Afghanistan from 2012-2014: Is A Successful Transition Possible?
June 19, 2012
The Burke Chair has developed a new analysis reviewing the prospects for a successful form of Transition in Afghanistan. The paper is entitled Afghanistan From 2012-2014: Is A Successful Transition Possible? It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/120619_Afghan_Transition.pdf.
The paper suggests that the key issue in evaluating the prospects for a successful Transition in Afghanistan is not whether a successful transition is possible, but rather whether some form of meaningful transition is probable – two very different concepts. Anthony H. Cordesman argues that a modest form of strategic success is still possible, but that it is too soon to know whether it is probable. Moreover, there are many areas where the current level of planning, analysis, and action combine to sharply reduce the chances for success.
The analysis concludes that any meaningful form of success depends on the following nine conditions:
- The level of real-world military progress the US, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have made against the insurgents to date, and can make through 2014.
- The progress the ANSF make in assuming responsibility for Afghan security between 2012 and 2014, and then sustain after that date with only US and ISAF advisors, far more limited aid funding, and a small US military presence designed to deal with key terrorist threats.
- The extent to which the key insurgent factions – Taliban, Haqqani, Hekmatyar, and Uzbek – either choose to keep fighting and wait out the withdrawal of most US and ISAF forces, or accept some form of peace negotiation based on an end to violence and the legitimacy of the Afghan central government.
- The degree to which the Afghan civil government becomes effective enough to win public support, and provide enough services to win popular support as outside military and aid programs are sharply reduced.
- The extent to which there will be enough foreign aid to help Afghanistan through a period of massive cuts in outside aid and military spending.
- The degree to which a new election between 2013 and 2014, and other changes in Afghan politics, establish a new post-withdrawal balance of power between the non-Pashtun north, various Pashtun elements, and areas under Taliban/Haqqani/Hekmatyar influence and control to create a reasonable level of stability.
- The extent to which Pakistan and other neighboring states accept the creation of a “new” Afghanistan, and the degree to which they do not actively undermine its stability.
- The quality of US-Afghan relations – and whether the US Congress and public see Afghanistan as friendly enough, making enough progress, and valuable enough – for them to support a prolonged transition.
- The degree to which US strategic interests continue to focus on Afghanistan as being key to checking terrorist threats to the US, its allies, and its interests versus evolving threats from Al Qa’ida and other Islamist extremist groups in other countries and regions.
An examination of progress in each of these areas concludes that the Afghan government, the US and its allies, and aid donors have not made enough collective progress to ensure even a modest level of success in Transition by the end of 2014. If the Afghan government, the US and its allies, and aid donors are to succeed, major improvements must take place in the depth and quality of planning and analysis, as well as in the transparency, credibility, and integrity of reporting within the US government, allied governments, ISAF, and international institutions.
The Afghan government presents similar challenges. It continues to pledge reforms in dealing with corruption, the control of funds, security issues, and the use of aid without making the progress that is necessary. It too exaggerates success and progress. More importantly, it is far from clear that the Afghan government can manage the transition to taking real responsibility for its own security, or increase its ability to absorb even a reduced level of outside funding and aid with integrity and competence. Furthermore, the true amount of foreign aid that will be available to Afghanistan after 2014 remains unclear.
Correcting this situation cannot guarantee a successful transition. The political, security, and economic circumstances within Afghanistan are too unstable. Insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan and that country’s conduct create major challenges. Moreover, today’s plans and pledges may still not be implemented at a time when the war is steadily more unpopular among aid donors and ISAF members, both of which face serious domestic problems and growing strategic demands in other areas. Even a modest form of mid-term success may remain a high-risk proposition.
The analysis does conclude that there are a number of areas where more transparency, better planning, and a more realistic approach to Transition could make a critical difference, and sharply increase the probability of success. There is, however, very little time in which to make these changes and to put Transition on a path where there is a realistic examination of options available, leading to action.