Security of Afghanistan and Two Different Viewpoints

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan Issues

It seems that there are two different viewpoints about how security is going to be maintained in Afghanistan after 2014, the date at which Afghanistan forces are presumed to take complete charge of the country’s security affairs. These two viewpoints have gained more importance and come to the fore after it was announced that the third stage of delegating responsibility for the security of eleven important provinces of Afghanistan has gotten underway. These two viewpoints are as follows:

1. A viewpoint which believes in security being a domestic and regional affair; and

2. A viewpoint which considers security an international concern.

The viewpoint, which believes in domestic and regional importance of security in Afghanistan, puts the main emphasis on bolstering and mobilizing military and security forces of Afghanistan inside the country in cooperation with neighboring Islamic states as well as regional countries which can play a role in maintaining or disrupting security in Afghanistan. Among Afghanistan’s neighbors, Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran enjoy a special position. Two other countries, namely, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, also consider themselves in such a regional position as to be able to play a part in Afghanistan’s developments. The general understanding in domestic and regional approach to Afghanistan’s security is that the government as well as military and security forces of Afghanistan can protect and maintain security of the country in the shortest possible time if they engage in effective cooperation with neighboring states and other Islamic countries in the region.

The reality, however, is that proponents of this viewpoint have not reached a consensus yet. There are doubts about validity of this viewpoint both inside Afghanistan and among neighboring and regional nations, especially at the level of the incumbent Afghan government which is headed by President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government and politicians believe that security problems facing the country can be partly blamed on the policies of its southern neighbor, Pakistan. The Afghan government is not alone in its way of thinking as this mentality has been firmly established in more important parts of the Afghan society. According to this viewpoint, armed groups opposed to the Afghan government are positioned in northern parts of Pakistan and are supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. The Haqqani network is the main suspect, but an accusing finger has also been pointed to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party as well as the Quetta Shura (Council) which is led by the Taliban Leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Therefore, the domestic and regional approach to Afghanistan’s security considers policy change in regional countries, and their full support for national reconciliation and establishment of peace in Afghanistan, as necessary conditions for maintaining security in the country. The important question, however, which has remained largely unanswered by supporters of this viewpoint, is how such an expectation can be possibly met? No regional country has overtly opposed official viewpoints of the Afghan government on security. On the contrary, they have repeatedly emphasized on the necessity of maintaining security in Afghanistan within framework of effective regional cooperation and through support from neighboring states. The security in Afghanistan, however, has not been established completely despite such outward remarks. Therefore, many analysts believe that effective regional cooperation will be practically impossible as long as foreign armies are present in Afghanistan. A primary and necessary condition for boosting effective regional cooperation is unconditional withdrawal of military forces of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from Afghanistan. This solution, however, is now surrounded by ambiguities after conclusion of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, which is officially called Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement. This issue is so important that some experts have compared the contents of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement with Gandomak and Durand treaties which were signed in the time of Britain’s colonialistic rule over the Indian Subcontinent. The two latter treaties were signed between the then king of India, Yaqoub Khan, and the Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. As a result, the problem with Durand border line, which separates Pashtu tribes, has remained unsolved up to the present time and is still considered a major issue in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan many years after Pakistan gained its independence in 1947. According to this group, the strategic cooperation agreement which has been signed by the US President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, can be compared to those treaties and will most probably be extended and remain in force for 99 years to come.

On the other hand, proponents of the international approach to security in Afghanistan basically believe that Afghanistan’s neighboring as well as other regional countries, are part of Afghanistan’s security problems, not a solution to them. According to this view, intervention by regional and neighboring countries of Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, is the main source of the continuation of security crisis in Afghanistan. Therefore, if foreign troops leave the country in a haste, the way will be paved for further intervention by regional states and this will perpetuate armed conflicts in the war-stricken country. In more clear terms, what will happen is similar to what happened after the rise of jihadist forces and withdrawal of the United States from the scene of rivalries in Afghanistan, which led to full-blown civil war and collapse of the jihadist government. The rise of Taliban was a direct result of that development, which turned Afghanistan into the main base of al-Qaeda, which in turn facilitated invasion and occupation of the country by the United States and NATO following 9/11 terror attacks.

Therefore, proponents of this viewpoint maintain that the United States and NATO should not totally withdraw from Afghanistan, but help the Afghan government as well as military and security forces within framework of strategic agreements. Hamid Karzai’s government tops the list of those who support this view. The government has not sufficed to signing the strategic cooperation agreement with the United States and has also signed, or is planning to sign, similar agreements with the European states and India. Most probably, similar strategic cooperation agreements will be signed in the forthcoming meeting with NATO in Chicago. Therefore, the rivalry between domestic-regional and international approaches to maintaining security in Afghanistan will remain in place and may even intensify. Continuation of security crisis in Afghanistan, at least in the foreseeable future, is sure to be the main result of this rivalry. Analysts are not optimistic about a possible compromise between these two viewpoints and establishment of peace in Afghanistan in the short term. At present, various players pursue different interests and goals which practically prevent any kind of effective coordination among them.

Under such conditions, it would be more acceptable to say that the security crisis in Afghanistan may continue even after 2014, while none of the involved parties will be able to win. Perhaps, this faceoff is not supposed to have any winner at all. As if, there is a form of unwritten agreement between the main parties to the conflict and security crisis in Afghanistan according to which every party needs a specific level of insecurity in order to survive. Long-term military presence of the United States in Afghanistan needs a controllable and managed level of security crisis which can be provided by Taliban. On the other hand, Taliban needs military presence of the United States in order to survive. That presence will help Taliban to explain the jihad which it considers sacred and will provide its fighters with adequate motivation to move on.

Key Words: Security of Afghanistan, Afghanistan Forces, Domestic and Regional Affair, International Concern, Pakistan, US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, Mollazehi

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