On May 21, Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone attack in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. By resorting to the mantra that Mullah Mansour was a major hurdle in the peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul, the American and Afghan officials have apparently heralded new prospects for peace in the war-torn Afghanistan but the recent developments suggest that strife is bound to get worse. It is especially important because amidst the already topsy-turvy afghan peace process, his assassination has been seen by many as an act of immense provocation by the United States.
Fate of Afghan reconciliation process
Mullah Mansour was a moderate figure and was inclined to a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. His killing has not only diminished the hopes for the peace in Afghanistan, but has also deepened suspicions among neighbours in the region. The Taliban have lost whatever trust they unwittingly reposed in the US for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue. Now, that the QCQ is almost dead, if the Taliban agree to negotiate, they would use the reconciliation process to re-group themselves and re-emerge as a more lethal group.
China, an active member of the QCG, is now doubtful of the US seriousness about a lasting solution to the Afghan issue. Since Kerry publically said that Nawaz was informed about the drone strike, Pakistan’s role as the mediator in the peace talks will come under serious questions.
So, in the post-Mansour period, the fledgling unitary government of Afghanistan should brace itself for a series of deadly assaults by the angry Taliban. Soon after consolidating his grip over the group, the new leader will probably allow a slew of fatal bombings and organised attacks on Afghan institutions, government functionaries and security forces.
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Threat of IS-Khorasan after Mansour’s death
The IS-Khorasan, an Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, has been looking to strengthen its stronghold in Afghanistan. The group even asked the Taliban to submit to its caliphate but the latter refused and started executing IS-Khorasan’s fighters. Mansour challenged the legitimacy of the IS-Khorasan and declared an all-out war against the group. The resistance proved effectual in preventing the terror group from establishing strong roots in Afghanistan. Ominously, the death of Mansour has bestowed the rampaging group with a golden opportunity to tactically expand its “sphere of terror” in the war-torn country. The group has already entrenched itself in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan and launched a violent campaign against local Afghans to crush any opposition.
Protracted Issues of Afghanistan
Despite possessing a significant geostrategic and geo-economic location, Afghanistan has been unstable politically, backward economically and impotent militarily. Due to the persistent instability, the country has been a battlefield for the big powers. Presently, since no agreeable and a doable political solution is on the horizon, the war-ravaged country would continue to be further plagued by increasing terrorism, accelerating militancy and deliberate bad governance.
Afghanistan’s protracted issues are multi-dimensional which should be carefully diagnosed and resolved prudently if the international community seriously wants a lasting tranquillity in the terrorism-stricken country. But, it is rather futile to run after long-lasting peace by only fighting against the resurgent Taliban, while systematically depriving the neglected and disillusioned Afghans of their due socio-economic and political rights.
Decades of insidious internal conflicts and Soviet and American invasions have made Afghanistan a divided, polarised and weak state on all fronts. Since 1979, Afghanistan has lacked a powerful, democratic, responsive, accountable and competent leadership. From the Soviet-installed handpicked government to the incumbent, all have amassed considerable wealth, plundered national resources and perpetuated bad governance with impunity. The culture of rampant loot and plunder has made former President Hamid Karzai one of the richest persons in Afghanistan. The continuous vacuum of honest leadership has created fissures amongst the provinces, thus exacerbating ominous ethnicity and sectarianism throughout the country.
Both Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani are currently involved in unprecedented favouritism and horse trading aimed at fostering their individual position in the government. The spectre of massive corruption has eaten up almost all Afghan institutions, and it still continues to pose an existential threat to the security and budding democratic institutions of the country. “Graft in government contracts, land grabbing and illegal drug production and trafficking are major problems”, admits President Ghani.
Apart from that, Transparency International has consistently ranked Afghanistan among the world’s most corrupt countries. US officials have also repeatedly complained against rampant political corruption in the country. According to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), corruption remains one of the major impediments to the stabilisation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan.
Weak and crisis-ridden security forces
One more backbreaking issue faced by Afghanistan is the long-lasting dearth of adequate, well-trained, fully-equipped, committed, professional and depoliticized police and armed forces. The army and police of Afghanistan have high desertion rates. According to figures released by the US military in December 2015, the Afghan army had to replace about a third of its roughly 170,000 soldiers in 2015 because of desertions, casualties and low re-enlistment rates.
Menacingly, a large number of well-trained supporters of the Taliban are also present in the security forces so as to gather intelligence for attacks. Therefore, the Afghan security forces are largely incapable of battling against the lethally-armed Taliban, Daesh, powerful transnational drug cartels and other non-state actors. The corrupt Afghan government and the divided international community are fully responsible for the impotence of the Afghan security forces. Under such circumstances, the Taliban, Daesh and the ilk will continue to mount fatal attacks on the country, thus worsening the already fragile security condition of Afghanistan.
