by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS – Afghanistan’s long and tortuous road to peace and reconciliation still seems a near mirage as an entrenched terrorist insurgency seems to rebuff political and security gains made by the Kabul government and international military assistance. Still the UN mission in the war torn South Asian country seems cautiously optimistic and offered a renewed hope for a still complex peace process.
Addressing the Security Council, Nicholas Haysom, the UN’s representative for the Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) stated that, “significant developments” had brought renewed hope for the peace process including the new National Unity Government and a dialogue between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
While Taliban terrorists had suffered setbacks, other factions of the militants were willing to negotiate with the central government.
Ominously, Nicholas Haysom warned that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “had also established a foothold in the country” which while not yet significant, had a “potential to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups could rally.”
Speaking before the Security Council, Russia’s deputy UN delegate Vladimir Safronkov reiterated that extremists would try to “rock the boat” of the new Afghan government as well as test the country’s security forces. He warned about the widening activities of Islamic State (ISIL) as well as Afghanistan’s rising drug production which now equaled fifteen percent of the beleaguered country’s gross domestic product.
Attacks on civilians by Taliban insurgents were responsible for most of the 10,000 civilians killed in 2014.
Afghanistan’s Ambassador, Zahir Tanin, concurred by adding that the past year had seen “tremendous progress and change” with the country having completed its political and security transition. There were elections which saw the first-ever transfer from one democratically elected government to another, and equally, the ending of the long running International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) which has been replaced by a new NATO mission, Operation “Resolute Support”.
Since the multinational intervention in 2001 toppled the ruling Taliban Islamic fundamentalist regime, security in Afghanistan rested on American forces as well as ISAF. In turn both the USA and ISAF have been training Afghan security forces and police to various levels of success as to be able to independently carry the country’s security burden.
The ISAF mission ended in 2014 with the Afghan national army assuming full responsibility for combat operations.
Today the new NATO mission “Resolute Support” deploys a multinational force of 13,000 of which the USA fields 6,800 troops, Germany 850, Italy 500 and the United Kingdom 470, among others. Just one year ago, ISAF still maintained a 51,000 contingent which included 33,000 Americans. Despite the ongoing insurgency, the mission has been considerably downsized.
To be sure, the situation has changed. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant stated, “We must not lose sight of how far Afghanistan has come in the last year,” in light of the presidential election and the Kabul government’s responsibility for security.
What the Kabul government calls the Transformation Decade (2015-2024) nonetheless faces a peace process which the UN envoy called “fragile and vulnerable to external destabilization,” and a moribund economy as well.
India’s delegate, Asoke Mukerji, admitted candidly that “Afghanistan’s economic transition must be supported by a private sector-led process.” Slovakia’s UN Ambassador, Frantisek Ruzicka, concurred citing his own country’s experience, “Foreign aid could only help overcome difficulties in the initial phase of the country’s transformation. Deep structural reform was both the most important and the most painful part of the process.”
Afghanistan still depends heavily on development aid with the USA and Japan being the top donors.
Resolving the complex security threat from the Pakistan-based Taliban remains paramount. Traditionally Pakistan has played a double-game in the region by supporting some Taliban terrorists while at the same time often being the victim of their attacks. Much of this has to do with the complex tribal and ethnic quilt of peoples who traditionally lived on both sides of the current border.
Now the new “fighting season” in Afghanistan will test the mettle of the Afghan army and shall equally challenge the political will of countries, especially the USA, to keep a small but significant troop commitment as a security “insurance policy” to guard the past gains which were won through so much blood, sweat and treasure.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).