The Afghanistan Tinderbox

The Afghanistan Tinderbox

Political and Security Situation in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is facing 5the worst political and security situation since the instalment of new regime after the ouster of Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Currently, the political tensions between the Ashraf Ghani administration and Atta Mohammad Noor over the governorship of the Balkh Province and the recent security incidents in the country have increased concerns on security and political stability in Afghanistan.

The issue of the governorship in Balkh has intensified concerns on the security and stability of Afghanistan. Recently, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan and then the White House made comments on this issue which reveals how critical this has become. Moreover, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan has also offered to play a role in bridging the gap between the two contending parties.

These tensions have spurred at a time when the security situation in this war-torn country has deteriorated to new lows. The emerging situation has also increased the concerns among the Afghan public. In the second half of January 2018, Kabul, the capital of the country, witnessed several attacks and explosions, which shook the Afghan security apparatus and left hundreds killed and numerous injured.

In this backdrop, it is an appropriate time to find answers to four critical questions, which are:

1. Which direction is the security and political situation in Afghanistan headed to?
2. What are the factors behind the current situation?
3. Will the National Unity Government (NUG) be able to control the situation?
4. Is it possible to hold the upcoming parliamentary elections as per the schedule?

In the past one and a half decade in general, and in the past three years of the Ashraf Ghani administration in particular, Afghanistan’s political scenario remained tenuous and full of disagreements and discords; however, despite their resolution, the divergences have taken a new turn and now it seems that the government is increasingly becoming weak against some powers operating within the system.

When the Arg, Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace, appointed a new governor for Balkh province, the ousted Atta Mohammad Noor refused to accept the government’s decision. It was for the first time in the history of NUG that a local official dared challenge the central government. Atta Mohammad Noor organized several gatherings of his supporters and threatened the central government. But, President Ghani is mysteriously silent about the criticism and challenges posed by the deposed governor.

After these disputes lingered, the US government jumped into the fray and the US Vice President Mike Pence talked with President Ghani through a phone call. Later, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass called for an urgent solution to be found to end the dispute. While saying that it was the right of the president “to replace provincial officials,” the ambassador said, “Everyone involved in resolving this issue needs to put the interests of the nation first.”

The White House also cleared its stance through a statement by calling for a peaceful and quick resolution of the dispute. “The United States calls on the parties involved to quickly and peacefully resolve this dispute over the transfer of authority to a new governor. The continued impasse benefits only Afghanistan’s adversaries,” the White House press secretary said.

Moreover, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US envoy to the UN, Afghanistan and Iraq, and a man very close to US president, also made remarks against Noor during an interview; something that shows the US support for the NUG against Atta Mohammad Noor. The United States is more concerned about these rifts because other international players are getting more and more engaged in the Afghan issue and this involvement would jeopardize America’s long- and short-term interests in Afghanistan as well as in the region.

Moreover, unlike the 2014 electoral crisis that ensued in the formation of the NUG, the current situation is a different one. In this situation, some players are pursuing their vested interests by deepening these rifts and pushing the American-installed government to chaos and anarchy.

Besides the political instabilities, the security situation in the country is also worsening day by day. The bloody incidents in Kabul in January have resulted in shifting Afghan people’s attention from political disagreements to insecurity in the country. The attack on the Intercontinental Hotel and then the bloody explosion on the Sadarat Road killed approximately 150 and injured more than 250 people.

Apparently, recent attacks by the Taliban impact the peace process negatively as first the US and now the Afghan government have boycotted the peace talks with the Taliban, but reports suggest that both parties are engaged in unofficial talks as NDS Chief Masoum Stanakzai is reportedly involved with Sher Muhammad Abbas to resume talks with the Taliban. Before the Kabul attacks, it was clear that the new US war strategy will accelerate the violent activities in Afghanistan and there existed concerns that 2018 would be much bloodier for the Afghans.

After the bloody attacks in Kabul, the statement released by the Taliban shows that this group was deliberately kept out of the political scene, particularly in the areas of reconciliation. And, by making remarks about the presence of other militant groups in Afghanistan, the Afghan government has, in effect, tried to undermine the Taliban threat and that was why the Taliban wanted to pressurize the NUG through these attacks.

By analyzing the whole scenario, the basic problem that has led to all these troubles is opting for war strategy rather than peace talks. Until now, the Afghan government has spent all its energy on pressurizing Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table; however, Pakistan, despite its efforts in holding unofficial talks between the parties, could not do so.

Afghanistan’s security situation is, to a large extent, relevant to the US and the Afghan government’s peace and war strategy against the Taliban. Currently, it seems that all parties, including the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban will focus on war, which will further intensify the situation. The US Resolute Support Mission has started bombing they hideouts with B-52 bombers which, according to media reports, have inflicted heavy losses to Taliban though they have not commented on these reports. The increase in the security instabilities will pave the way for political opponents to increase pressure on the government and will directly result in widening the already gaping political chasms.

Nevertheless, the iconic personalities and influential figures in Afghanistan should come forward by neglecting their political differences for the sake of future of their country and help the government in resolving the issues with its political opponents and, of course, settle the prolonged and unproductive peace initiatives with the Taliban.

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