The US President’s statement on Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review on 16 December did not surprise many observers, even the Taliban issued a regular statement rejecting conclusions of reasonable progress announced by Mr Barack Obama. The government in Kabul has been silent so far while critics mostly doomsayers have already heralded a warning of another super power facing the proverbial fate of, ‘empires’ in Afghanistan. Yet there has been a change from the gloom of a pull out in July 2011 interpreted as massive drawn to the first rays of hope of a turnaround in the war torn country.
President Obama underlined issues critical to success in the next one year or so. The commitment of the US to the Afghans for security and stability with a time line of 2011 – 2014 remains The success of the US surge in stabilising the situation and setting about a positive security framework has also been stressed while the raison d’etre of US stay in the country that of defeat of the Al Qaeda continues as its elements are considered active and would be able to make a come back in case of a coalition pull out.
The pledge to capacity building of the Afghan security forces has also been underlined. On Pakistan while acknowledging that the country has taken some effective counter terror action the President indicated that more needs to be done.
What is evident is that Afghan situation remains security centric and military driven one to that extent there has not been much progress as was highlighted by the low emphasis on the civil surge per se and its impact.
The Taliban have condemned the Review and stated it as a sign of acceptance of failure and their wining the war. The transparency of the US President in declaring that much had to be done is taken as a victory by the guerrillas and therefore in a way they may continue to claim that it is only time before they are likely to come back to power as after nine years Afghanistan continues to be security stressed and under civilian misrule.
Others in Afghanistan have seen the review with scepticism as the security situation has deteriorated in some parts of the country. In the Afghan mind there is much cynicism as they are not certain of commitment of the Coalition in bringing about peace and stability. While the Afghans are not at all comfortable in case Taliban come back to power, the possibility continues to haunt them and forces them to make compromises with the guerrillas. This attitude will change only once and if the security situation improves.
The intensity of operations in the East and South is continuing in the winters, and there is no respite so far. This should produce some results for the Coalition as generally harsh winters prevent operations in the country and there has been a lull on both sides in the previous years. But this time around General Petraeus is determined to ensure that operations continue. Targeting of terrorists bases in the east and the South is therefore a daily routine for the Marines on the ground.
In Kandahar reportedly some good progress has been made with a number of key districts showing reduced Taliban presence but the guerrillas may be lying low and awaiting suitable opportunities to strike once complacency sets in the coalition forces. But hard core presence in populated areas has considerably gone down and there is limited scope of a major come back unless NATO abandons these areas. Thus the ‘Hold’ and ‘Develop’ part of the Clear, Hold and Develop [CHD] strategy must now be implemented in full measure.
Front facing the Afghan National Army and Police personnel will be the key to counter militancy in Afghanistan. The locals must see more of their own troops and the ANA and ANP in turn must start owning the insurgency so to say to ensure that apprehensions of foreign involvement particularly in activities as night raids is reduced to the bare minimum.
As for New Delhi, India's role in Afghanistan has once again come in the limelight with the Wiki leaks cables and the threat of another terrorist strike on Indians with high level of alert in Kabul. The Indian embassy has been taking this warning seriously after three major successful strikes against officials in the Afghan capital in the past few years. It is obvious that unhappy with growing Indian role in Afghanistan highlighted during the visit of US President Barack Obama to New Delhi Pakistan’s ISI has been attempting to once again hype the terror threat.
What ever it may be, there is greater hope in December 2011 than in the previous year, will 2011 give the Afghans more succour, we will have to wait and watch?