Blogs & Opinion - Opinion
It has been 12 years since Afghanistan adopted its new Constitution and one and a half years since the establishment of the National Unity Government (NUG) but our political elite still has no idea how to share power.
More than 150,000 Afghans have been killed in the fight against terrorism; however, we still have no clear definition of our enemy. Our foreign policy is roaming in Delhi, Islamabad, Tehran, Riyadh, Moscow and Ankara; however, there is no light in Kabul to lead the way. So are we in a state of 'national confusion'?
An assessment of a number of external factors and several factors in Afghanistan's domestic policy might help us find an answer to this question.
Region and Beyond
The United States as a military power, that has had a presence in Afghanistan for the past 14 years, is spreading bad messages about the future of the country. In a recent case, the U.S Director of National Intelligence, James Robert Clapper, warned of a probable political breakdown of the Afghan government and earlier a number of U.S generals expressed their concerns over the possible collapse of 10 provinces to the Taliban in the next fighting season.
Russia as a world power - which once was hostile towards the Taliban and in its geostrategic studies considered the Taliban project as a proxy force to destabilize its southern borders – now says it shares common interests with the Taliban and will use the group in its fight against Daesh. What does this mean? It seems that the Taliban has found a global supporter – a former super power and currently a great power – and now the group will continue to fight as a proxy force for this new customer.
After reports on the death of the Taliban's former leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, Pakistan, Taliban's main supporter, is trying to intensify the war in order to prevent a division among the group's members.
Intensified fighting will strengthen the position of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who is leading a faction of Taliban that enjoys close ties with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan is aware that the main card in Daesh's game will not be with Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Gulf states will be the main players in this game. Pakistan, in contrast with the cold war period, does not consider itself as a stakeholder in transferring extremism and insecurity to the Central Asia and Russian borders. This project belongs to Gulf States and Turkey.
However, there are plenty of documents about cooperation of some groups in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf States with Daesh. Taking into consideration the strain in relations between Russia and Turkey on one hand and the increasing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the other hand, the region is expecting proxy wars and conflicts like never before. Daesh in Central Asia has a base for its ideology and Fergana Valley (a valley spread across some parts of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) has turned into a ground for recruitment and ideology of Daesh.
Russia's opponents could not hurt the country's interests in Syria. Now, they probably are trying to expand the wars to Central Asia and Caucasus region to destabilize southern borders of Russia. To this end, Afghanistan's mountains and valleys are considered as tested strongholds. Reasons behind the fall of Kunduz city last year and Russia's reactions should be assessed with keeping this background in mind.
The Afghan government by announcing its support to Saudi Arabia in the war against Yemen showed that it has not understood the regional conflicts and Daesh so far. In this matter, Kabul was confused by the promise made by Saudi Arabia to support the peace talks with the Taliban.
These are all the great global and regional movements that cover Afghanistan. Just a clear picture of the region and a competent government can reduce the horrifying effects of these movements.
Lack of a domestic mobilization and incompetence of government to play its role as a "government" has allowed the international differences to easily make their way to Afghanistan. Now the future political and security related stability of Afghanistan is undermined.
Among domestic reasons, the most important element is that a competent government is yet to be formed. Government does not have a complete cabinet so far. Some provinces are still being led by caretakers, the economic situation is worsening for various reasons, the educated and young generation is fleeing the country, corruption has increased, foreign policy in most cases is unstable and the Taliban, despite a disgraceful defeat, managed to capture an important city. The main juncture in the route towards the north and northeast of Afghanistan is under the Taliban's control and government is unable to suppress the group and thwart their conspiracies.
On the other hand, government's political stakeholders still have no idea how to share power and it seems that they are unhappy with what they have gained so far. Those in power are using their authority as an opportunity to strengthen their economic position and are busy appointing their relatives in profit-generating posts.
Government's failure to defend its sensitive programs has badly affected its position in public opinion polls. One of the clear instances of this was government's reaction to signing an intelligence-sharing deal with Pakistan. Although such deals were signed between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO in the past, this time, government failed to manage public opinion and defend its stance after the reports on the agreement were leaked. Some differences between the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and office of the National Security Adviser – which were leaked to media – led government towards a political humiliation.
After reports on the intelligence-sharing deal with Pakistan, Afghanistan's government rejected the reports instead of accepting the responsibility and explaining reasons for the need for such cooperation with other countries or with Pakistan. The move led to further ambiguity regarding incentives behind the signing of the deal and strengthened the conspiracy theory. At the end, an unprofessional reaction by government towards public opinions allowed the NUG's political opponents to make use of this situation and defeat and humiliate government's program.
Another shortfall of the NUG was announcing its support to Saudi Arabia in the war against Yemen and the backtracking from this position after facing opposition from inside the administration – and also pressure from Iran. Similarly, there was another move by government that posed problems.
This move was the cold relations with India - even President Ashraf Ghani declined to pay a visit to New Delhi and an instead there were warm relations with Pakistan. The cold relations with New Delhi and the warm one with Islamabad was however short-lived. These stances are clear examples of a lack of coordination and instability of Kabul's foreign policy towards regional countries. A weak foreign policy in a country like Afghanistan can open the way for foreign interference and usher in regional conflicts.
Signing a deal on Dand-e-Ghori area with the Taliban and then breaking this deal was another blow to the credibility of the Afghan government. The people are now searching for answers for this failure in the blackouts faced in Kabul city.
Government's propaganda failure is mainly due to a lack of confidence of those in the reign - of power over the programs and plans that they first initiate but soon lose the courage to continue with after being faced with a little opposition by the people or critics.
What Should Be Done?
The likely solution is that Afghanistan should avoid entering into Saudi Arabia-Iran and Turkey-Russia conflicts. On the other hand, it should seriously and cautiously continue the current quadrilateral talks between Afghanistan, China, U.S and Pakistan. Meanwhile, it should try not to become a battleground for proxy wars between India and Pakistan. This way, Afghanistan's foreign policy will get on a logical and active impartial track until the end of NATO and U.S troops presence in the country. This policy is proportionate to the geostrategic location, national capacities and potential of Afghanistan.
In domestic policy, government should not delay in implementating electoral reforms and issuaning of electronic National Identity Cards (e-NIC) so as to pave the way for changes in structure of the system. Afghanistan still has a fragile power sharing system. This is the reason that the highest ranking official, for instance the vice-president, feels that he has no authority and believes that political contribution is not a reality on the ground.
By changes in government's administrative and political structure, provinces will be given more authorities and instead of a big corrupt and worn-out administration of current government, smaller administrations should be activated in provinces and everyone should share responsibility of governance. This change can also trigger struggles for assumption of central power and will reduce Kabul's vulnerability.
The problem of security and the Taliban's militancy should be considered to be entangled in regional and global policies and solution to this problem should be found in power sharing inside Afghanistan. Otherwise, the current political-military deadlock will result in the continuation of disputes and the continuation of 'national confusion' in Afghanistan.