What Recent Events Reveal Of Afghanistan’s Challenges

September 10, 2009

There is a great deal going on in Afghanistan currently. Reports of fraud have muddied Afghanistan’s August Presidential election where a U.N.-backed election panel has ordered recounts, and invalidated some ballots. Issues of this election share the headlines with the status of NATO forces in the country, and a New York Times reporter who was just rescued by British special forces after being taken hostage by the Taliban. One can ascertain issues that face those in Afghanistan from these recent events. 

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell and his translator had been taken hostage by reported Taliban affiliated forces. This occured Saturday morning after he interviewed some villagers near the scene of an air strike. Farrell was later freed by Afghan soldiers and British special forces; however, his translator, two British soldiers, and an Afghan soldier were killed in the process. The events surrounding the abduction highlight important issues that must be taken into account when thinking about the country. First, it is unclear if the captors were true members of the Taliban as the name has become a generic term for militants throughout Afghanistan. Taliban is no longer applied to just those officially affiliated with the group located primarily in the south of the country. Second, if it was in fact the Taliban who were involved, these events would suggest that the Taliban are becoming more sophisticated. 

This account illustrates the security situation in Afghanistan. It is the latest in a string of incidents which suggest bigger and more complex attacks on NATO forces are becoming the norm from the Taliban. Insurgent groups are using bigger IEDs (improvised explosive device), and are participating in more violent attacks. The expansion of the Taliban forces in retaking Afghanistan has been a steady 20 to 30% in terms of area consistent over the last four years. NATO troops moving into the Taliban stronghold in the south has been the basis for the uptick in recent violence. Taliban forces, which had been moving north and outward, are abruptly turning their efforts back to the south. The status of NATO forces in Afghanistan in operational terms is around 70,000; but, out of those forces, significant elements are not engaged in confronting the militant extremists. 

Due to neglect in recent years, the Taliban have been allowed to steadily build up their presence in southern Afghanistan. Now NATO forces are beginning to conduct operations in places that had become utterly Taliban controlled. The Taliban have been unchallenged in areas like Helmand province, which is in the heart of the poppy growing region of the country. As such, Helmand has acted as the Taliban’s bread basket, because poppy is the main source of the Taliban’s finances. 

The Afghan population may have collective apathy for current events in the region. The August Presidential election had a very low turnout. This may be because a majority of Afghans have given up on a strong central government for protection. Some analysts claim that the population has gotten used to not being able to depend on NATO and government forces. It is possible that Afghans have developed local systems in their own villages for dealing with and manipulating the Taliban when necessary. If this is the case, many Afghans may not look favorably on an expansion of NATO troops. Civilians, who would otherwise have nothing to do with the Taliban, could be working in concert with Taliban forces to expel NATO troops.

The low turnout in voting stations for the August election could have contributed to any vote-rigging. President Karzai has surpassed the 50% mark, which means he does not have to compete in a second round run-off. 

The central government in Afghanistan is complex. The government was engineered to have strong central power with the intention of weakening the Afghan warlords. However, the government construction created a strong central leader only to the extent that he can depend on warlords and local power brokers for authority. This system allows for and encourages political corruption at all levels of the government.

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One Response to “What Recent Events Reveal Of Afghanistan’s Challenges”

  1. Mace Ishida said

    What are the implications of the two events for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if any, that were highlighted in Mr. Johnson’s article? The British and Soviets had extensive experience with Afghanistan in the past and both countries eventually withdrew respective military personnel after failing to achieve political and military objectives. Will the United States eventually follow the path of withdrawing troops as did the British and Soviets because of failed political and military objectives? How long will NATO nations with military personnel in Afghanistan continue to support U.S. policies in that country?

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