In the weeks after the publication of an attack by Taliban insurgents in the middle of Kabul, there was grave concern that the “operation” would have devastating consequences for the country and its people. Tens of thousands have fled because of what has happened.
But did the act that provoked the immediate response really amount to military “pressing pause” to “cool the situation”? It seems to have had the opposite effect and has forced a necessary conversation in many quarters about the military operation.
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Earlier this year, the International Crisis Group launched a report, titled The Future of the Afghan People. When the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai rejected the report’s findings – dismissed as “cooked” by one of his aides – it was clear that not everyone in the Afghan civil society shared the same view of the state’s trajectory and the prospects for stability and reconciliation.
Although US aid makes up a significant portion of Afghanistan’s official development budgets, pressure is growing on other countries to provide more help. The initial reaction from western countries has been cautious, but similar comments from groups such as the European Union are likely to generate more robust dialogue.
This is not to say that all Afghans are on board, but there is a growing view that the apparent success of the Taliban in mobilising support for attacks in more urban areas and entering the Kabul belt, the area east of the capital, is perhaps due to a deteriorating situation in the south and east. It is more difficult to define who is “the enemy”, but the existing picture suggests militants are in conflict with the state.
In July, the president, Ashraf Ghani, announced the development of the strategy “Turning Victory into Governance and Securing Stability” – which is to address short-term challenges while establishing programmes to bolster state institutions in the longer term. At the same time he announced a series of measures to give confidence to the population that government institutions are working, especially in a social context.
For more than a decade, pressure on refugees in Iran has been building. Because of concerns about the security of refugees, Iran has limited the supply of permits and paid only nominal heed to the claims for resettlement of individuals. And now, the relationship between the Iranian government and the Kabul government has become more volatile. Refugees in Iran make up 40% of the Afghan diaspora, but humanitarian aid to Afghanistan needs to become stronger if it is to mitigate the impact of these tensions and improve the safety of Afghans who remain within the country.
Aid to the country’s weakened central government has reached nearly $12bn over the last decade, but the scale of the fight against a jihadist insurgency has left only a minuscule share of this available to the political process.
Poverty is one of the main challenges facing Afghans. Many are struggling to find opportunities for income. Not only have economic opportunities become more limited since the international military exit from Afghanistan in 2014, but the end of formal grant-based aid in 2017 exacerbated pressures on the social safety net.
Some have suggested that the manner in which the US and its allies have engaged militarily and then abandoned the country politically resulted in the current climate of despondency and marginalisation.
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Furthermore, while western governments have rightly resisted further military intervention in Afghanistan – which may have been useful in the past – they have done very little to formulate a strategy for reintegrating Afghan youth and women in society.
Increasingly, domestic advocacy and civic education are needed to form the basis of larger campaigns around job creation, corruption and rule of law. It is also vital that government capacity increases through the implementation of social safety nets and for the state to protect its citizens more effectively. At the same time, peace and justice continue to be vital to society.
As World Bank estimates suggest, unemployment and poverty are likely to lead to a large increase in support for the Taliban in the years ahead. With no prospect of lasting peace, and an increasingly unstable security situation, it is crucial that Afghans themselves form the basis of the next national agenda.
Anne Scott is senior programme officer for Afghanistan at the Independent Sector Europe Trust (ISE), a partnership of aid organisations working in hotspots globally.
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