ethnic and partisan biases. The government’s culture of impunity to officials made the security officials even more irresponsible and indifferent to the situation. While this foul approach encouraged the Taliban and ISIS to become even more proactive.
The oppositions became so courageous that they went inside a fortified military corps in relatively safe and secure province of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Ten Taliban insurgents wearing the Afghan security forces uniform and using the Afghan defense ministry vehicle managed to enter the 209 Shaheen Military Corps and carry out an unprecedented attack where they killed more than 150 military personnel and wounded about 250 more.
The outburst of public frustration forced the government to take action. But to public surprise, the government disappointed them even more. After severe criticism of the public in mainstream and social media the Afghan Defense Minister and his Joints Chief of Staff appeared in a press conference and announced their resignations. But just two days after the announcement, the president appointed both men as Afghan ambassadors to Jordan and Kazakhstan.
Following a deadly blast in the heart of Kabul in May that according to Afghan media killed more than 230 and injured more than 800 others the people came to streets and demanded the resignation of security ministers. To disperse the protesters, the Afghan police opened fire on the protesters and killed six people. No government ministers were fired or brought to justice for failure in the job or incompetence.
The Afghan president, an economist with delusion, trusts a finger counted number of people in the government who are all Pashtoon—the same ethnic background as president Ghani. The president’s dictatorship approach and his way of bypassing all players except people in his close circle have created lots of political opponents, including the first vice-president.
Recently the top government players such as first Vice President General Abdul Rashi Dostum, the Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, the deputy to Afghan CEO Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and the Provincial Governor of Balkh Atta Mohammad Noor created a coalition in Turkey calling for reform in the government and inclusion of political players from other ethnic backgrounds in decision making processes. Upon return to the country governor Noor spoke among his supporters. Warning the Afghan government and the international community, governor Noor said that if the government doesn’t bring reform and if the international community continues to side with one group while ignoring all parties involved, he will seek and accept “any support, from anyone”.
The first vice-president who is in exile in Turkey, because of the accusation of abuse of authority and sexual harassment, wanted to come back to country, but his plane was not granted permission to land in the Afghan territory. His plane was forced to return back to Turkey. Afghans across the country worry that the vice-president will definitely show serious reaction.
The president still runs the office his way and the West continues to back him politically and financially. President Ghani measures success with obtaining funds from international community. Enjoying the unconditional backing international community, the US specifically, having no powerful political opposition, and having no legal parliament to impeach him, president Ghani has his luckiest days in office.
However, the recent statements by the UN, US and NATO high-ranking officials indicate that the West has come to a realization that it will fail in Afghanistan and will fail badly unless it changes course and takes some serious actions to resolve the matters soon.
In a briefing to the United Nations Security Council on 21 June 2017, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto said, “Political fault-lines that emerged are increasingly along an ethnic basis, which is particularly worrying at a time when the Islamic State (Daesh) is attempting to provoke sectarian strife in the country through attacks against Shia Muslims.”
Expressing concerns over deteriorating political situation Mr. Yamamoto said, “I remain concerned, however, that without changes in governance practices we are likely to face future crises that might be more difficult to contain.”
Speaking to reporters ahead of defense ministerial meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted lack of success in Afghanistan. Emphasizing on the complexity of war in Afghanistan he said, “We don’t think this operation in Afghanistan is going to be easy and we don’t think its going to be peaceful … this year or next year or in the near future.” In contrast to the Afghan government’s approach for peace talk with the Taliban, he said, “As long as the Taliban believe they can win the war they will not negotiate. We need to break the stalemate and to enable the Afghans to make advances.”
NATO pledged more troops to Afghanistan and 15 nations have shown green light. It is said that NATO will deploy about 3000 more troops to Afghanistan. Currently NATO has 5000 men on the ground to train and support the Afghan troops under the organization’s Resolute Mission.
Unlike Obama administration officials who often boasted about winning in Afghanistan, the new US administration officials are careful with their words and analysis of the situation in Afghanistan. Learning from the imperfect and nearsighted policies of Obama administration, the Trump administration officials admit their defeat in Afghanistan, while promising a workable and thorough strategy for the Afghan war.
Testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the US Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “We’re not winning in Afghanistan right now and we will correct this as soon as possible.”
The US is currently considering sending around 3,900 troops to Afghanistan, which will bring the total number of American troops in the country to 12,400.
All in all, if approved the total number of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan could rise to 20,400. It is worth noting that at the height of war in Afghanistan US had more than 100,000 troops there.
While the US is focused on a military win in Afghanistan, the truth is that there won’t be any long lasting peace or security in country unless the international community gets involved thoroughly in the Afghan situation. Providing funding to corrupt officials with no or little oversight will do no good to Afghan citizens.
To win in Afghanistan, in addition to training the Afghan security forces, the international community must put pressure on Pakistan to close down the terrorist training camps inside Pakistan and to act honestly in targeting terrorists inside its territory. But perhaps most importantly, the international community needs to engage in stabilizing the country politically by listening to all Afghans, making sure that equal distribution of power takes place among all ethnic groups and by holding the government accountable to its citizens.