Published on 12 Apr 2011 at 10:20
As Afghans and the international community come to terms with recent events in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, many are wondering what it means for the transition process. The Northern capital, Mazar-e-Sharif, was one of the first cities slated to be handed over to full Afghan sovereignty, but the attack on the UNAMA office has raised doubts that the Afghan security forces are ready for the responsibility.
On April 1, violent protests broke out after Friday prayers in Mazar. A huge crowd, angry over the burning of the Quran in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones, moved towards the UNAMA compound, overwhelmed the guards, and killed seven, including three UN officials and four international security personnel. At least five Afghans were also killed, with up to 30 injured.
The Police were unable to control the protest, and provincial authorities are now claiming that the Taliban provoked the violence.
Kandahar, in the South, witnessed similar violence, with ten killed and up to 80 injured.
On March 22, President Hamid Karzai officially announced that Afghan National Security Forces would begin taking security responsibility in some locations. He listed the seven first sites scheduled to be transferred to Afghan security forces by July of this year; Mazar-e-Sharif was among them.
Karzai stated that this would be a step towards strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces. The United States, NATO and Pakistan have also supported this transition process.
Afghan Forces Are Not Prepare to Take Over the Responsibility
But many believe that Afghan Forces are unable to assume responsibility for security. These doubts have intensified after the recent violence.
“Afghan National Security Forces are not capable of taking over responsibility for security,” said Noor-ul-Haq Uloomi, a military analyst. “This transfer of security responsibility will just encourage the Taliban.”
Uloomi believes that the Afghan forces are not able to cope with the challenges, given the frequency of Taliban attacks, and lack of modern military equipment.
“This will just be a symbolic process,” he added.
The transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces was one of Karzai’s proposals at the Kabul Conference in July, 2010. The deadline for completion of the transition is 2014. Karzai suggested an increase in the number of Afghan National Army soldiers to 170,000 and Afghan National Police to 134,000 by October, 2011.
Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, told the BBC that this transition should not be an excuse for the international community to leave Afghanistan.
According to De Mistura, if the international community were to abandon Afghanistan, Karzai could find himself a similar situation to that of Dr. Najibullah, the last president of the Communist regime in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1989, Najibullah struggled for three years to defeat the Taliban before his regime fell in 1992, leading to a bloody civil war. Najibullah himself was killed when the Taliban reached Kabul in September, 1996.
The Afghan government has begun to accelerate the peace process: last week the secretary of the High Peace Council, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, confirmed that talks have been continuing with the Taliban. But it is not at all certain that the Karzai government will be successful in reaching an agreement with the insurgents.
The Afghan government has made numerous efforts over the past ten years to bring the Taliban to the table, with President Karzai publicly appealing for the “disgruntled brothers” and “sons of the soil” to come back into the fold.
But the peace process has been stymied by harsh preconditions on both sides: the Afghan government, backed by the international community, has insisted that the Taliban lay down their arms and accept the Afghan Constitution before any negotiations begin, something that the Taliban has said is tantamount to surrender.
The Taliban, for their part, maintain that they will not enter into negotiations until all foreign troops have left the country.
The Afghan government is also facing difficulties in taking a greater role in other types of governance.
At the opening ceremony for the new Parliament in January, Karzai strongly criticized the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) for preventing the development of good governance in Afghanistan.
“We should defend our legality and legitimacy,” he said. “The Afghan government will lose its legitimacy if it cannot have loyal governors, district governors or MPs. Governors’ offices should be opened for the people, rather than for the PRTs.”
PRTs, which are administered by various countries, are implementing infrastructure projects, using the money pledged as international aid to Afghanistan. Karzai has repeatedly asked the donors to channel this money directly through government’s budget.
But this has also raised concerns among international donors; the Afghan government is widely seen as inefficient and corrupt. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2010, Afghanistan is tied with Myanmar for second most corrupt country in the world, with Somalia ranking first.
In addition, Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry announced that government ministries were not able to spend more than 30 percent of their infrastructure budgets in 2010.
Heterogeneous Balance in the Government
“The main task of the police force is to keep public security, but they have been involved in military operations for the past nine years,” he said. “The police should have been trained to control protests.”All of these questions will complicate the transition to full Afghan sovereignty, and are raising immediate concerns about security, especially in the wake of the violence in Mazar and Kandahar.
Abdul Hadi Khalid, former Deputy Minister of the Interior, believes that Afghan forces, particularly the police, have not received sufficient training in how to control protests.
He did not agree with what the authorities called “the Taliban influence” as the reason for the violence in Mazar. He sees the accusations leveled at the Taliban as political posturing on the part of government officials.
“In my opinion, the Taliban do not have the capability to destabilize security in major cities,” he said. “But some specific groups inside the government organize conspiracies to eject their rivals from power.”
Khalid did not name any specific group but pointed to the rising conflict between Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of the Balkh province and other government officials.
According to political analyst Mohmood Saiqal, the process of transferring security responsibility to Afghan Forces is premature and unrealistic.
“Everyday the Ministries of Defense and the Interior complain about lack of military equipment and the poor state of the air force,” he said. “So how will Afghan forces be able to take over security responsibility? On the other hand, using violence to achieve political goals is still dominant on the other side of the border (Pakistan) and the Taliban are intensifying their attacks.”
According to Saiqal, the lack of good governance as well as widespread corruption in government offices will stall the security handover. People are dissatisfied with their government, which has opened the door for insecurity.
Karzai argues that the withdrawal of foreign troops and the increasing role of the Afghan security forces is a step towards good governance. But according to Saiqal, it will be a major achievement for the Taliban, who insist that international forces leave Afghanistan.
Afghan officials, as well as General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. and NATO Forces in Afghanistan, have warned that 2011 will be a difficult year. The Taliban, they say, will step up their attacks to regain ground lost as a result of last year’s surge in American forces.
Given the current crisis, Afghans question whether the international community will be able to implement their program of transferring security to Afghan forces. Many are also wondering if Afghanistan will once again fall into the hands of the Taliban.
- Kerry calls Afghanistan's Karzai to ease anger over Taliban office - NBCNews.com
- Taliban to Join Talks With Negotiators as Afghanistan Takes Control of Security - PBS
- First Take: Afghanistan's Karzai, unreliable as ever - USA TODAY
- Is Peace and Stability Possible in Afghanistan ? - PBS
- Taliban agree to peace talks with US over Afghanistan – full statement - The Guardian
- Officials: 4 US troops killed in Afghanistan - USA TODAY
- US Promises Smooth Transfer of Quagmire from Afghanistan to Syria - New Yorker
- NATO and Afghanistan - NATO HQ (press release)
- US, Taliban to meet in Qatar for 'key milestone' toward ending Afghanistan war - NBCNews.com (blog)
- Barack Obama has given the Taliban the upper hand in Afghanistan - Telegraph.co.uk