Roundtable: What next for Afghanistan?

With insurgent attacks on NATO forces reaching an all-time high of 40 per day in March, and the violence set to increase during the traditional summer fighting season, five participants and informed observers of the eight-year conflict share their thoughts on Afghanistan’s future.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and author of Attack State Red, an account of military operations in Afghanistan
As President Obama’s troop surge builds during 2010 we are likely to see increased violence. This is an inevitable consequence of NATO’s more intensive engagement of the Taliban in its remaining strongholds, especially around Kandahar.

But the situation should be turned round during 2011. Substantially more NATO and Afghan troops are becoming available to dominate the ground they take: bringing security to the Afghan people, and facilitating reconstruction.

Gaining trust, especially in the Pashtun areas, is critical. For us to have a hope of winning, the people must reject the Taliban and help us combat them. The continued build-up and partnering of Afghan security forces is the key: the difference they have already made in winning over local opinion is palpable.

Two other things are necessary for success: greater cross-border coordination with Pakistan, and reform of the Afghan government.

One thing is certain: any sign of wavering in our commitment to this campaign will encourage the Taliban and reduce the prospects of winning over the local population in places like Helmand and Kandahar.

It will also dismay the Pakistan government, who are desperately concerned that our precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave a vacuum from which their own increasingly dangerous insurgency would be strengthened. Bringing closer the chilling prospect of a nuclear-armed state falling into extremist hands.

Malalai Joya, Afghan MP and author of Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out
Despite the presence of tens of thousands of US/NATO troops, millions of Afghan people are lacking security and keep suffering from hunger, poverty, disease and countless other problems. The outcome of the upcoming NATO offensive in Kandahar – unfortunately, like with other recent operations – will be massacres of more innocent civilians who pay the highest price in blood. After almost nine years of dirty war on the Afghan people, we just want the occupation to end.

The discredited Karzai puppet regime is making efforts to negotiate and bring more hated terrorists like Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar into his corrupt government. Our ordinary people don’t expect these negotiations between murderers to bring peace; they will only complete the circle of warlordism that plagues Afghanistan.

Also I don’t expect any peace or justice to come from Obama’s policy in Afghanistan. He is pouring fuel on the fire. If Obama were really serious about justice, he would have ensured that Bush was tried for war crimes rather than following in his footsteps.

My hope for Afghanistan’s future comes from my poor people, who continue to risk their lives to protest NATO, the Taliban and pro-US warlords. The struggle for true democracy and independence will gain momentum as this tragedy continues.

Christina Lamb, Sunday Times Foreign Affairs Correspondent and author of the forthcoming The Wrong War: The War on Terror in Afghanistan
Having been in Afghanistan in the 1980s and seen what happened, the last thing I think is that we should abandon them again.
The only real path to victory would of course be sending more troops by which I mean serious numbers. With the 30,000 extra agreed by Obama, there will be around 140,000 by summer – more than the Soviets had but way below the 500,000 that most senior commanders estimate are needed.
Just to take the tiny town of Marja needed 15,000 troops. Even if it’s easy to take these places there are not enough troops to hold them. The Taliban are already coming back into Marja.
Not surprisingly the US military command is now playing down the much heralded battle for the key city of Kandahar. It’s not a battle they say, and they have changed the terminology from operation to Cooperation.
Now everyone is talking about talks but no one knows how. Why should the Taliban talk if they feel they are winning? What should they be offered? If the Taliban are given a share of power where will it leave the women whose oppression we were so concerned about in 2001?
And with Obama declaring he wants to start withdrawing troops by July 2011 the Taliban – and their backers in Pakistan – believe they only need to hold on till then.
Milan Rai, Co-editor, Peace News, is co-organising a peace walk for Afghanistan from London to Colchester, 27 June-1 July;
The critical issue is not what we want, but what the people of Afghanistan want.
Credible polls (including the BBC/ARD/ABC poll of last December) suggest that most Afghans fear the Taliban, reluctantly support the presence of the occupation forces (while rating their performance negatively), but want a timetable for withdrawal by US-led forces, and, crucially, demand a negotiated solution that will lead to the Taliban entering central government. Polls in the UK indicate that this package is acceptable to most people in Britain.
When you add in the Taliban proposal that there be a UN replacement force in Afghanistan after the US-led forces withdraw, this is a very credible package. The Taliban have reportedly offered to moderate the strictness of their interpretation of the social required by Islam as part of the national reconciliation process.
Do most people in Afghanistan trust the Taliban? I doubt it very much. No one should take what they say at face value.
At the same time, it is unacceptable for the invaders and their warlord clients to dictate the future of Afghanistan; and every serious commentator recognises the necessity for Afghan government talks (not US or UK talks) with the Taliban senior leadership.
Most Afghans want national reconciliation and peace. There is a credible framework for that to happen. British forces must come home.
Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director, Amnesty International UK
In his 2001 party conference speech Tony Blair argued “inaction” over Afghanistan was not an option. Not just because the country harboured Osama bin Laden, but also because of the Taliban regime’s many human rights outrages, especially its mistreatment of women
Afghan women “are treated in a way almost too revolting to be credible”, said Blair. Soon the plight of Afghan women became a rallying cry around the world.
A decade later things are different (millions of girls at school, extra rights secured for women), but how secure are the changes? For months President Karzai and the major powers have talked of “peace deals” with the Taliban’s “reconcilable” elements. A forthcoming “Peace Jirga” and international conference could see deals that might trade away the few freedoms Afghan women currently have.
This sort of “peace” could be a disaster for Afghanistan’s women. They already suffer widespread societal discrimination, domestic violence and underage marriage. It would be a travesty if their fragile freedoms were traded away to the very groups that subjugated a whole generation in the 1990s.  
It’s a key international principle – UN Resolution 1325 – that a post-conflict nation should include women in any rebuilding process. The Afghan government and the international community should measure future actions against this simple test: are Afghan women better or worse off?

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