Afghanistan on the road to more stability and security

Posted in Broader Middle East | 20-Feb-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The public interest in global security is currently focused on Iraq and Israel/Palestine. This is understandable given the almost daily dramatic news from these “hot spots.” In Afghanistan, no bad daily news is already good news. There is a risk, however, that the decreased public attention might lead to the misperception that there is no further need for major support and enduring efforts to enhance stability and security in Afghanistan. The present situation is a far cry from the desired end state – a multi-ethnic robust democracy.

One should remember the starting point of US involvement in Afghanistan in late 2001. At that time, the war-torn country’s stability ranked 169th out of 174 states monitored by the UN after 23 years of war, five years of Taliban repression and mismanagement, and four years of drought. Afghanistan was a failed state.

Historically, Afghanistan has never been a nation-state. In the 19th century, it was part of the “Great Game” in the region of the “Greater Middle East,” plus the area of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia Caspian territories. That game ended with a dramatic defeat of Great Britain. In the late 20th century, the Soviet Union had to pay a high price for its invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing ten-year war. This intervention led to another drastic defeat of the invader.

These historic facts were well known when the US government decided to fight against the Taliban on the territory of Afghanistan. The anger and shock after 9/11 were too strong not to do it. But it was clear from the beginning that the occupation of Afghanistan was not the objective of the US intervention.

The defeat of the Taliban was achieved within days with low casualties among the US-led force. The Taliban had to give up the “open” fight and withdraw into hiding in the provinces. After some interim security solutions, NATO took over responsibility in Afghanistan in August 2003 in close coordination with the US forces involved in the operation “Enduring Freedom.” The German general Gotz Gliemeroth was the first commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

After six months, the progress in stabilizing the country is obvious. The successful assembly and work of the “loya jirga,” an emergency grand council, was one highlight. Another was the collection of heavy weapons taken away from the “warlords.” The Taliban forces are on the run. The increasing number of former fighters asking for amnesty and the growing information about Taliban’s activities and hide-outs from the domestic population are all positive signals. The situation, however, is not yet irreversible. Stabilising Afghanistan is not a sprint, but a “Tour de France” with ups and downs. The “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” located in the country have reassured the public that the progress towards security and stability is irreversible.

The elections in summer/fall 2004 will be another milestone on the road to more stability and security - another litmus test.

The future of Afghanistan will be subject of the “Third International Conference on Afghanistan” which will be held in Berlin on March 31 to April 1. Hopefully, there will not be just speeches but real commitment of as many countries as possible to support Afghanistan with the money and the tools to achieve the peace and stability that the people of Afghanistan deserve after decades of hardship.

This newsletter covers a wide spectrum. The exclusive interview with ISAF commander Götz Gliemeroth will give an answer to the question "NATO in Afghanistan - already a success story ?" Kathy Gannon describes Afghanistan as an eye witness - with interesting aspects of women´s life. Carlotte Gall stresses the problems President Karzai envisages strengthening his power. Mikhail Gorbatshev comes to the conclusion: "Soviet War in Afghanistan a mistake".