Afghan transition period Implications for South Asia The financial Express, 10 October 2013

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Afghan transition period Implications for South Asia

The financial Express, 10 October 2013

Sultana Yesmin

By the end of 2013, the United States and the countries having affiliation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will terminate military involvement in Afghanistan. With the end of its military involvement, the security responsibilities will be handed over from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). By February 2014, the number of the USA forces may fall to 34,000. The withdrawal of these forces will end the long-term US military involvement in Afghanistan that started in 2001 in order to defeat Taliban, the al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist groups from the country.

The end of military intervention of the ISAF will bring about a lot of changes in the country that will entail security implications, not only for the country, but also for the whole South Asian region. If we look at domestic transition, we can see that Afghan security forces will take full security responsibilities for the first time from the international coalition just after the withdrawal of the USA and its affiliated forces. It will also mark a critical moment in the case of ensuring transparency of the Afghan government, capacity building of the ANSF and removing threats of the Taliban as well.

Regarding capability of the Afghan security forces, it can undoubtedly be said these forces are still dependent on NATO's assistance for critical assets and capacities. Though Afghan forces have made progress in some security areas, they still lack proper leadership, command, control and logistical support to ensure a stable Afghanistan. There is also a very low panorama of amalgamation among army, Afghan police, central and provincial government agencies as well as civilians. In this situation, it will be very complicated for the Afghans alone to cope with the changing environment.

The rise of extremism and terrorist groups is also a major concern on Afghanistan's national security front. Despite the USA's decade long arduous fighting against Taliban, its Jihadi partners like the Haqqanis and Herb-i-Islami, however, are well-established and vigorous in the country. It sends a clear message that the USA and its affiliated forces have failed to propose constructive dialogues with Taliban for peaceful handover of power for the next election in Afghanistan. In the meantime, security experts have already voiced concerns about the possibility to fill Afghanistan's future vacuum by Taliban and other extremist groups. There is also a little bit hope of comprehensive negotiation between international forces with Taliban as it had not been possible for the last ten years of external interference. Now, the world has to look at how the ANSF could protect Afghanistan from a probable horrible situation caused by the internal political conflict and ensure a free and fair electoral process for the next election.

Transparency of the Afghan government is very low, because Afghans have been disconnected and alienated from the national government. Specially, Hamid Karzai has mostly failed to ensure internal stability and provide basic public services. Along with dissatisfaction with the Karzai government, Afghan ethnic rifts, patronage networks within Afghan forces, active presence of extremist groups as well as regional power structure also may pose serious threats to a free and fair election in the country.

Afghanistan is also involved with the regional power game. As the country is enriched with enormous mineral and natural resources, most of her neighbouring countries like India, China, Iran and Russia have been involved for the sake of their geographical and strategic interests. The vision of the potential New Silk Road is gaining its geo-political importance in the region. Afghanistan's instability has now been a major concern for India's policy makers due to the potential rise of a terrorist network between Afghanistan and Pakistan on its Western border and the external interference over Afghanistan's natural resources. As a result, India is trying to make a sphere of influence in Afghanistan. India has put significant development efforts and made financial investment in the country. For example, India established over one dozen consulates in Afghanistan and invested nearly $2 billion in 2012 only to establish its hold in Kabul. Recently, besides providing training to the Afghan police force and bureaucracy, India has extended more than $1 billion to Afghanistan as a part of its financial and development assistance.

Due to India's growing involvement with the current government of Afghanistan, Islamabad views the Karzai government as pro-Indian. Pakistan visualises Indian influence in Afghanistan as a grave threat to its national security. On the other hand, China, Russia and Iran are also trying to be major partners of Afghanistan following the power vacuum in the country after withdrawal of the USA-led NATO forces. Therefore, through its sphere of influence, China is trying to ensure that a Muslim separatist group in a western Chinese region cannot build a network with Taliban after withdrawal of the western forces from Afghanistan.

Iran will also strive for an important regional actor in Central Asia and from this strategic interest it will try to re-establish its practical reengagement with Afghanistan. Subsequently, Russia which was dissatisfied with western security presence in Afghanistan will also be seen as one of the foremost power seekers in the region.

Now, we should analyse what may be the implications of a post-NATO Afghanistan on neighbouring countries. It is obvious that instability in Afghanistan presents serious challenges to its neighbours. The re-emergence of Taliban as a dominant factor in Afghan politics will dangerously spread Taliban's ideology to other South Asian countries. As a result, neighbours of Afghanistan, largely the South Asian countries, will be affected most. For example, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are already in a vulnerable position due to the potential rise of extremism. Organised transnational crimes, e.g. human trafficking, small arms proliferation and illicit drug trafficking through instable border areas, may spike.

The international community should ensure the practice of good governance in Afghanistan before their complete withdrawal from the country. Just only capacity building of the ANSF will not bring any peace in the country. We also hope that behind geo-strategic interests, the South Asian countries will build a framework for combating future threats of terrorism in the region.

The writer is a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.

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