Can Afghanistan's Neighbors Stabilize the Country?

By Gurmeet Kanwal

At the July 2012 Tokyo summit, donor nations pledged USD 16 billion up to 2015 for the socio-economic development of Afghanistan. The 70 nations that participated in the summit sent a strong message to the effect that Afghanistan will not be left to fend for itself after the withdrawal of NATO-ISAF forces. However, strong messages are not enough if these are not followed by strong measures in critical areas.

No plans have yet been made to put in place post-exit arrangements to supplement the capabilities of the Afghan security forces. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are unlikely to be in a position to assume independent responsibility for security by end-2014. The completion of the drawdown will create a security vacuum, particularly in the south-eastern and southern provinces, and the Taliban are likely to fill it. Unless Afghanistan's key regional neighbours, including India, Iran and Pakistan, contribute meaningfully to the efforts to stabilise the country, instead of pursuing narrow national agendas, Afghanistan may plunge into a civil war. This will reverse the gains made in socio-economic development over the last 11 years.

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Capacity of ANSF
The Afghan National Army (ANA) now numbers 195,000 troops and the strength of the Afghan National Police (ANP) has gone up to 149,208. The ANSF (ANA plus ANP) are being increasingly called upon to assume responsibility for security in districts from which the NATO-ISAF troops are gradually withdrawing. While the number of ANSF personnel is growing steadily, they are not yet operationally and logistically ready to assume independent charge of security operations in areas vacated by NATO-ISAF troops.

Besides numbers, ANSF personnel lack the requisite weapons and equipment, and are inadequately trained and motivated - desertions and incidents of fratricide are fairly frequent. The standards of junior leadership - the bedrock of counter-insurgency operations - are far from satisfactory. Also, the ANA lacks critical logistics support such as helicopters and high-mobility vehicles and is completely dependent on the NATO-ISAF logistics and casualty evacuation system.

Though the May 2012 Chicago Summit reaffirmed the commitment of the international community towards a continuing partnership with the government of Afghanistan after 2014 and pledged to continue to provide developmental assistance, it did not address the issue of leaving behind a security vacuum and the role that key regional actors could play. This glaring omission will prove costly in the long term for regional peace and security.

Likely Impact
The NATO-ISAF withdrawal without supplementing the fighting capabilities of the ANSF will lead to an unstable security situation. Some of Afghanistan's regional neighbours will promote their core national interests and compete for influence by supporting the warring factions. Western and regional players will need to accommodate Pakistan's core interests in seeking a lasting solution to the Afghan conflict. Instability will lead to a rise in Islamist fundamentalism and create conditions for the al Qaeda to make a comeback.

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Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://idsa.in/idsacomments/PeaceandStabilityinAfghanistanTheRoleofNeighbours_gkanwal_131212.

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