Poor economic condition
The international community should realise that long-lasting peace in Afghanistan will always remain a pipedream unless the long-neglected Afghans are afforded their due economic rights. Like some highly backward African countries, Afghanistan does not have a well-regulated and well-planned formal economy. Its informal economy is composed of smuggling, drug exports and international aides and it has further exacerbated the poor economic conditions. Without checks and balances, terrorism, militancy, abject poverty, widespread corruption and drug smuggling are the by-products of the Afghan economy. Currently, more than half of the Afghan population is living in abject poverty.
Massive cultivation of drugs and its smuggling
Bad governance and politicians’ complicity with international drug cartels have made Afghanistan the main regional and international hub of drugs. The country has been the world’s largest opium producer, ahead of Burma (Myanmar) the “Golden Triangle” and Latin America since 1992. Helmand Province is the world capital of opium and heroin production. According to the UN, Afghanistan accounts for 90 percent of the world’s heroin; more than two-thirds of that comes from Helmand’s opium poppies. Burgeoning drugs trade has made Helmand a battleground for assorted groups fighting to gain sway in the province. As a result, Helmand has become the deadliest province in Afghanistan, with more than half of all the country’s combat fatalities in the last year. There is a big game going on, and Helmand is at the centre of it. The war and the fighting in Helmand is a tool for everybody — they’re making millions of it.
In this well-paid narcotics trade, a large number of Afghan politicians, men in uniform, the Taliban and foreign drug dealers are heavily involved. Non-state actors are also immersed in amassing millions of dollars due to the growing drug trade. Without uprooting the expanding drug market, it is elusive to search long lasting tranquillity in Afghanistan.
Collapsing education sector
The sector of education has been systematically neglected by all successive governments. Lack of proper and quality education has emboldened incompetent Afghan rulers to loot and plunder public money and the depleting national resources. A large portion of the population is illiterate and unfit for jobs, thus they resort to joining terrorist organisations and drug mafias to make both ends meet.
Direct and indirect interventions first by the former Soviet Union and then the US have shattered the political and economic institutions of Afghanistan. To achieve imperialistic designs, the big powers have weakened Afghan political institutions; ruined the already dilapidated transport infrastructure and created rebels and terrorist outfits. The recent US announcement that it would stay in Afghanistan for some more years will further complicate the political and security conditions in the country.
India and Pakistan are two major players in Afghan reconstruction, peace and security. Undoubtedly, both have contributed tremendously to Afghanistan’s rebuilding and rehabilitation. Apart from this, both the countries have also been immersed in a cold war against each other in Afghanistan meant to acquire and foster dominance on the security and economic fronts.
The way forward
It is time all the aforementioned perennial problems faced by Afghanistan were ascertained and resolved with unflinching commitment. Any shortcuts will definitely double the crises of the Afghans. Rather than embroiling in a cold war against each other in Afghanistan, both Pakistan and India should come forward and contribute to the lasting peace in the country.
Firstly, the unity government of Afghanistan should come out of the politics of vested and sectional interest for the sake of greater national interests. Rather than appointing party members and relatives in all departments, the government needs to recruit people on merit. A crackdown on corruption and loot and plunder is also the need of the hour. The elements within the government who support the Taliban should be identified and brought to book. Presumably, if the lingering leadership crisis of Afghanistan is genuinely resolved, all remaining issues will be solved automatically by competent public representatives. In this regard, the international community should assist the unitary government in enhancing leadership effectiveness, efficiency, capability and capacity.
Secondly, the US should exercise seriousness by announcing an early drawdown from the country. Before that, all institutions of Afghanistan should be strengthened to the maximum. It is likely that the Taliban would agree to serious peace talks after US withdrawal.
Thirdly, the Afghan security forces ought to be properly trained and adequately equipped so that they can counter any threat without American support. Reasonable pay packages and plausible duty hours will help the security forces to discharge duties more effectively. The politicisation of both the national army and police must be done away with.
Fourthly, since lasting peace and stability require healthy socioeconomic conditions, the Afghan government needs to provide the people with modern technical education; create job opportunities for university graduates and increase trade relations with the rest of the world. It is also imperative to abolish all kinds of social injustices and crimes committed against the womenfolk of the conservative country. Like men, women should also be educated and bestowed with employment opportunities.
Lastly, the international community should ensure that no external power is allowed to occupy Afghanistan in future. Such interventions have weakened the country on all fronts. It is important to note that India is occupying Afghanistan silently by gaining swathes of land in lieu of military and financial assistance. If India is permitted to continue with such insidious policy, it would instigate a cold war between Pakistan and India on Afghanistan’s soil.
The death of Mullah Mansour has further complicated the task of Afghanistan’s reconciliation. Mansour was amiable and wished for a negotiated settlement of Afghan imbroglio. After his death, all hope of negotiations under the QCG has altogether withered away. Under the new leader, it is likely that the spring offensive of the Taliban against the Afghan government will increase in frequency and enormity. Apart from security challenges, Afghanistan is also beset with a string of political and socio-economic issues. If the international community aspires for lasting tranquillity in Afghanistan, it will have to take these problems into consideration and resolve them as soon as possible.