Since 1979 Afghanistan has been victim to foreign intervention, regional meddling, and internal contention over power and resources. These different factors are all interplaying within the fabric of local and ethnic cleavages that are used by non-state actors for their own personal interests. To counter these challenges and build long-term stability, the role of a strong and unified Afghan Government is everso important- an element that is absent in the current National Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr. Abdullah.
The NUG has made some strides in its efforts to provide stability and reduce the threat of insurgent activities on the civilian population. The launch of the Independent Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee was a sign of progress in the NUGs battle against the rampant corruption the state faces. Furthermore, with the help of foreign aid and international support, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been successful in not letting any densely populated city fall to the Taliban. However, the U.S. Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) records that only 57.2% of 375 districts were under Afghan government control or influence on February 1 2017, a 15% decrease since the end of 2015.
In the First Quarter of the 2017 Civilian Casualty Data, UNAMA reports that the number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan was at a staggering 1.4 million, double the number in 2014. Many of these individuals are fleeing their homes due to being severely impacted by the conflict, thus seeking safer areas where they can relocate. Till date, there has been no reliable agreement on the peace process between the NUG and the Taliban. This has resulted in increasing insurgent-related attacks in densely populated areas. UNAMA records that approximately 60% of civilian casualties in 2016 were caused by Taliban and other armed insurgency groups. Moreover, the indiscriminate violent nature of the attacks by the insurgency groups through their increased usage of IEDs have posed substantial risk to civilians. The June Security Council Report on Afghanistan in 2017 indicated a total of 2181 civilian casualties, of which 715 were fatal. Civilian casualties in recent years are reported at unprecedented levels since the international intervention began in Afghanistan in 2001.
Many blame internal fractionalization in the government and their inability to reach a compromising unified front as reasons for the state’s failure to provide security. The US Senate Armed Service committee, John Campbell who was then resolute support mission and US Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) reported 70% of problems faced by ANSF were the result of poor leadership. SIGAR outlined the two leading factors to the insecurity was internal contention in the NUG and weak ANSF leadership. The government’s inability to behave as a unified entity to address the concerns of the state is a result of the ambiguous power-sharing document that was brokered by the United States in 2014. The document outlines that all areas of contention were to be cleared by democratically elected district council members and Wolsei Jirga members that will comprise the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly. However, since the 2014 elections, the government has failed to hold district council and parliamentary elections on time, further delaying the deadline for creating the Loya Jirga. Thus, leaving the future of Afghan democracy at a state of uncertainty.
The deeper entrenching issue primarily lays within the distinct visions that are held by both President Ghani and CEO Dr. Abdullah in regards to security. The President has been actively advocating the importance of peace talks with the Taliban, whereas Dr. Abdullah has shared his disproving sentiment towards such measures. Furthermore, the process of selecting ministerial positions is split between the camps and both sides have been accused of ethnic favoritism. This coupled with the lack of consensus between the leaders causes confusion for the operational units in the different factions of ANSF. The lack of clear command from the leaders results in a reactionary approach rather than strategic planning to prevent future attacks. The trickling effect of the NUG’s incompetency becomes a heavy price for civilians and security personnel, due to the approach they are forced to take. Thereby, resulting in inefficiency which cannot be countered by pouring more foreign aid on the problem or risks having the aid further perpetuate insurgency activities.
The growing insecurity, instability, and lack of a strong government has left a vacuum that is being filled by self-interested actors who despite being on government payroll have created a front to counter the NUG. Three Afghan political parties Jamiat-E-Islami, Hiz-e-wahdat-e Islami, and Junibish-e-mili have all agreed to establish the coalition Rescue For Afghanistan. Jamiat-e Islami’s leader Ata Mohammad Noor is the current governor of Balkh and has recently withdrawn his support from CEO Abdullah. The leader of Wahdat Mohammad Mohaqqiq is the second deputy for Chief Executive Abdullah, and leader of Junbish is Abdul Rashid Dostum, the first Vice President to President Ashraf Ghani. Tension between Mr. Dostum and the President heightened when the President requested an investigation be conducted on the claims made by Ahmad Eshchi. Despite these groups announcing their alliance, there has been little evidence to show that they have been working collectively to take any political action in the short-term. However, with the situation worsening in Afghanistan, time will give them greater opportunities to further enhance their power base and increase their leverage when making political demands in the future.
The government needs to reassure its people that security and stability is its main priority, and to do so they will need to solve all internal contention in order to have any hope of countering external factors. The establishment of a Loya Jirga is vital to ensure the long-term stability of democracy in the state, otherwise, other political actors stand to benefit from this period of uncertainty. Insurgency groups, non-state, and state actors are all taking advantage of the NUG’s fractionalization and filling the vacuum to consolidate their own power. These conditions are leaving the people of Afghanistan vulnerable and forcing them to unalign themselves from macro-level objectives and support the faction that provides them the most security locally.