Political solution key to breaking Afghan conundrum

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/24 21:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On the evening of August 21, US President Donald Trump proposed a new strategy on Afghanistan. Trump said he would push for more US troops in Afghanistan and strengthen cooperation with NATO allies to resolve the conflict between Pakistan and India.

After Trump unveiled this new strategy, US Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters, "I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous." Though the public doubted the effectiveness of the new strategy, many political elites showed positive attitudes toward it. Republican Senator John McCain said the new Afghanistan strategy is a "big step in the right direction.

As an important stakeholder, the Afghan government responded positively to the strategy. Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador to the US, said Afghans heard "exactly what we needed to." Davood Moradian, the director general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, said that the "tone and narrative" of Trump's speech was "reassuring and uplifting for many of us, because it projects the confidence and resolve which are necessary for our besieged population and exhausted security forces."

This announcement represents a reversal from Trump's stance during the election campaign. He was obliged to change directions because the security pressure in Afghanistan was increasing.

According to NATO, as of February 2017, there were 13,459 troops from 39 countries deployed in Afghanistan, among which 6,941 were American soldiers, accounting for 51.5 percent of the whole force. The total number of the Afghan National Army was about 183,000. This army fought with more than 20 rebel groups, including the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The low effectiveness of the Afghan National Army made it difficult to reverse the security situation in Afghanistan. Although the Afghan government held control over Kabul, the main population center, transportation hub and provincial capitals, the Taliban still expanded its power. Kunduz and Helmand have been the hotly contested areas.

At present, the Taliban controls around 10 percent of the Afghan population, and this number is growing. According to a report from the US Defense Department in 2017, the biggest threat to Afghanistan's security is the Haqqani network. ISIS-K, which emerged in 2015, is also active and destructive.

Some 4,806 cases of terrorist attacks happened from December 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017, for an average of 801 cases per month, an obvious increase compared to the same period in 2016. It was clear that international forces are confronted with extreme pressures.

As a result, Trump couldn't stick to his stance during the campaign, which was, "We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!"

Trump has found three reasons for his new Afghan strategy. First, the US must receive due respect and results. Second, the consequence of an immediate withdrawal is predictable and unacceptable, with Iraq serving as an example. Third, the US is facing urgent threats in Afghanistan and other regions and it must eliminate terrorism resolutely with its international allies.

But even if the US successfully increased troops in Afghanistan, it could only serve to alleviate the tension, but couldn't resolve Afghanistan's root problems. Military strikes are only a means to an end and a political solution is fundamental.

The immediate cause of the turmoil in Afghanistan today is rapid social changes and the ensuing imbalance it has generated on the economy, society and culture. An imbalanced social environment created the opportunities and foundation for the emerging radical political forces.

Without a more effective channel for their political appeals, violence became the only means of expression for radical powers, and a militant attitude prevailed in their daily life. Violence thus escalated and conflicts expanded. So the key to Afghanistan's problem is politics. Actually, the ultimate goal of the Trump administration's new Afghan strategy is also a political solution.

Trump chose the globally accepted principle of "the Afghan people governing Afghanistan." Trump said, "It is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists."

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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