Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

AAN Year-Ender: What we think about 2010 and 2011

Martine van Bijlert 10 min

As the year draws to a close we have asked friends, members and contributors to reflect on the year that lies behind us and on the new year that is about to start. The result is a long and eclectic list of observations, predictions, concerns and hopes. With the very best wishes for Afghanistan in the years to come – well beyond 2014 – from all of us!

“In 2010 the international military and civilian surge promised new hopes and a renewed focus to turn the tide in the increasingly bloody insurgency in Afghanistan. As the year ends there are little signs of any significant shift in the war. The country enters 2011 with more stubborn challenges that call for international attention. These include weak or inexistent rule of law, corruption, insecurity and of course insurgent violence, and last but not the least a political standoff over the outcome of the recent parliamentary elections. The main question remains whether all these challenges will receive adequate attention and more importantly how long can it be sustained?” — Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Afghanistan Watch

“2010 was the year of “widening gulf between the Afghan Government and its international supporters”. 2011 will be the year of further uncertainty and mistrust, if the status quo does not change.” — Sayed Mohammad Shah, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

“On the battle ground, the year 2010 was not a good year for Afghans and international forces, because of the high number of casualties. But it is now at least widely recognised that there is no military solution for Afghan problems. There is broader consensus than before on the need to create conditions that allow for broader peace negotiations and a settlement, not a deal.” — Shahmahmood Miakhel, Country Director Afghanistan, United States Institute of Peace

“In 2010, Afghanistan backtracked on several hard-won fronts, such as democracy, human rights and security. Some of the year’s memorable scandals were: fraudulent elections; Iranian cash bags to the presidential palace; leaked US Embassy cables; the imposter Taliban commander’s visit to Kabul; and the Kabul Bank debacle. The good news was (I am sorry there is no file here) and the bad news was (I am sorry the file is too heavy to load). The biggest joke was the formation of the High Peace Council, but the most serious event was Karzai’s weeping in public about the future of his sole son Mirwais jan.” — Akmal Dawi, Afghan journalist and human rights activist with the Afghanistan Rights Monitor

2010 was not the year of innovative thinking or novel ideas in Afghanistan. What is clear is that the international community is in a holding pattern, trying to stave off the worst outcomes until it can offload those problems by “transitioning” them to the Afghan government. At that time internationals will declare that Afghanistan was stable when locals took over, so if the country is messed up it’s because the Afghans ruined everything. 2011 will be the year of focussing on Pakistan as a last-ditch effort to resolve Afghan problems. The stepped up drone attacks will result in a deepening and widening of violence and instability in which the ordinary Pakistani will face the brunt of the brutality. I hope that at the end of 2011 I will look back at my prediction for the year and feel a little embarrassed about how wrong I was. But I fear that will not be the case.” — Naheed Mustafa, freelance journalist

“2010 was the critical year. 2011 will be the critical year.” — Aunohita Mojumdar, freelance journalist

“2010 was a year of limited but visible military gains for foreign forces in Afghanistan, deepening lack of trust and tension with its President and a premonition of looming domestic political crisis. 2011 will likely see marked changes in political and, even more so, in military dynamics in the AfPak region, particularly with regards to insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan.” —Janan Mosazai, freelance journalist and researcher

“2010 was the year of yet more talks about fighting corruption, without any tangible action. My fellow citizens paid a billion dollars in small bribes while we witness huge waste, corruption and mismanagement in aid contracts. Someone said “we” are making progress. I am not sure that “we” included my fellow citizens.” — Yama Torabi, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

“While 2010 saw the convening of the first international conference in Kabul, the notion of genuine regional cooperation has a long way to go. With transition and reconciliation high on the 2011 agenda, I hope that regional views and concerns will not be neglected.” — Bruce Koepke, AAN member

“2010 was the year of rising violence and anarchy in the north of Afghanistan. The Taliban were threatening the highway through Baghlan at night at one point. Humanitarian workers were massacred in Badakhshan, contractors were attacked in Kunduz, and armed groups fought it out in Faryab. I’m afraid that 2011 will be a year of rising violence and anarchy in the east of Afghanistan. Loya Paktiya has been getting bad for years, and the government has lost control of large swaths of Kunar and Nuristan. When I visited Nangarhar in September, the province felt like it was on the brink of real violence, with areas in Khogyani and Sherzad having gone over to the insurgency. It would be a real shame, because Jalalabad feels like one of the few success stories in post-2001 Afghanistan.” — Matthieu Aikins, freelance journalist

