Saturday, July 17, 2010

Afghanistan: Slip sliding away

By Prakash Joshi
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) - As the war in Afghanistan enters another summer of increasing violence, a new report finds that the international community is experiencing severe difficulties in the crucial battle to win over the hearts and minds of the local population in southern Afghanistan.

It is not surprising therefore that there is growing pressure for a withdrawal among the public in the member countries of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), as evidenced by a new ABC News/Washington Post telephone poll released on July 16.

A survey by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) finds that 70 percent of Afghan men interviewed in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan, the scene of some of the war's most intense fighting, feel that the military operations in their area were "bad for the Afghan people.

55 percent believe that the NATO-ISAF troops amounting to 119,500 are in Afghanistan" only for their own benefit, to destroy or occupy the country, or to destroy Islam", says Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of ICOS.

"Further demonstrating this negative viewpoint, 75 percent of interviewees stated that they believe foreigners disrespect their religion and traditions, 68 percent believe that NATO forces do not protect the local population."

"70 percent of the Afghans we interviewed stated that recent military actions in their area were wrong, and 59 percent oppose a new military offensive being built up by NATO forces in Kandahar. Military operations by their very nature have a negative impact on the community. The military operations have to be supported by aid, development and political efforts that balance out the negative impact with positive impacts," the ICOS report points out.

The report states that "the Taliban has entrenched itself in the local society and created an effective political narrative: much more than an armed guerrilla insurgency, the Taliban today is a political force and a political player."

Jorrit Kamminga, director of ICOS policy research states: "61 percent of the interviewed Afghans believe that more Afghans are joining the Taliban compared to the year before. 74 percent believe that working with the international forces is wrong."

Kamminga noted that issues also arise with local government. "70 percent of respondents mentioned they believe government officials in their area made money from drug trafficking. Disturbingly, 64 percent also thought that government administrators were linked to the Taliban."

A majority of those interviewed believe more than one third of Afghans support the Taliban and Al Qaeda. 65 percent of interviewees said that Mullah Omar and the Taliban should again join the government.

"There is a serious 'relationship gap' between the international community and the Afghan communities we intend to assist and protect," says MacDonald.

He adds: "The international community is failing to effectively meet the needs of the local population or understand their world view. We are also failing to explain ourselves or our objectives to the Afghan people. This provides clear opportunities for Taliban and Al Qaeda propaganda against the West and has resulted in high levels of negative attitudes towards our troops on the ground."

However, according to the Afghans interviewed, the return of the Taliban may have an important negative side effect: 80 percent believe Al Qaeda will return if the Taliban regain control over Afghanistan.

The ICOS report points out that the clearest lesson of the 9/11 attacks was that global security cannot be disentangled from security in the world's ungoverned spaces, from Afghanistan to Somalia. The lack of international interest in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 allowed the Taliban to rise, and created the space for Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan.

"International actors must take this lesson as its bottom line -- Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups cannot be allowed a safe haven in Afghanistan, regardless of its political terrain. Similarly the Taliban and its affiliates must be prevented from fomenting chaos in other neighbouring states, particularly in Central Asia," warns ICOS.

"If either of these scenarios comes to pass, the international community will have failed in Afghanistan -- an outcome which would raise serious questions about the very future of NATO and the international order."

The international community, therefore, needs to leave behind an Afghanistan which shares and is aligned with its security concerns. "It is now well-established that building up the capacity of the Afghan state and security forces is the only realistic way to permit a NATO withdrawal, but a stable Kabul government and a well equipped Afghan army are not sufficient."

The international community needs a guarantee of fidelity from both the Afghan government, and the Afghan people, that they will not tolerate Al Qaeda or other hostile groups to operate from Afghanistan's territory.

But currently the support and alliance of the Afghan government is not assured. President Karzai, fearing a rapid withdrawal of NATO-ISAF troops, is already reaching out to other states -- Pakistan, Iran, and China, amongst them.

"We could be confronted with a situation where the international community will have invested an enormous military, financial and political effort into an ally that is not entirely reliable and may not entirely share our determination to defeat Al Qaeda. Relying solely on the Afghan government as an ally is not sufficient," warns the ICOS report.

ICOS is an international policy think tank, "working to combine grassroots research and policy innovation at the intersections of security, development, counter-narcotics and public health issues". It does through a unique mix of field research, reports and project implementation, ICOS examines the root causes of current crises, and works to achieve measurable and direct policy results.

ICOS works towards its goals through a series of projects run out of its "regional centres of excellence" in London (UK), New Delhi (India), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and the Emirate of Sharjah in the UAE. (IDN-InDepthNews/16.07.2010)

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