Karzai’s Afghanistan steps deeper into security quagmire(Commentary)

April 30th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by admin  

By John Stanly
The attempt on President Hamid Karzai’s life in the heart of the capital city of Kabul by suspected Taliban militants underscores the growing pessimism about security in the country. If the April 27 attack is anything to go by, Taliban militants are increasing their influence all across the country. Soon after the attack, the Taliban claimed responsibility saying its aim was to show that it could strike from the capital. The message is clear - the Taliban has reached the capital.

It was not long ago that US President George W. Bush pledged to “smoke” the terrorists “out of their holes” in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. However, almost seven years after he declared a war on terrorism, Taliban militants, once driven out of Kabul by the US with the help of the Northern Alliance, have shown that they can carry out a well-coordinated attack even against the president in his turf.

Given the security situation and the incompetence of the Karzai regime, the latest attack is unlikely to take anybody by surprise. Critics of the US’ Afghan invasion long ago warned that Washington could not win over the Taliban with its muscle power.

Even after seven years of counter-insurgency operations with perhaps the most sophisticated weapons, the Afghan government and its “international allies” are still struggling to ensure security to the citizens staying outside Kabul. Acute poverty and security threats from the Taliban have forced the citizens, mostly in the south, to shift their loyalty to the insurgents. The government’s failure to reach out to the people and take care of their basic needs has driven the Afghans away from Kabul, which is largely perceived as a puppet establishment of Washington.

According to the United Nations, 78 of 376 districts in the country are Taliban strongholds where the government’s security apparatus is totally non-functional. Government officials agree that there is a growing gap between the government and the people that is being exploited by the Taliban. The government is unable to even carry out reconstruction work in the south as Taliban militants frequently attack government forces and often kidnap aid workers.

The Kabul attack shows that the militants are no longer hiding in their “holes” in the Tora Bora Mountains waiting for their opportunity to strike against the foreign troops. They are out in the streets, targeting the supporters and the top leadership of the government - the same strategy the militants used against the Soviet troops in the 1980s. If they succeed in creating a permanent internal security threat among the citizens, they would have won the first part of the battle.

This poses serious doubts about the counter-insurgency strategy of the NATO-led international troops. Last year, more than 8,000 people died in violence related to insurgency, and there were 160 suicide attacks. Kabul, where a large number of international troops are stationed, has been considered relatively calm since the American invasion. However, with the latest attack, the militants have shattered the security claims of the government. The ability of the militants to get so close to Karzai with weapons shows that they had inside help.

The growing concern over the failure of the Afghan strategy was visible when Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov made it clear at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest that NATO alone could not ensure security in Afghanistan. According to him, apart from the NATO and the US, major powers like China and Russia and also the Central Asian republics should be allowed to play a larger role in Afghanistan. It however still remains unclear whether the US would be ready for a realignment of troops in Afghanistan. Russia, on the other side, has so far been reluctant to get involved in Afghanistan though it has strong interests in Central Asia.

A paradigm shift in the western governments’ Afghan policy is inevitable, as the situation gets worse day by day. It is already clear that the puppet government in Kabul, even with the support of the international troops, is not capable of quelling the insurgency. The rise of Sunni Islamists in Afghanistan is in nobody’s interest. To prevent such a catastrophe, the international community should ensure wider cooperation and consider all possible options.

(John Stanly is a research scholar with Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Department of West Asian Studies. He can be contacted at stanly.j@ians.in)

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