While much of current international attention is focussed on the time from now to 2014, with the enteqal (handover) process moving into the focus – President Karzai just had defined the first seven areas of security responsibility affair, namely three full provinces and four other provincial capitals – in particular many Afghans look at the post-2014 period with fear. Our guest blogger Almut Wieland-Karimi(*) has thought about some scenarios – interestingly one which features a negotiated settlement with all post-2001 achievements preserved is not part of her list.
The International Community and the Afghan Government have a date to say good-bye to each other: 2014. By then, responsibility for the security of the country should be transferred to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and a major drawdown of NATO forces will take place. But what are possible post-2014 scenarios, between wishful thinking and the worst case?
Scenario “Victory!”: NATO forces together with ANSF prevail militarily over the insurgent groups, the Taliban & Co. The security situation is relatively stable, and the war is finished. The institution building and democratization process picks up pace and President Hamed Karzai hands over to a democratically elected successor. Afghanistan still ranks among the least developed countries in the world.
Scenario “Forced Marriage”: After long-standing political negotiations strongly supported by the international community, especially the United States and Great Britain, Islamist insurgents become part of a broad-based coalition government. Fighting ends and security is re-established. The constitution of 2003 has been amended and some rights, such as freedom of the press and women’s equality, have been limited. Regional players, such as Pakistan, India, China and Iran, are patrons of the peace agreement between the former insurgents and the Afghan government.
Scenario “The Autocrat”: NATO has not succeeded militarily and political negotiations with the insurgents have failed. Karzai has taken the political initiative; he has changed the constitution and stays on in power after two legislative periods. His regime, democratic in name like the ones formerly known from Egypt or Tunisia, assumes an authoritarian style. Karzai looks for (new) national and international partners. However, the reach of the central government continues to be very limited. Therefore, in Southern and Eastern provinces Islamist groups like the Taliban have their zones of influence. Fighting occurs only occasionally.
Scenario “Back to the Future”: The jihadists, Taliban & Co, are victorious and an Islamist regime is established. Parts of the former Karzai regime, especially the warlords, integrate into this government; others have left the country or form, together with other political actors, a discordant opposition. The international community is also not unified – some states have diplomatic relations with the Islamist government, others don’t. Some groups might strive for a separation of the Northern, Western and central parts of the country. This scenario is a mixture of the status quo ante 2001 and 1994/96.
Scenario “Somalia”: Neither the insurgent jihadist forces nor the Karzai government formerly backed by NATO prevail. Neither the international community nor the regional players or the Afghans have reached a political consensus. A full scale civil war is taking place and each of the parties has its respective regional and international supporters. The war has a destabilizing momentum for the whole region. Many more Afghans take refuge in neighbouring countries. For the Afghan people it is a step back into the 1990s with high numbers of casualties and lack of development, access to education and health services etc.
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The narrative of NATO is that there is a high probability that scenario no 1 “Victory!“ is realistic. Especially many Afghans would be extremely happy with this outcome, notably with the end of violent conflict after more than 30 years of continued fighting in various conflict configurations. However, the insurgents are more likely to have a longer breath than several NATO key members some of which have just started to get involved in yet another trouble spot, Libya. Therefore, “Forced Marriage” and “Back to the Future” seem more realistic by comparison.
The prevention of “The Autocrat” scenario is very much in the hands of the international community that is learning from the current uprisings against autocrats and dictators in the Middle East with whom it has cooperated closely over decades to contain Islamism. Furthermore, Karzai seems to be too weak to take the initiative of a political process into his hands. The worst outcome would be “Somalia”, with regard to the human suffering it entails for the population, the regional instability it would cause and the helplessness of the international community. To sum up: the scenarios 1 to 5 present a ranking of desirability, not of likelihood.
There are only few certainties: The international community will loose its focal interest in Afghanistan and Afghans will loose much of its financial support. The international focus will shift to other trouble spots, like Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Western Africa. One or various of those conflicts – or new ones – will move into the centre of the world’s attention.
The development of the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, as well as the relationship between Pakistan and India remain crucial for the domestic political setting of Afghanistan. The US will stay involved in Afghanistan, either with military bases within the framework of a security partnership, or as a political partner. China will try to support stability in Afghanistan in order to exploit natural resources (in competition with Western companies), secure an export market, and to prevent jihadism and conflict to spread in its own neighbourhood.
Corruption, criminality, and warlordism will stay for some time to come, in greater or lesser intensity – as in many other post-conflict countries. And civilian and development experts will stay for another decade or two, at least.
After the good-bye date of 2014, economic and political cooperation with Afghanistan should definitely continue to sustain the efforts over the last ten years and not exclude Afghanistan from the international community once again. It has it place on the map – to its great disadvantage in the unfortunate position of a geostrategic buffer between various political zones of influence.
(*) Almut Wieland-Karimi is the Director of the Center for International Peace Operations (zif) in Berlin since 2009. On a voluntary basis she has been the Managing Director of the NGO Mediothek Afghanistan since 1993 that supports peace building through education, community building and media development. From 2002 until 2005 she was the Country Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Kabul/Afghanistan. She received her PhD from Humboldt University with a thesis on the relationship between religious and political leaders in Afghanistan. She studied Middle Eastern Studies in Bonn, Cairo and Berlin.
Guest blogs not necessarily reflect AAN opinion but are meant to exchange views and to provoke discussion.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020