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Cementing deals with the insurgents will not help Afghans

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Kabul/Islamabad/Brussels -  U.S. plans to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014 would lead to a collapse of the government in Kabul and serious security risks for the region.

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Afghanistan: Exit vs Engagement, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns of the deep problems that still exist in Afghanistan and of the dire consequences that can ensue unless the foundations of an effective state are put in place. U.S. military operations are now entering their tenth year and policymakers in Washington are looking for a way out. But the key to fighting the insurgency and bringing about the conditions for a political settlement in Afghanistan lies in improving security, justice and governance.

“The exit strategy sounds fairly simple: try to pound the Taliban, build support by protecting civilians, lure disillusioned Taliban over to the government and create resilient security forces”, says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan. “The problem is that none of this is working”.

NATO partners agreed at the Lisbon summit to a gradual withdrawal of combat troops with the goal of transitioning to full Afghan control of security by the end of 2014. In addition, more money will be provided for economic development. The aim is a dignified drawdown of troops as public support wanes, while at the same time ensuring that a post-withdrawal Afghanistan does not become the epicentre of transnational terrorism. An alluring narrative of a successful counter-insurgency campaign has begun to take shape, but the storyline does not match facts on the ground. While success is being measured in numbers of insurgents killed or captured, there is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s momentum or increased stability. The Taliban are more active than ever and they still enjoy sanctuary and support in Pakistan. Civilian deaths are rising. Half-hearted counter-insurgency efforts have unsurprisingly failed to produce results.

As violence increases, the Afghan National Security Forces have proven a poor match for the Taliban. Casualties among Afghan and foreign forces have spiked as have civilian casualties. Afghanistan still lacks a cohesive national security strategy and the Afghan military and police remain dangerously fragmented and highly politicised.

The neglect of governance, an anaemic legal system and weak rule of law lie at the root of these problems. Too little effort has been made to develop political institutions, local government and a functioning judiciary. Insurgents and criminal elements within the political elite have as a result been allowed to fill the vacuum left by the weak Afghan state.

“The current rush to cement deals with the insurgents will not help Afghans nor will it address the very real regional and global security concerns posed by the breakdown of the Afghan state”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “Instead, the key to fighting the insurgency and bringing about the conditions for an inclusive, sustainable political settlement lies in improving security, justice and governance and there are few quick fixes in these areas”.

© Crisis International -
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