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At the Kabul International Conference 2010, which was the first Conference to be held in Afghanistan at Foreign Minister level and to be run by the Afghan government, President Hamid Karzai expressed the Afghan government’s determination to have control of security transferred from foreign to Afghan forces. The Conference set the deadline for 2014, but even at the time, the BBC’s Ian Pannell questioned the feasibility of the, albeit, optimistic goal.
In a report, the British journalist estimated that the security situation across the country would not allow plans to move forward in the near future. Violence was on the rise and June 2010 was the deadliest month in nearly nine years of war. Roadside bombings, assassination and suicide attacks were all increasing exponentially but despite these numbers, military commanders and politicians gathered at the Conference were convinced the process was on the right track. The argument was that the rise in violence was a temporary result of the troops’ effort which sometimes aggressively targeted the Taliban. They believed the security of people in the south and east was improving as a result of areas now being controlled by government and not the insurgents. Additionally, there was broad optimism among officials about the numbers and capabilities of Afghan police and soldiers.
The realities a good seven months after the inspiring commitments of the Afghan government and the International Community, are less optimistic. Despite possessing more capabilities than before, the police force and the Afghan army is not considered at all battle-ready. Both groups have problems with desertion, illiteracy, drug abuse, poor supply and logistics as well as a lack of representation from the majority Pashtun ethnic group, the group from which many Taliban members originate, according to the BBC. Concerns have also been raised about the Taliban’s capacity to infiltrate the security forces and investigations are taking place to figure out what happened in the known instances of insider attacks. Screening procedures may need to be significantly revised.
The biggest obstacle remains the hardline Islamic Taliban movement. The group emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and their early popularity was due to their humanitarian work for local communities – their involvement, however, soon brought international accusations of human rights and cultural abuses. A decade later, the Taliban in Afghanistan was accused of providing sanctuary for the al-Qaeda movement following 9/11 and was driven from power in Afghanistan by the US-led coalition.
The senior Taliban leader Mullah Omar has evaded capture since the invasion and is believed to be guiding the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite being under pressure from security forces in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban is presumed to be steadily extending their influence and rendering vast tracts of Afghanistan insecure.
The Red Cross said at a rare press conference in December 2010 that the US plan to start withdrawing troops from July this year, in accordance with Afghan desire for security handover by 2014, would be a great mistake. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed their concern by saying they expect fighting to increase in 2011 just as it had the year before – 2010 being the deadliest year of the war since 2001. Reuter’s quoted the head of ICRC in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, for saying that “The proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organisations to access those in need. Access for the ICRC has over the last 30 years never been as poor”.
This comes in conjunction with the increasingly tense relationship between the Afghan government and its Western backers. The often-uneasy ties have further deteriorated over a bank corruption scandal, a ban on private security contractors, election fraud, the establishment of a US base in the country and more recently, a row over civilian deaths in Kunar province.
The seven-months-old optimism is looking increasingly misplaced if the realities of the situation on the ground do not improve radically in the short term.