Concerns and Prospects on Security Transition

My op-ed on Daily Outlook Afghanistan, March 23

It was not that of a surprise. A couple of days ago some from Government circles were saying that President Karzai is going to make a surprise speech on Nawroz announcing areas for security transition to be controlled by Afghan security forces. In a graduation ceremony at military academy in Kabul on Tuesday, President Karzai announced names of some cities and provinces for security transition a day after Nawroz. He didn’t attend the main Nawroz gathering at Blue Mosque in Mazar city. Actually he has not attended that national event for the past couple of years since his rivalry with Governor Atta. Second Vice President Karim Khalili visited and took part in the ceremony. He emphasized on talks with Taliban asking insurgents to lay down arms and join the peace process. I am mentioning the Blue Mosque event because it is an example of the weakness of our political leadership and fragility of the system, which is relevant in the important debate about security transition towards withdrawal of foreign troops and other related affairs. President Karzai, despite his firm control in a strongly centralized power system, is like a powerless figurehead when it comes to affairs in Mazar. Governor Atta has been a strong critic of Karzai in public and doesn’t shy from open rivalry against his President. This single example shows the leadership weakness in different fronts from internal tribal politics to the complexity of talks with the Taliban. Capability of our national security forces is not the only condition for transition process before withdrawal of foreign troops. Political stability and a national consensus on all issues from transition to talks with the Taliban are more important than the race to increase the quantity but not the quality of Afghan National Security Forces.

The announcement was not “a surprise” because the cities and provinces to be controlled by Afghan forces from mid-July are ones that have already been virtually under Afghan security control. The names include two of the most peaceful provinces Bamyan and Panjsher, which are under Afghan security control from the time when Taliban was ousted from these areas, and cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Lashkargah, Kabul Province, expect Sarobi, and Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province. Lashkargah, capital of the volatile Helmand province, which is center of Taliban insurgency, is the only area as a test for the Afghan forces. Mazar and Herat cities were already controlled by Afghan forces, and none of its districts are included in this transition plan. Afghan forces have been in control of security in Kabul since 2008, so nothing new in that.

There have been mixed reaction on this announcement. People in Lashkargah are confident about security and capability of Afghan forces, while people in Bamyan are concerned. Similarly, the officials are also divided. For instance, Governor of Panjsher says the transition announcement is very symbolic. “People know where and how much deep are the troubles,” he told ToloNews. Governor of Kunduz, a troubled province of the peaceful North, is not confident of the capability of Afghan security forces. He says, “Afghan security forces have not the logistical capacity for security transition.” Meanwhile the Governor of Helmand is confident about the transition.

Former Member of Parliament Noorul Haq Ulumi calls the move “symbolic”. The former military commander of the communist era said, “You know symbolic moves are not effective and they won’t achieve any goals. Afghan forces lack the capability and equipment to carry operations independently.” Similar concerns are shared by many Afghan intellectuals.

The transition plan and withdrawal plan of foreign troops are hasty decisions and there have not been tight scheduling for this. Since 2001, the process of training of Afghan security forces has been very slow and weak. The transition and withdrawal were not taken as a serious target in the initial years. Our troops don’t have the proper equipment. We don’t have air force, how can they would be able to carry full-fledged operations against any situation like a rise of insurgency in any particular part of these areas that have been announced for transition?

Afghan women rights activist and analyst Frogh Wazhma says, “Americans base their decisions for transition and withdrawal on the empty confidence of President Karzai, who doesn’t talk to his constituency anymore.” Wazhma is also concerned with the over confidence of President Karzai and about the lack of equipment and weapons with Afghan forces. She says “we don’t have tanks, other weapons and air force.”

Afghans have to take the responsibility of their security one day. And it would have been much better, if we had started talking about all this some years ago, when insurgency was not at its worst. The deadlines are pushing us to get alarmed to the fact that foreign forces are not going to be with us forever and the sooner we take control of our security, the better.

Former Chief of Staff in Foreign Ministry and Afghanistan’s Envoy to UN in Vienna, Wahid Munawar is also optimistic about the process. He told me,

“Although reluctant, I am content to see Helmand as part of the transition. We need to have equilibrium in our distribution of responsibility. For example in Mazar we may not need as many ANA & ANP allocated as we do in Helmand. This will balance out Afghan government’s efforts. A recent survey by BBC poll found the proportion of Helmand residents who say their security is “good” has jumped from 14% to 67% since 2009.”

Afghan analyst Ahmad Shuja says,

“The transition has more symbolic value than actual, practical significance for the Afghans. It shows that Afghan forces are willing to take over even when they are not fully trained and qualitatively ready. However, the possibility that they will be overwhelmed by the insurgents is always there.

“With removal of foreign troops from some provinces — the New Zealand PRT from Bamyan, for example — the little aid these provinces receive will dry out. And obviously, the choice of Helmand in this first phase of security transition is just confounding.”

I agree to Munawar when he says,

“while training and equipments of ANA is provided by the international community, the heart to fight for Afghanistan must come from Afghan leadership. The Commander in Chief cannot exude weakness in public that will demoralize its troops. For instance, imagine if Churchill had to weep in public that his son will be raised by Germans!? Therefore, continuous motivation to defend Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan denotes utmost importance. It is also imperative that the Afghan leadership must depart from its old behavior and open the door for a shared responsibility.”

But as I mentioned in the beginning lines, the military capability of Afghan forces is not the only guarantee for a successful transition of responsibility and security control. We need a strong and committed leadership and political stability among the stakeholders of the current system. Former Deputy Interior Minister Abdul Hadi Khalid says, “the security forces would not be able to operate independently unless their leadership was reformed and the government is cleansed of ‘corrupt people’.”

In yesterday’s speech, President Karzai had some other conditions too, besides announcing the names of areas for transition. He said the international community must use the aid money through his government. He makes this wonderful demand without any progress in the fight against corruption in his administration from top to bottom.

One of the reliant conditions for a successful transfer of security control to Afghan forces is the efforts of talks to make a successful peace deal with Taliban. Suppose none of the efforts work out, and insurgency keeps growing, what will happen to the pace of transition and then withdrawal of foreign troops? Do we have an alternative plan? All Afghans are not supportive of the way President Karzai is pursuing plans of talks with Taliban. Two of his best former senior officials, NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar have been the most outspoken opponent of the process. There are many in different parts of the country wary of the process. The Government has to take all segments of society on board in the whole process and form the decisions based on consensus otherwise it would be doomed to another strategy failure.

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Filed under Insurgency, President Karzai, Taliban, US Troops in Afghanistan

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