A war of attrition punctuated by significant attacks, the conflict in Afghanistan has claimed a staggering number of lives in the latest assault by the Afghan Taliban. Its sheer scale has caused a wave of shock and revulsion in the country. Afghans are angry and rightly so. Following the rapid dismissal of a dozen officers, including two generals, for negligence at the Mazar-i-Sharif military base, the defence minister and the army chief resigned under pressure yesterday. Even in Afghanistan, there are some crimes and failures that simply cannot be tolerated — a sign of hope perhaps that the government understands the need for accountability and is attuned to the public sentiment. Yet, the biggest challenge remains the same: finding a way to fight more effectively against the Taliban while also seeking urgent political reconciliation.
The already daunting challenge to create an effective Afghan fighting force — a military that can hold its own against the Taliban — is being further complicated by increasing indiscipline and possibly even collusion with the insurgents in the lower ranks of the security forces. For a decade-old military in a country with no recent history of a standing army, the Afghan security forces have made some important strides. The special forces in particular are battle-hardened and respected. Under American military guidance, other sections of the Afghan military have managed to battle the Taliban in many parts of the country. But outside core districts and provinces, the military is under a great deal of Taliban pressure, and nationally, the police are in dismal shape. Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, which has long been cool about the creation of a large, organised fighting force on the country’s western border, have discussed the possibility in a serious manner before, but perhaps circumstances offer a new avenue for military cooperation. Pakistan, after all, has accumulated vast counter-insurgency and counterterrorism experience in the past decade. The politics of such a move would be gravely complex and Pakistan must be careful to avoid bringing the Afghan war into this country. However, a training programme and enhanced military cooperation between the two states could have a number of positive effects. The difficulties should not be underestimated, but in the common suffering of the two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan could forge cooperative, terrorism-fighting solutions.
Clearly, even if the Afghan forces are able to improve their performance and reduce battlefield losses, the overall war only has a political solution in the long term. Worryingly, the Afghan government, or at least influential sections within it, appears to have shelved a peace outreach to the Taliban. With the current US administration yet to decide on its own strategy, the relatively quiet winter spell has given way to the heat of the summer battle. Greater clarity and more urgent action are needed.
Dawn News, April 25, 2017