M. Nadeem Alizai
Afghanistan is passing through a critical juncture. Challenges on the ground are numerous and are being left unaddressed or at the mercy of the international community. Afghans eye at the global players for salvation. In the recent past, international support for Afghans has shrunken tremendously. One of the major contributors on which the Afghan government depends heavily is the US, but there have been many ups and downs in bilateral ties.
Relations between Washington and Kabul witnessed a setback when the then Afghan president Hamid Karzai opposed the US troops over nighttime raids on civilian homes and denied to sign the much sought Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Karzai made the deal conditional. For him there was no use of the BSA sans return of peace and stability to Afghanistan, and it is the US that holds key to Afghan reconciliation process.
Though the national unity government (NUG) in Afghanistan has signed the BSA, the expectations of Afghans have not been met. Afghan security forces still need training and weapons to neutralize existing and potential threats. Most importantly, without the support of Washington, peace cannot return to the war-hit country because the US is a party to the war.
To garner support, President Ashraf Ghani went on an official visit to the US. Ghani's top priority was to convince the White House to play a role and help Kabul to reach a settlement with the Taliban. Without release of the Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the insurgent group will not budge from its current position.
But the Taliban have made clear that they are not engaged in the negotiation process with the NUG, terming reports about resumption of talks as propaganda by the Ghani-led government to divert public attention from insecurity. Probably the reason behind this trust deficit is an absence of sureties on the part of the Obama administration, because the militant group needs some guarantees that only Americans can provide. One of the major demands of the Taliban is to get political recognition in the UN and a lofty share in the current setup.
Another objective of Ghani's visit was to get significant military support in order to quell the emerging threat of the Islamic State and thwart terror attacks by local militant outfits in post-withdrawal period.
It is an open secret that the Afghan security forces direly need modern military equipment and financial support. Currently, the Afghan Air Force is not in a position to fill the gap left void by the NATO forces. Indeed, it is the main cause of surge in military casualties. Although Obama announced he would leave 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan until the end of this year, this will not significantly help the Afghan security forces. What will happen next year after the pullout is a question that troubles the already troubled Afghans.
To some extent, Ghani succeeded in getting the essential support needed, because the US defense ministry promised to provide six new MB-530 choppers, transport aircraft and 20 Super E29 fighter jets to the fledging air force of Afghanistan.
On the economic front, Afghanistan is caught in the pit of despair and needs the US as its economy is dependent on donations. Over the last year, Kabul has asked Washington for financial assistance twice to pay salaries of civilian servants. In this regard, Ghani's visit met with little success as American tycoons are not ready to invest in the country. Furthermore, the US government is reluctant to funnel the amount that it did before, because the taxpayers are questioning transparency in spending and the effectiveness of the anti-corruption drive.
It is clear that the NUG is hapless and it would be difficult for Ghani and his team to turn the situation in its favor because the US is tired of fighting the Afghan war. It is also true that Washington is not in a position to bring the Taliban to negotiations table because it will not compromise over its interests in the region when dealing with Afghan insurgents.
Therefore, Ghani's pursuit of peace and economic stability with the US is likely to end without fruitful results.