How to contain the crisis in Afghanistan
As events unfold rapidly in Afghanistan, it is important to keep in mind what still can and should be done to limit the fallout from the US and NATO troop withdrawal, and this week’s de facto change of regime.
Afghanistan’s instability is a cause for grave concern throughout the region. While Afghans sort out their internal issues, the rest of the world must continue to engage with, not abandon, the country, to protect civilians, especially members of vulnerable groups that could suffer disproportionately from these changes, including women, minorities, refugees and the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
On Sunday, the US State Department issued an appeal signed by about 70 countries for “the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.” In particular, they said “Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so.” They concluded their appeal by saying: “The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”
The appeal is a good start, but more needs to be done to prevent the situation from escalating.
There are complex and, at times, conflicting motives for the many actors who may try to fill the vacuum left by the US and NATO, and the collapse of the internationally recognized government. Some of those are local leaders raising the mantles of ethnic or religious ambitions, or regional states concerned about threats from Afghanistan’s internal conflict. Much of that competition is possible to manage through engagement with Afghanistan, economic development, aid, and regional and international cooperation.
For the sake of America’s own strategic interests, regional stability, international peace, and most of all, for the sake of the people, Afghans should be assisted to negotiate their future in light of this week’s dramatic developments. If we do not do it now, we will be sure to suffer the consequences down the road, and we may have to, before very long, respond to the next crisis taking place in that country.
It may be too early to precisely deconstruct the current situation, but there are several priority areas for international engagement and cooperation on Afghanistan.
First is minimizing the flow of refugees. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the country has produced more refugees than any other, with the possible exception of Syria. Today it is estimated that there are more than 6 million refugees and millions more IDPs. To reverse that trend, hostilities must swiftly cease and a peace process must begin.
Second is preventing the country from becoming a haven for transnational terrorist organizations once again. Al-Qaeda still has a base in Afghanistan and Daesh maintains a notable presence. Both have recently raised the level of their rhetoric and attacks within Afghanistan. The Taliban needs to be pressured to contain them and deny others any presence in their territory.
Third is preventing Afghanistan from becoming a battleground between predatory outside powers. Global power competition can be managed through the UN Security Council (UNSC), led by the US and NATO as the most recent arbiter of war, peace and economic development in Afghanistan.
Fourth is combating drug trafficking, which has provided much of the funding for the conflict in Afghanistan, but is a serious cause for concern for many countries in the region and beyond. Economic development, if appropriately managed, could provide alternatives for the drug trade.
Fifth is drawing the right lessons from the failure of the US invasion of Afghanistan. After 20 years of “endless war,” the US failed to move Afghanistan in the right direction, a fact that the Soviet Union and earlier invaders found out the hard way. That lesson should be emphasized to guide regional competition away from using futile military means.
Afghans should be assisted to negotiate their future in light of this week’s dramatic developments.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
While the international community should work together to help Afghanistan and engage with it, the US and NATO bear special responsibility as the primary powers in Afghanistan since 2001. They should take the lead and work with regional powers, including countries in Central Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, to develop ways to engage with Afghanistan in light of those five priorities. In particular, the US-GCC Strategic Partnership, formalized in 2015, should be strengthened to achieve shared goals in Afghanistan.
Regional cooperation could help Afghanistan’s fragile economy. A well-constructed multilateral development regime is needed to develop infrastructure and create civilian jobs for the youth. Developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure and connectivity will help it integrate regionally and take advantage of its strategic location.
Afghanistan has proved that you cannot develop without good governance and accountability. The US and others poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the country over the past two decades, without much to show for it. That aid did not only fail to provide a decent level of development and security, but also distorted the country’s economy and social cohesion, fueled resentment, and helped destabilize it.
Development aid and investment should therefore be conditional on establishing good governance, ending the violence, committing to peaceful means to resolve disputes, and adhering to international human rights standards, including those applied to the rights of women and other vulnerable communities in Afghanistan.
The UNSC has other tools as well. It could revisit the sanctions regime it imposed on Afghan actors under Resolution 1988 and utilize it to reward cooperation and penalize those who destabilize Afghanistan, or continue their malign activities, including terrorism, drug trafficking and gross human rights abuses. National sanction regimes of the US and other countries should also be fine-tuned accordingly.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) assistant secretary-general for political affairs & negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1