There are signs of increasing concern and rising apprehension in the Western capitals and media regarding the state of affairs in Afghanistan as the deadline of 2014 draws closer while the graph of insurgency and violence continues its sharp climb. The irony is that on October 7, as Afghanistan moved past the tenth anniversary of U.S. attacks that led to the ouster of Taliban in 2001, a new era in post-Taliban Afghanistan emerged out of the dust and fog of the war - a new era that is characterized by the Western patience and optimism wearing thin.
The decade-long offerings of hope and sheer optimism in the success of the war against the Taliban and their allies, it appears, is slowly giving way to more pronounced expressions of concern and worry. The international coalition, which, in partnership with the government of Afghanistan, has been in the forefront of this decade-long crusade, begins to have second thoughts.
On October 7, the Guardian reported that a review of the war in Afghanistan, carried out by the U.K. government and set to be released in November, warns that there is significant risk of a civil war or a Taliban takeover of the south and east of Afghanistan after the foreign troops are withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the former top NATO and ISAF commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has lamented that the U.S. and for that matter, the international coalition, has had a "frighteningly simplistic" view of Afghanistan all along both when it started the war and even up until now as the government of Afghanistan and the NATO-led coalition battle the Taliban.
According to him, the U.S. and the NATO have come only "50% of the way" towards achieving their objectives in Afghanistan. Well, if the U.S. and the NATO have been lucky enough to at least achieve half of their objectives, then, as far the miserable people of Afghanistan are concerned, they have achieved not even a quarter of what they desired and actually deserve.
Even much of these achievements made is in immediate danger of being lost or stymied. While for the U.S. and the broader international coalition, the overarching objective for now, unfortunately, has been reduced to restoring a semblance of security and stability even if the democratic gains are weakened, the people of Afghanistan deserve not less than a functioning democracy, plural and tolerant society and a growing economy.
Personally, i believe that fears and prospects of renewed civil war in Afghanistan, of the type we witnessed in 1990s, is, to a large extent, blown out of proportion. We have to clearly distinguish between a civil war and the kind of low-intensity war that is going on right now in Afghanistan.
A civil war is characterized by a state of utter lawlessness; a collapse of central government and total chaos with varying armed groups and factions vying for power. On the other hand, in the current state of ongoing low-intensity war, the authority of the central government in Kabul, although challenged and weak, rules across much of the country.
The war theater is one of the insurgents versus the central government and its international backers. As for a civil war, it is true that there is ongoing polarization and widening rifts within Afghan polity and society, but the kind of international, regional and domestic vacuum, which partly enabled the civil wars of 1990s, is largely absent today and will be even beyond 2014. Back then, the international isolation that Afghanistan was steeped in and the free ride that the regional countries had in their dealings with Afghanistan made the collapse of the central government and the ensuing civil war possible.
Today, we have a largely different internal, regional and international environment. As admitted by both Afghan and American governments, at a minimum, more than 20,000 American troops will be stationed inside Afghanistan for many years beyond 2014.
Therefore, instead of a civil war, what really threatens Afghanistan is the continuation of the ongoing low-intensity conflict in which pockets of insurgency are pitted against the central government and its international backers. Current indications show that the current insurgency involving the Taliban and their allies might very well continue into the future for years. This is a more realistic prognosis for the future of Afghanistan than an all-out civil war of the type that occurred in the 1990s.
Guardian's grim report and such other reports that predict doom and gloom for Afghanistan are a serious cause for worry not because they talk of renewed civil strife but because such reports and perceptions of Afghanistan divert crucial Western attention and resources away from what Afghanistan really needs - that is crucial, long-term investments in Afghanistan's future - to more immediate, shorter-term goals. Afghanistan still desperately needs western aid and assistance.
When Western policy-makers place the prevention of a "civil war" as their top priority, they tend to focus the limited, available resources on the ongoing war, and consequently would neglect investing in what Afghanistan actually requires in order to gradually stand back on its feet as a self-reliant nation.
In other words, if the international community falter and comes to regard Afghanistan as an already lost cause, it might very well become a so-called self-fulfilling prophesy and in the end we see Afghanistan ending up re-Talibanized. But what is important is that the international community assisting Afghanistan should not lose their hope and focus and continue to invest in the very future of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is not yet a lost cause. The U.S. and other international allies of Afghanistan, in partnership with the government of Afghanistan headed by President Karzai, should continue to seek a regional solution to the war in spite of its difficulties, strive towards reducing the corruption in Afghan government, develop a viable economy and learn from their past mistakes.
In the process, the just-concluded ten years of efforts in Afghanistan contain some valuable lessons as to how to renew efforts for salvaging Afghanistan. Amid turmoil and violence, it is easy to lose hope, but it is not time to falter. The gains made over the past one decade must be defended, Afghanistan's tryst with destiny must be renewed and resolve redoubled to rise to the challenge of these difficult times.