Post-U.S. Afghanistan

1 Zambelis

Interviewed by Viktor Kaspruk

Chris Zambelis is an analyst and researcher specializing in Middle East affairs with Helios Global, Inc., a risk management group based in the Washington, DC area. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of Helios Global Inc.

– Taliban are ready for a Post-U.S. Afghanistan?

– Certainly, it seems that the Taliban is preparing itself for the eventual withdrawal of the majority of U.S.-led NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Even though a contingent of U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan to bolster what is basically a weak, corrupt, fragmented, and incapable Afghan government and security apparatus while also conducting other missions, there is little doubt that the Taliban believes that it is in a favorable position as we head into 2014.

I believe this to be the case even as notable Taliban and al-Qaeda militants continue to be targeted and killed by U.S. drone attacks and other operations conducted by NATO/ISAF and Afghan forces. In practical terms, the Taliban appears to be making an effort to consolidate its control in regions where it enjoys the most influence and support in the run up to the eventual withdrawal of the majority of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The perception of this reality casts the Afghan government (and its foreign benefactors) as weak and incompetent. The Taliban also continues to mount attacks against NATO/ISAF and Afghan forces and institutions, especially in locations considered to be relatively secure (by Afghanistan’s standards) and where Afghan government influence is the greatest.

The recent strike against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Christmas Day is a case in point. Moreover, I think the Taliban is also determined to shore up its position as the eventual withdrawal of foreign forces begins for the ongoing, albeit quiet, diplomacy that is occuring between the rival parties over the future of Afghanistan. Despite the eventual withdrawal of most foreign forces from Afghanistan, it is very likely that the United States and its NATO/ISAF partners will continue to lend critical support to the Afghan government, especially military support.

These actors are also likely to back anti-Taliban militias and paramilitaries in order to check Taliban advances on the ground. Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Iran and Pakistan, not to mention Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, will also join the fray in similar fashion in order to project their own respective interests, as will major regional powers such as Russia, China, and India. All of these factors, among others, figure into the Taliban’s calculus about a post-U.S. Afghanistan.

– Of Karzai regime has chances to keep the power?

– Afghan President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally mandated to leave office in September 2014 following presidential elections that are scheduled to be held in April. While Karzai is exploiting the controversy over the terms of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States — the BSA outlines the parameters of future U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, including force deployments and operations — to win political points against the United States and his domestic rivals, there are no serious indications that he will attempt to upend the current political process by contesting elections or staying on after his mandate expires.
Even the Taliban has repeatedly rebuffed his calls for direct peace negotiations even as it has expressed a willingness to accept the utility of negotiations with its enemies. Moreover, Karzai is isolated at home politically and far from indispensable to Afghanistan’s future political development.

– Uncertainty continues to cloud the future of Afghanistan?

– Afghanistan’s future remains very bleak. While there remains an outside, albeit unrealistic, hope for successful peace negotiations involving the warring parties, the prospects of a renewed period of civil war following the eventual withdrawal of NATO/ISAF forces is highly likely. In this regard, one particular dynamic worth watching involves the course of events in neighboring Pakistan.

The growth of Pakistan’s own Taliban-inspired movement the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (also referred to as the Pakistan Taliban) coupled with the steady deterioration of Pakistani society presents its own set of challenges to Afghanistan. At the same time, a number of important actors, including China and India, have carved out major stakes in Afghanistan’s economy under the Karzai regime.

This reality will have a profound impact on post-U.S. Afghanistan. For example, as its political, economic, and security interests expand in Afghanistan and the broader Central and South Asian geographic space commensurate with its global clout, China will pay closer attention to what is happening in Afghanistan. It is important to note that China and Afghanistan share a short border and that China has emerged as one of Afghanistan’s largest sources of foreign direct investment (FDI).
Similarly, India has leveraged its friendly ties with the Karzai regime to expand its presence in the Afghan economy, making it one of Afghanistan’s top sources of FDI.

Of course, security concerns will continue to shape U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, especially in the context of al-Qaeda’s presence in the country and Pakistan. When considering the gravity of the existing domestic social, political, economic, and security challenges that are hindering Afghanistan’s development, the prevailing geopolitical climate adds more complexity to what promises to be a volatile future.

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