President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan should be grateful to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as global attention for a while has shifted from the harsh landscape of Kabul and Kandahar to Pyongyang. But for how long it remains to be seen. US strategic review due in December may once again swing interest to Afghanistan. And there would be many issues on President Obama’s table, the parliamentary elections and allegation of some government officials including the Attorney General’s office intervening in the process is one. The faux pas of holding talks with a Taliban impostor masquerading as the Number Two of the group would be another. Pakistan’s recalcitrance in launching operations in North Waziristan and allowing the Haqqani Group to shift to the Khurram Agency would also be a high priority.
But first the hustings, many issues have cropped up of the Afghan parliamentary elections. Some candidates are not satisfied with the results and plan to hold demonstrations. However the disgruntled are likely to cool off in the days ahead except those who have been rejected after declaration of initial results and candidates from Ghazni. In Ghazni the majority Pashtuns have not been able to win a single seat as all these have gone to the Hazaras. The Pashtun lobby is forcing Mr Karzai to intervene.
The stand adopted by the Attorney General’s office is also strange as this is seen to undermine the independent election bodies which have resisted intervention being unconstitutional. Many see this activism by the AG’s office as being on behalf of the President which is undermining not just the election system but also the President’s credibility with allegations of corruption once again cropping up at the highest level. How Karzai is able to get over the crisis remains to be seen?
Mr Abdullah Abdullah Karzai’s rival for the Presidential post last year who lost out again due to allegations of fraud has a large number of supporters now in the parliament, these may turn on the heat on the President in the months ahead.
On the other hand, the Taliban strategy for talks has apparently worked out smoothly to cause dissent amongst the allies. Offering bait of talks with high leadership some fake personalities were possibly pushed into the game by luring one of the intelligence agencies. While the details of the case are not verifiable for obvious reasons it would be apparent that the Taliban has played this ruse and the agency has possibly fallen for the same in the hopes of acting as a mediator. The Taliban and possibly even Pakistan intelligence agency the ISI may have been on in this game would be having the last laugh. This underlines the perils in such moves in Afghanistan which is a veritable test of cloak and dagger tactics.
The Taliban strategy to undermine NATO operations in the south is also resulting in stiff resistance on the ground. For instance US Marines push into Sangin one of the key strongholds in Helmand province where they have a large presence is multi pronged. While the British who were under resourced had to leave Helmand in a defeatist mood as they tried many strategies including making peace with the Taliban which did not work, now it appears that the Marines are facing the same medicine. The Taliban has a very sophisticated strategy in this area where they have excellent support of the population. The Americans would have to engage in a long drawn out campaign while launching operations to neutralize the Taliban with simultaneous focus on reducing civilian casualties.
The NATO summit in Brussels has however provided a road map and some cushion to the allies in Afghanistan. Acceptance of presence and role for NATO beyond 2014 by President Karzai is based on reality of the situation in Afghanistan where there would continue to be need for international support beyond the set dates.
Capacity building of armed forces and civilian administration being a long process there is a need for sustained support of countries as Afghanistan which have seen over three decades of conflict. Thus there would be a role for the international community much beyond 2014. What role it takes and what proportion would be between security and development remains to be seen? One option is of course a shift to the UN as the key security stake holder, but NATO after having sacrificed so many lives in Afghanistan would not like to lose their pre-eminence.
The Brussels summit also provides some relief to President Obama in terms of time to shape his Afghan strategy in the December review. While the pull out may commence in July 2011 as he had promised the American people a year ago, the size may remain token given current indications from Afghanistan where the Taliban continues to remain strong in the South and the East as well as across the border in Pakistan.
But for the President showing some tangible results before July is also important as the Presidential campaign for 2012 starts heating up next year and given his current politically weak position, he may be looking to bolster up the same by some success in Afghanistan particularly so when the Chinese and the North Korean leadership may not be in an obliging mood.