Collusion between insurgent elements and corrupt government officials in Kabul and the nearby provinces has increased, leading to a profusion of criminal networks in the Afghan heartland.
The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, shows that despite efforts to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan’s south, stability in the centre has steadily eroded. Transcending the limits of its traditional Pashtun base, the Taliban is bolstering its influence in the central-eastern provinces by installing shadow governments and tapping into the vulnerabilities of a central government crippled by corruption and deeply dependent on a corrosive war economy.
Despite the recent hotel attack in Kabul, “the number of major attacks in Kabul has recently declined, insurgent networks have been able to reinforce their gains in provinces and districts close to the city, launching smaller attacks on soft targets”, says Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, Candace Rondeaux. “Taliban attacks inside the capital are not aimed at controlling it physically but to capture it psychologically”.
Nearly a decade after the U.S.-led military intervention began, insecurity and the inflow of billions of dollars in international assistance has failed to strengthen significantly the state’s capacity to provide security or basic services. Instead, by progressively fusing the interests of political gatekeepers and insurgent commanders, it has provided new opportunities for criminals and insurgents to expand their influence inside the government. With nearly one fifth of the country’s population residing in Kabul and its surrounding provinces, the heartland is pivotal to the plan for Afghan forces to take over from international troops by the end of 2014. It appears doubtful that President Hamid Karzai’s government will be able to contain the threat and stabilise the country by then. Following the announcement by President Barack Obama on 22 June 2011 of U.S. plans to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012, the insurgency is likely to push harder to gain more ground before the final phase of the military drawdown.
Stabilisation and improving security beyond Kabul will depend on confronting corruption in the capital and outlying areas. This will require a comprehensive reassessment of current anti-corruption efforts, which so far have proven ineffective. Building capacity in the judicial sector while weeding out corruption is crucial for lasting reform.
More support is needed for Afghan agencies with the combined mandate of countering corruption, organised crime and terrorism financing such as the Special Investigations Unit, the Major Crimes Task Force, and the Financial Transactions Reports Analysis Centre of Afghanistan. A broad review of the policies and operational practices of the country’s national intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security will also be important to ensure against abuses of power that may further fuel the insurgency.
“With just three years left before the bulk of international forces withdraw, the window of opportunity to expand security outside Kabul is fast closing”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group Asia Program Director. “The fight against the insurgency can no longer be limited to the battlefield. It is time to recognise the real front in Kabul”.