OPINION

Time is running out in Afghanistan

Thirteen years after the attacks on the Twin Towers and NATO’s entry into the war in Afghanistan, things remain pretty much unchanged: Political instability and insecurity  reign in the Central and Southern Asian country, with the Taliban hiding out in the Afghan and Pakistani mountains and conducting asymmetric attacks in every part of Afghanistan, mainly in the southeast. The operational capacity of the Taliban has not been diminished at all. The fact that the international media are not currently reporting on Afghanistan does not mean that the problems have been solved. On the contrary, insecurity is growing by the day. The recent political and military efforts of the West and pro-Western Afghan forces are primarily communicative and less substantial.

The situation on the domestic political scene remains hopeless. After the June elections and the ensuing discord between Ashraf Ghani (of Pashtun origin) and Abdullah Abdullah (of Tajik-Pashtun origin) regarding the results, a moderate transient solution was reached at the end of September with Ghani becoming president and Abdullah prime minister. Given the differences at every level (political-economic and tribal), it remains to be seen how the two men can coexist in practice in this power-sharing arrangement. Things are very difficult in terms of political stability with this setup, because even if the two leaders manage to coexist, it does not mean the same for their supporters, and the interests and powers behind the two men are different. Whether the voters do what their leaders ask of them is questionable.

The political agreement was reached within a matter of hours, combined with the military breakthrough in Afghanistan with the departure of two-thirds of the NATO-led force in the country. The Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was announced on September 30. The agreement is the diplomatic framework for the withdrawal of 22,000 of NATO’s 24,452 troops. The remaining 12,000 are 9,000 Americans and 3,000 from other member states.

Given the significant reduction in the West’s military presence in Afghanistan, along with the constant state of insecurity, as evidenced by daily Taliban attacks in Kabul, it is not difficult to assume that the days ahead will be even harder for the country. Following the example of the ISIS jihadists proclaiming a caliphate after the departure of the Americans in Iraq, the Taliban will seek to fill the power vacuum left by the West in Afghanistan. The 350,000 Afghan soldiers are well trained but not entirely reliable for the divided government in Kabul. Everything depends on the degree of cooperation both between Ghani and Abdullah and between them and their tribal society’s army, which is also caught up in the Sunni-Shiite conflict. It’s just a matter of time before the global media turn their focus on Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

*Dr Evangelos Venetis is the head of the Middle East Research Project of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).