Afghanistan is one of the many countries to have been wronged by geography. It is a country with no sea ports, surrounded by stronger neighbors whose influence cannot be avoided. Afghanistan has also been the focus of many historical conflicts, not due to the country’s natural wealth or assets, but because of its strategic geographical position, and the important role that it plays in the balance of power amongst its more powerful neighbors who are competing for influence.
This situation was very clear during the Cold War that took place between the world’s two superpowers at the time, the former Soviet Union and the USA. The Soviet Union had a military presence in Afghanistan, and the US saw this as an opportunity to weaken its enemy by inciting a proxy war using local and foreign fighters in what came to be known as the time of Jihad. This was one of the reasons behind the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was already suffering from economic problems.
The mistake that was made, and which Afghanistan and the entire world paid for later, was that as soon as the Soviet Union left the country and the celebrations stopped, the world completely forgot about Afghanistan. The Afghans were left to their fate without receiving any developmental aid, and without any genuine attempts for modernization being made, this allowed the Taliban movement to gain control of the country, and Afghanistan later became a center for the Al Qaeda movement. The world did not pay any attention to the danger of the situation in Afghanistan until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, whereupon Afghanistan was subject to a new military invasion, and we entered the new state that we witness today where there are no obvious features of stability in the country. Violence continues in Afghanistan, the central government is not in control of all areas of the country, and without the presence of international forces there is a danger that Afghanistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban once more.
With the recent presidential elections whose official results are expected within the next few days, there is an assumption that Afghanistan has entered a new stage, and there is a need for strategic re-evaluation and stronger international commitment to achieve a realistic vision of a stable Afghanistan that is able to protect itself within a set period of time.
It is positive for the Afghans that the new US administration considers the country to be a priority in its foreign policy, whilst the statements made by its military leaders and politicians reflect the understanding that the battle will not be won by military means alone, but through diplomatic assistance, as well as developmental and educational programs and so on.
As for thinking or talking about operational strategies to achieve stability in Afghanistan, this goal, and the time parameter for this to be achieved, must be realistic, and some estimate this to be as long as 40 years. This may be pessimistic, but in reality all recognize that the obligation towards Afghanistan will last for a long period of time.
The problem with this is that it is difficult to convince public opinion in countries that have forces in Afghanistan and who suffer daily losses to uphold this commitment. Scenarios of military disengagement and sudden withdrawal will result in an even graver situation.
The question that must be asked when talking about realistic strategies is; why has the Afghan army and local security forces not been strengthened to enable them to undertake the greatest burden which is security?
These forces know the local terrain, and are best able to deal with the local population as they are members of it. It is also unbelievable that the Taliban are able to pay its fighters a higher wage than the government’s soldiers receive, according to some reports from Afghanistan. Ultimately, the most important issue is economic development, which has a long way to go, but is the real key to achieving stability in the country.