Afghanistan: the internal mess

Updated January 29, 2018

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THE number of dead and injured, the site of the attack deep inside Kabul, and the fact that an ambulance was converted into an enormous bomb are all deeply shocking.

Afghanistan has suffered untold horrors in four decades of near continuous war, but the Kabul attack on Friday will long be remembered for its sheer depravity.

If Afghanistan is to be spared further such atrocities and unconscionable attacks, urgent action will need to be taken by the Afghan government and security forces as well as outside powers with a great deal at stake in Afghanistan.

The inability of the Afghan security forces to protect high-security zones even in the capital city is because, other than a small section of special forces, the overall security apparatus in Afghanistan is in a shambles.

Pressure by the Afghan Taliban is undeniably partly to blame for the shocking disarray in the Afghan security forces, but many of the failures of the security apparatus are well known and internal to it.

Poor training, poor morale, the ability of the Taliban to seemingly infiltrate the security apparatus at will, and a high rate of attrition are all persistent problems.

This suggests that perhaps the size of the security apparatus – military and police – may be too large and that a smaller force could be trained to be more effective.

Security experts are perhaps better placed to identify the specific problems and recommend changes, but it is relatively clear that simply continuing with the existing strategy is not an option.

Indeed, it could lead to progressively worse outcomes – an almost unthinkable possibility for a country and people that have already suffered so much.

Another factor contributing to the surging violence is surely the unending political conflict in Afghanistan. The National Unity Government perhaps now only exists in name with President Ashraf Ghani presiding over a system in which he appears to have little influence.

Without US backing, the government could conceivably collapse overnight.

Theoretically, there could be parliamentary elections later this year and a presidential election in 2019, but there are significant doubts about whether those deadlines can be met.

With such fundamental uncertainty hovering over the political landscape, is it any surprise that an already struggling military component of the state is facing ever more pressure from the Afghan Taliban and the militant Islamic State group? True, outside powers can and should do more to help, but the building blocks of the Afghan state need urgent stabilising.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2018