One year after premature U.S. withdrawal, Afghans again struggle for ‘survival’

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — It came as a stunning reality check which many diplomats knew but did not expect to hear.

In 2016, “survival will be an achievement for the National Unity Government” in war torn Afghanistan. The words came as a blunt assessment by the UN’s new political point man for Afghanistan, Mr. Nicholas Haysom, who warned the Security Council that the beleaguered South Asian land faces a “difficult fighting season” as the Taliban will seriously confront the Kabul government on a nationwide scale.

Haysom, stated five particular challenges facing Afghanistan: an economy characterized by low growth and high unemployment; an intensifying insurgency, an increasingly fractious political environment; the need for continued foreign donor assistance, and progress to achieve a peace deal to end the long running Islamic fundamentalist Taliban insurgency.

Nicholas Haysom.
Nicholas Haysom.

In the wake of the large scale international withdrawal at the end of 2014, which was precipitated by the Obama’s Administration’s premature pullout of the majority of American security forces and the departure of most international troops too, the already fragile economy faced a loss of confidence and growth.

According to Haysom. “Low levels of economic growth have resulted in high unemployment” which in turn “fuels not only the impulse for migration but also lays a foundation for social volatility.”

He adds that “Taliban emboldened by their military successes in Kunduz, will continue to test the Afghan security forces across the country.” So far government forces have held their own in the face of widening attacks. Taliban insurgents have been battling the government for fifteen years.

British Ambassador Peter Wilson stated, “An economy cannot flourish without security. Long-term growth needs long-term stability.”

NATO’s multinational military stabilization mission stands at only 13,000 troops; with 7,000 from the USA, 850 from Germany, 229 from Australia and a score of other countries.

India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbarsddin addressed the deteriorating situation: “The distress signals are unremitting, a worsening security situation, an increase in the tempo of insurgent activities, a greater toll of civilian causalities and a deteriorating humanitarian situation.”

The continuing Afghan conflict has caused significant causalities; 11,000 civilians were killed last year, a quarter of the victims being children.

Significantly, Afghanistan’s government, based on a power sharing agreement, still bedevils a workable political solution in the troubled land. “The National Unity government continues to be subject of criticism on account of economic and security deterioration,” according to Haysom, “it is being challenged by a fractious political elite, the erosion of national unity and consequently that most precious political commodity, hope in the future.”

Despite a swirl of political bickering in the capital Kabul, the fact remains that Afghanistan continues in dire dependence on the international community both for security and for economic assistance.

Sixty-nine percent of government expenditures come from foreign donors. With another Afghan pledging conference approaching, the world community is challenged by the question should we sustain a problematic situation in Afghanistan or more dangerously so, let it unravel?

Since 2002 the United States has given over $13 billion in economic aid to the country through the Agency for International Development (USAID). Japan and Australia are major donors too. Assistance is focused on education, health care and infrastructure building.

The UN’s Haysom stresses, “Failure by the international community to pledge a medium term commitment to Afghanistan will have a devastating impact both materially and on the levels of confidence of ordinary Afghans.” He added bluntly, “Investment in Afghanistan is a better alternative to the costs of integrating immigrants.”

Germany’s delegate Harald Braun concurs, “For Germany and the European Union migration from Afghanistan has become a pressing issue, with the arrival of over 150,000 Afghan nationals to Germany last year alone.” Ambassador Braun added, that Afghanistan can only be successful “if Afghans themselves believe in this future.”

Afghanistan’s Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal stated, “We continue to face challenges from the Taliban, Daesh (ISIL) and Al Qaida and other violent and extremist groups,” yet, “We repeat our call to the Taliban to engage in peace talks and to give up violence. We assure them that they will be among the first beneficiaries of the peace dividend.”

Mr. Hayson reiterated, “We have repeatedly and will continue to call, for nothing less than direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.” But will this olive branch settle the insurgency or shall the militants simply wait out the foreign forces departure? For the U.S. who has paid a steep price in blood and treasure, the political outcome in Afghanistan must not be squandered.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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