All eyes on Af forces taking on Taliban

With the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ending its combat mission in Afghanistan on December 31, Afghanistan’s war for peace has entered a new phase. Henceforth, it will be the Afghan National Army (ANA) and its police force that will be responsible for the country’s security.

The Nato has withdrawn the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan but some 13,000 personnel, mainly American, will remain to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces. The Taliban, which was the target of the 13-year-long Nato mission in Afghanistan, has declared victory over Nato. Indeed, Nato’s military campaign failed to defeat the Taliban and the latter, while ousted from power in 2001, made a stunning comeback.

The surge in Taliban violence in recent months, especially its capacity to carry out attacks in Kabul’s high security zone indicates that it remains a force to reckon with. However, the Nato mission cannot be described as an all-out failure as it provided the security cover under which Afghan reconstruction was undertaken. Literacy, health, nutrition, gender equity, infrastructure, etc. have taken remarkable strides in Afghanistan over the past decade and the Nato’s role in enabling this cannot be ignored.

All eyes will now turn to the Afghan security forces. Can its roughly 340,000 personnel withstand the upcoming onslaught of the Taliban? While the Afghan forces are well trained, motivation runs low. Personnel are poorly paid and many have not received their salaries for months. At least 5,000 soldiers and the police were killed in fighting against the Taliban over the past year. This has dampened morale.

Should the Afghan security forces crumble in the face of the advancing Taliban, Afghanistan could plunge into civil war again. When the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the US lost interest in the region and western and UN humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan dried up. There is a danger now of that mistake being repeated. Donor countries could turn off the aid tap. This will be disastrous for Afghanistan and its people as the many gains made over the last 13 years will be lost.

Regional powers are expected to play a larger role now in stabilising Afghanistan. China, which of late has shown signs of taking on a larger role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and peace process, must convince its friend Pakistan to halt support to the Taliban as its resurgence poses a threat to all countries in the region, Pakistan included. Afghanistan’s return to civil war can be prevented if the region works together towards this goal.

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