“2010 was the year of increasing fragmentation of Afghanistan. After years of attempts to build a strong central state and move away from warlordism, the number of armed groups proliferated in 2010. In large part, this was due to various U.S.-backed programs to create local militias. It was also due to increasing fissures within the Taliban, where a newer generation of commanders is proving to be less tied to the leadership than their predecessors.” — Anand Gopal, freelance journalist

“2010 was the year of the Quetta grocer. Never before had a fruit and vegetable seller been able so skillfully to penetrate the rarefied heights of international diplomacy. But if this episode gives pause to those assiduously promoting high-level talks with the Taliban, some good may flow from it. It is time to take a deep breath and ask whether even talk of talks is contributing to instability in Afghanistan; whether negotiations are likely ever to take place, given the Taliban’s repeatedly-voiced intransigence; whether, if they did, they would lead to peace rather than renewed civil war; and whether a re-Talibanised Afghanistan would promote stability rather than turbulence in South Asia and beyond. Hope, as the Athenians warned the Melians, is an expensive commodity.” — Professor William Maley, Australian National University

“Considering all parties to the conflict, 2010 underscores the enduring dissonance between rhetoric and reality; claims and capabilities; professed values and actual practice; foreign and Afghan perspectives; the aggressive or rapacious conduct of the powerful, and the aspiration for peace and justice among ordinary Afghans.” — Matt Waldman, Afghanistan analyst

2010 was the year of political retreat and narrative retrenchment.               2011 will be the year that the constitutional crisis hits its peak.                   — Candace Rondeaux, International Crisis Group

“2010 was the first year of the decade which started with the inauguration of an illegitimately elected president. 2011 will be the year in which the remaining outcomes could be demolished and swallowed by the administration (I hope my prediction turns out to be wrong).” — Gran Hewad, political researcher AAN

“2010 was not the year of a convincing NATO planning process for a sustainable transition (inteqal) to the Afghan government. For 2011 a reliable international commitment is needed – to support Afghan reform forces, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and civil society groups.” — Dr Citha D. Maass, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) 

“2010 was the year I watched developments in Afghanistan from a distance. Continued speculation about talks, confusion over the parliamentary elections, more reporting of rampant corruption. It all seemed a bit familiar. But in London these political machinations and diplomatic manoeuvrings seem less important. Instead people continue to ask the same two questions: why are we still there and what are we trying to achieve? Here’s hoping 2011 will bring some clarity. — Joanna Buckley, former political adviser for the EUSR and UNAMA (2005-2009)

“Stepping inside the Ministry of Agriculture and feeling the hope, optimism and energy of young people with a strong belief that they can make a difference is inspiring and fulfilling. I hope that 2011 can be a year where such positive forces of change gain ground amidst the less hope-inducing events taking place around it.” — Frauke de Weijer, Kuchi policy advisor in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock

“2010 was the year of wide-spread recognition that a political process is needed to ultimately establish peace in Afghanistan. However, it was not a year of translating this acknowledgement into a solid strategy behind which all could align; it was not a year of a reversion of negative trends – be it political, military or economic – as was hoped for earlier in 2010. Instead, it was a year of “more”, but only “more of the same”, and of a growing mismatch between realities on the ground and the corresponding policy responses, mainly driven by withdrawal fantasies (see as examples the “Kabul process”, “Inteqal”, the revamped COIN strategy, the initial assessment of the Parliamentary elections, or further calls for yet another increase in the ANSF). Only if a political strategy is designed and implemented as soon as possible, a political strategy which recognizes the need for an inclusive, nationwide political process and which is shaped in an inclusive manner; only if the international community allows itself to think beyond withdrawal dates, acknowledging the long term requirements of a peace process, institution building or an Afghan democratization process; only then might 2011 be a year inspiring Afghans with hope again and reversing the current “end-game” atmosphere and its consequences.” —Antje Grawe, formerly Analysis and Planning Unit, UNAMA, and founding member AAN

“For me, 2010 was the year when the parallel universes – the one in Afghanistan and those in Western capitals, those inside and outside the wire, the venues of the international conferences like in London and Kabul and the real lives of Afghans – drifted apart from each other even further. Despite all the window-dressing, 2010 also was not the year of a start for necessary reconciliation in Afghanistan. In contrast, the surge (which began in 2009 already) went on, the ‘gloves were taken off’ (an, as usual, unnamed ‘US official’ quoted in the Washington Post), protecting the population was dropped again as the overarching aim and, with a convincing approach for and a national consensus on reconciliation lacking, mistrust and polarization amongst Afghans deepened. I am afraid that we will see more of this in 2011 which will be another ‘crucial year’ of muddling through towards the exit, but not THE crucial one.” — Thomas Ruttig, AAN Co-Director and Senior Analyst, who wished he could be more optimistic

