Peace, stability in Afghanistan

AT the Tokyo summit that concluded on July 8, 2012, donor nations pledged $16 billion up to 2015 for the socio-economic development of Afghanistan. The 70 nations that participated in the summit sent a strong message to the effect that Afghanistan will not be left alone to fend for itself after the withdrawal of NATO-ISAF forces. However, the completion of the drawdown will create a security vacuum, particularly in the south-eastern and southern provinces, and the Taliban are likely to step in to fill it. 
The Afghan National Security Forces are unlikely to be in a position to assume independent responsibility for security by end-2014. No plans have yet been made to put in place post-exit arrangements to supplement the capabilities of Afghan security forces. Unless the key regional neighbours, including India, Iran and Pakistan, contribute meaningfully to the efforts to stabilise the country, rather than pursuing narrow national agendas, Afghanistan may be plunged into civil war. This will reverse the gains made in socio-economic development. 
The Afghan National Army (ANA) now numbers 195,000 troops and the strength of the Afghan National Police (ANP) has gone up to 149,208. The ANSF (ANA plus ANP) are being increasingly called upon to take over responsibility for security in districts from which the NATO-ISAF troops are gradually withdrawing. While the number of ANSF personnel is growing steadily, they are not yet operationally and logistically ready to assume independent charge of security operations in areas vacated by NATO-ISAF troops. 
Besides numbers, ANSF personnel lack the requisite weapons and equipment, and are inadequately trained and motivated – desertions and incidents of fratricide are fairly frequent. The standards of junior leadership – the bedrock of counter-insurgency operations – are far from satisfactory. Also, the ANA lacks critical logistics support such as helicopters and high-mobility vehicles and are completely dependent on the NATO-ISAF logistics and casualty evacuation system. 
The NATO-ISAF strategy to “clear-hold-transfer-exit” has only partially succeeded in achieving its political and military goals. The security deficit that will emerge post-exit can be filled to a large extent by the regional neighbours if they can be persuaded to accept the responsibility, including contributing troops to a UN-mandated peacekeeping force. However, the Central Asian Republics (CARs), China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia have divergent agendas. 
India has historically had friendly ties with Afghanistan and wishes to see a stable government installed in Kabul that does not lean excessively on any neighbour. India had supported the Northern Alliance during its operations against the oppressive Taliban regime. Despite its own economy facing a sluggish growth, India has invested heavily in Afghan reconstruction and development plans. India has contributed $1.2 billion so far, and has pledged additional funds to take it total commitment to $ 2 billion. The funds have been spent on road construction and building projects approved by the Afghan government and the local communities. India is also providing training assistance to Afghan administrators, teachers, medical staff and officer cadets, but only within India. Though the Indian private sector has invested only  $ 25 million so far, this is set to change as new investments worth $ 10-12 billion are in the pipeline. 
India’s sustained help and abiding commitment have not received due recognition. Under the right conditions – Afghan concurrence, UN flag, viable logistics support – it may be possible to persuade India to send up to one infantry division (15,000 troops) to supplement the ANSF. At the very least, due to the Indian Army’s immense experience in counter-insurgency operations and cultural affinities that make it easier to train new recruits, India could be invited to train ANA personnel in Afghanistan itself. This will lead to larger numbers of ANA personnel being trained simultaneously than is the case at present. 
Iran’s wait-and-watch policy that has been in place since December 2001 is continuing unchanged. Iran is concerned about the flow of fundamentalist terrorism and narcotics from Afghanistan. It also fears the exodus of a large number of refugees if the security situation deteriorates rapidly after the exit of NATO-ISAF troops, even though Iran would be happy to see their backs. 
Iran is also under pressure due to US sanctions over its quest for the acquisition of nuclear weapons and fears a joint US-Israel attack on its nuclear installations. Under the circumstances, Iran would not like instability in Afghanistan to add to its strategic challenges and is more likely to cooperate rather than confront the international community in Afghanistan. However, Iran is unlikely to join a UN stabilisation force. Iran could contribute by allowing the use of the road from Chabahar port to Zaranj to open up a new route for logistics supplies. Such a move will substantially reduce the present dependence on the two land routes that pass through Pakistan’s Quetta and Peshawar. This can happen only if the US mends its fences with Iran. 
The Pakistan Army and the ISI are continuing to support militant groups like the Haqqani network that are fighting the NATO-ISAF forces by providing safe havens to them, from where they can launch attacks across the Durand Line into Afghanistan. This is so even as the Pakistan Army itself faces well coordinated attacks by Pakistani Taliban like the TTP and the TNSM from across the border. With a stand-off in US-Pakistan relations, the US is continuing with its strategy of trans-border drone strikes to eliminate the Al-Qaeda leadership, and Pakistan is delaying the launch of operations against the TTP in North Waziristan. 
Pakistan still seeks ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and would prefer to have a pliable regime in Kabul when the NATO-ISAF mission ends in 2014. Pakistan does not support the Afghan reconciliation process as a successful outcome will reduce Pakistan’s role in conflict resolution. Pakistan has failed to realise that continuing insurgency in Afghanistan is fuelling instability in its own northwest and will further destabilise the country when its economy is in ruins and the political situation is spiralling out of control. Pakistan seeks to limit India’s influence in Afghanistan and opposes the induction of Indian troops as well as in-situ training. 
Russia and the Central Asian Republics remain key players and have a huge stake in Afghanistan’s future stability. The agreement signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan with the NATO-ISAF forces in June 2012 to permit military hardware being transported out of Afghanistan as part of the draw-down is a major concession and signals their desire to make a meaningful contribution to conflict resolution. Russia signed a similar agreement in early-July 2012. However, Russia and the Central Asian Republics are unlikely to go so far as to join the fight against the Taliban by contributing troops to a stabilisation force. 
Good governance, including a transparent system for the delivery of justice; sustained socio-economic development and a secure environment for the first two to flourish are the three pillars of a successful counter-insurgency campaign. In Afghanistan, the post-ISAF security environment is likely to spin out of control if supplementary security arrangements are not conceived soon and put in place quickly with the help of Afghanistan’s regional neighbours. 
The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst