Worsening Security Scenario In Afghanistan

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani declared 21 November, a national day of mourning following a massive bomb blast by a suicide bomber which killed over 50 people in a hall packed with religious scholars who had gathered to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet in the Afghan capital on evening of 20 November 2018. Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said more than 80 other people had been injured. Both the Sunni Taliban militant group and a local Daesh (Islamic State) affiliate have in the past attacked religious scholars aligned with the government—who have decreed that suicide attacks are forbidden in Islam. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Taliban were quick to condemn the blast. It is not clear why the religious scholars were targeted on one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar. While Muslims around the world celebrate the Prophet’s birthday, some fundamentalists criticise the events as heretical innovations in Islam.

The conflict in Afghanistan continues to produce record-level civilian casualties, and insurgents continue to hold sway in many areas of the countryside, where in some cases they have set up parallel mini-states. Despite diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war, in recent months the security situation has deteriorated sharply. The entry of Islamic State terrorists from West Asia into the region is seen as a contributing factor for worsening of the security scenario. The Kabul government now controls only 56 percent of Afghan territory, down from 72 percent in 2015, according to a US government report issued earlier this month.

On the other hand, last month, Afghanistan held its long overdue parliamentary elections, which were delayed since 2015. Election officials said four million of the nearly nine million registered voters turned out for the polls. The polls were only the third since the ousting of the extremist Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The Afghan government is keen to prove it is capable of holding the elections despite prevailing security challenges. The Afghan government aims to send a message to the Taliban with this election that despite the ongoing violent campaigns by armed groups, the government is functioning and that the Taliban will have to come to the negotiating table through a political process acceptable to all Afghans.

However, the security situation has affected the elections. While voter turnout in Kabul and other cities was reportedly high, the election was spoiled by technical and organizational problems at many polling stations across the country. Elections in Ghazni were postponed a few months ago due to security issues and Kandahar elections were held over for a week following assassination of the provincial Police Chief Gen. Abdul Raziq. Contrary to large populations’ centres, where security was–for Afghan standards–relatively good, insurgent attacks severely hampered, if not prevented, voting in some more remote areas. The Taliban had asked Afghans to abstain from voting, as they termed the election a plot of American “invaders” and, therefore, resistance to it an alleged ‘religious duty’. The last few months in Afghanistan have been hit by election-related violence. Ten candidates have died in various attacks across the country, along with dozens of their supporters, since the beginning of the nomination period in late May. The preliminary result of the election is expected in later this month.

The end-game in Afghanistan is likely to be a long-drawn affair. The Taliban has not spelt out its plans, and neither for that matter has the Afghan government shown its hands. What is needed in Afghanistan is patience and perseverance. Adhering to the Taliban’s demands will imply giving up gains made since 2001. Moreover, despite democracy and a deep sense of nationhood, Afghans are still not secure in their own country. Hence, any new political dispensation must first provide security to the masses and the political process should be acceptable to the diverse ethnicities that compose the Afghan society.

Script: Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst On Af-Pak Affairs