“In 2010 the Afghan government and its administration failed to go through with a national process of Parliamentary elections. Despite appointing 80,000 staff members and spending $162-172 million USD finally the national procedure turned into massive a crisis and a political game. 2011 will not be a year of pride for the Afghan government and its citizens either; the uncompleted crisis will keep the state administration badly engaged.” —Obaid Ali, political researcher AAN

“The year 2010 showed that weak governance in Afghanistan and duplicity of Pakistan in the fight against terrorism and fundamentalism in the region are the main challenges facing peace and state-building in Afghanistan. The future of political stability and the hopes and worries of the people of Afghanistan will be dependent on how these two challenges are approached and dealt with.” — Abdul Jalil Benish,
Afghanistan Watch

“Unfortunately, the past year provided yet another list of missed opportunities — for reconciliation, for de-escalation — and the recent strategic review has again postponed a host of crucial decisions about the war until the spring. I would like to think 2011 will be the year things start to stabilise but I fear the ‘default position’ will simply commit the international engagement to a steady slow slide towards increased civil conflict and the ever-closing window of opportunity will have finally slammed shut.” — Alex Strick van Linschoten, Kandahar-based writer/researcher

“My most heartfelt wish for Afghanistan is that 2011 will be the year of peace talks. Without a policy consensus on a genuine political process, more lives will be lost, billions of dollars will be expended, the corrupt will be enriched, and the war will just grind on.” — Minna Jarvenpaa, Senior Analyst, European Stability Initiative, AAN founding member

“In 2011, the media will be crucial in explaining the claimed success of ISAF in the South. The White House and the Western generals will continue their narrowly focussed (military) exit-strategy, supported by sending their soldiers into valleys and fields for targeted nightraids. These soldiers kill and capture so-called insurgents based on reports provided by their ‘allies’, the notorious Southern warlords. By the end of 2011 it might seem more quiet, but it will mean that these warlords, with the support of ISAF, wiped out anything that looked like local governance. They will act like unruly and brutal kings, who take care of their own tribes and families and are strong enough to keep the opposition quiet for a while.” — Bette Dam, Kabul-based journalist and author of “Expeditie Uruzgan, Hamid Karzai’s Journey to the Palace” (English translation forthcoming)

“2010 was the year that I started wondering how to deal with the continuous barrage of downward trends, battered hopes and concern over what the future will bring. And on how to reflect the other half of the story – the stubborn resilience, the courage, the humour, the empathy. Not so that we can pretend that things are not so bad after all – they are pretty grim – but rather to remind ourselves that hope and humanness are the other side of the story. They can chip away at the misguided strategies and the horrors of war, and they make that people are not just powerless victims.” —Martine van Bijlert, AAN Co-Director and Senior Analyst

“For me as an individual 2010 was a year of success. My family and I went through some good and positive changes in our life and had nice opportunities in terms of personal and professional developments. But for Afghanistan it was another difficult year. In 2010 many important events took place; from international conferences on Afghanistan in London and Kabul to parliamentary elections, peace Jiga, establishment of the peace council, etc., but none of these events could challenge the concerns and worries of Afghans about the situation in their country. Some of these events not only improved the situation and solved the problems in the country, but also contributed to the increased concerns of the people and the deteriorating political situation in the country.

Among these events, the parliamentary election and the debate on the timeframe for the transition/withdrawal of the US military forces from the country were the most controversial ones. There is no clarity on either of these issue and we as ordinary citizens are not only confused, but are highly concerned on the outcomes of these issues. We keep hearing contradictory statements on these two issues; on the parliamentary elections, some of international allies call it a fair and free election while some of them as well as some government authorities call it fraud. On the timeframe for US troops (2014) we keep hearing that one day they talk about gradual transfer of power to Afghans and the other day they talk about 2014 as the deadline for the withdrawal of the forces even if the Afghans are not fully ready to take such a huge responsibility. All these make us extremely worried and confused about the future of the country; are we going forward towards prosperity and democratization or backward where we were before 2002??

As a muslim I should not lose hope and should not give up. I do hope that 2011 will be the year of prosperity for Afghans and their international allies and that it leads them towards sincere friendship and cooperation.” — Najla, an Afghan citizen

And a late entry that makes us blush, but also proud:

“2010 was the year of AAN’s exposure as the top organization where experts who may be the most experienced and knowledgeable people working on Afghanistan served passionately and effectively. AAN has been representing the voices of the silent majority of the people of Afghanistan and enjoys their support.” — Hashim Alavi, former political assistant to the UN envoy for Afghanistan in Kabul


Human Rights International


Martine van Bijlert

More from this author