It is increasingly clear that a purely military victory in Afghanistan is impossible. The resurgence of the Taliban and the weakness of the government in Kabul have forced a rethink of strategies to help stabilize the war-torn country. The results were evident at the recent London conference on Afghanistan, where the focus was not on the military, but instead on the civilian tools that can bring peace to that long-suffering nation.
Success ultimately depends on two things: Donor governments keeping their word and providing the contributions they pledged, and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai purging itself of the corruption that erodes its legitimacy and contributes to the fracturing of the country.
The military situation in Afghanistan grows increasingly grim. The Taliban has regrouped and is growing more formidable each day. It has increased the frequency of the attacks that it launches against the Kabul government and the international forces present in the country.
Even though there are more than 100,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan — and more are on the way — signs of progress are hard to find. That bitter reality and the mounting casualties sustained by foreign militaries have encouraged the pursuit of “Afghanization” — the process by which Afghan institutions such as the army, the police and the government take on a larger role in the fight against the Taliban.
At the London conference, the Afghan government agreed to take the lead in providing security to the most violent parts of the country within three years. Mr. Karzai repeated his November pledge that the Kabul government will take control of the physical security of the entire country by 2015. Unfortunately, the prospects of a complete handover of responsibility are small. The Afghan Army and police forces are expected to total 300,000 by October 2011. That is an impressive number, but it is only three-quarters of what experts believe is needed to stabilize and secure the country.
Moreover, Mr. Karzai has insisted that it will take five to 10 years to train and equip Afghan security forces. They will not be financially self-sufficient for as many as 15 years. Western officials concede that Mr. Karzai’s estimates are likely to be correct, but add that he is referring to a fully formed military that handles everything from fighting to logistics.
The London conference was most notable for its recognition that peace depends on a political solution, one that reaches out to parts of the Taliban and tries to reintegrate parts of that militia into Afghan society. This is a hotly disputed issue, with some nations insisting that there can be no peace with the Taliban — a view encouraged by the Taliban leadership, which is unwilling to discuss peace as long as foreign forces remain in Afghanistan. And, yes, the prospect of an enduring peace with the hardline elements of the Taliban, those who support Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, is a fantasy.
There are, however, many moderate members of the Taliban. They joined the militia because the Taliban promised stability. They view the Taliban as a counterbalance to the corrupt warlords who govern many parts of Afghanistan. Some estimate that this group could constitute as much as 80 percent of the Taliban and they could be won over with promises of protection, money and a chance to rejoin a stable Afghan society.
Mr. Karzai has endorsed the proposal and said he intends to call a loya jirga — a peace council of elders — to discuss reconciliation in Afghanistan. A precondition of attendance is the willingness to “cut ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully.” Reportedly, United Nations officials have held unofficial meetings with some members of the Taliban leadership to discuss the prospects for such talks.
Talks will succeed only if the Afghan government has the means to protect fighters who leave the Taliban and then provide them a stable livelihood. The latter requirement needs money and the London conference attendees pledged more than $140 million — the first down payment on an anticipated $500 million — to a new trust fund that will reintegrate those Taliban militants into Afghan society.
Japan continues to pace contributions, providing $50 million, part of a previous pledge of $5 billion.
Money has been a torment for Afghanistan. Too often, it is not available. Or, when it is available, it is stolen. The failure to halt the corruption that has become a way of life in Afghanistan has undermined domestic and international support for Mr. Karzai. He has belatedly promised to make the fight against corruption a “key focus” of his second term as president.
If Mr. Karzai does not make good on that pledge, there will be no progress in the fight against the Taliban and he will find himself increasingly isolated. Quite plainly, the future of Afghanistan is in Mr. Karzai’s hands.
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