Beating a Retreat: Prospects for the Transition Process in Afghanistan
As NATO member states gather for their summit in Chicago this coming weekend to discuss the security transition in Afghanistan and the prospect for continued engagement, the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) has released a new report exploring the complexities surrounding NATO’s current transition strategy. In the report ‘Beating a Retreat; Prospects for the Transition Process in Afghanistan’ the author Barbara Stapleton, a former Senior Political Advisor to the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan, describes how the international intervention in Afghanistan has veered from ‘too little too late’ in its crucial early years, to one of ‘too much too late’. And now, as the US and its allies in NATO are getting ready for withdrawal, concerns are mounting over the formidable challenges that are facing the transition and whether it will succeed in delivering its objective: a self-sustaining Afghan state.
The report, based on extensive interviews with those directly involved in the transition strategy – both on the side of the decision-makers and within Afghan civil society where the consequences of the transition will be felt most directly – raises critical questions and argues that a hasty implementation without the necessary conditions in place increases the risk of the Afghan state’s collapse and with it, the prospect of strategic failure for NATO. According to Stapleton: ‘In the rush to get out of the quagmire that Afghanistan has become, the US and other NATO member states may well be preparing the ground for more instability, rather than less.’
The report argues that the transition timeline is too short, making the abandonment of a conditions-based approach practically unavoidable; that the plans for withdrawal have become entwined with the complexities of Afghanistan’s reconciliation process, and that this may collide with US plans for a continued counter-terrorism strategy from bases inside Afghanistan; and that it is by no means sure that the US, currently the main strategic actor in Afghanistan, will maintain its costly lead role. And as noted by Stapleton: ‘The transition is being used as a “forcing mechanism”. But a weak Afghan government cannot be forced into being a sufficiently strong or effective one through the rushed withdrawal of the very support on which it has come to depend.’
The author warns that the military withdrawal may become increasingly incoherent, with NATO member states rushing to withdraw their forces on the back of the US troop drawdown, in the context of growing domestic impatience and Afghan hostility to the international military presence. Internally, the weakness of the Afghan government and its security forces is already understood by an Afghan population highly sensitised to shifts in power. This may further increase insecurity and create opportunities for the armed opposition to exploit.
The author stresses that, although there appears to be no plan B, the chances of strategic failure for NATO cannot be dismissed. Or as she puts it: ‘The predicament now facing the US and its NATO allies is that the costs of failure in Afghanistan, which would profoundly affect the region, must be weighed against the growing political pressure domestically for a swifter exit.’
See also today’s AAN blog by Fabrizio Foschini about the start of phase 3 of the security handover in Afghanistan.
AAN Thematic Report 01/2012
To read the report please click here
To read the report’s executive summary click here
Release date: 16 May 2012
Photo: Thomas Ruttig