Ashraf Ghani: Afghan national identity at risk

By Michael Hughes

Afghan government official Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani Afghan Official

Afghan official Ashraf Ghani told TOLONewson Thursday that his homeland is in jeopardy of losing its national identity while neighboring countries bank on the Afghan government imploding after U.S. troops exit in 2014.

“We are facing the threat of losing our national identity. Our neighbors, some international experts and those who do not want the good of Afghanistan are waiting for a regime collapse,” said Ghani, who currently heads President Karzai’s security transition commission.

Ghani’s comment was a thinly-veiled reference to Pakistan, which has reportedly been aiding, abetting and providing sanctuary to Taliban militants for years.

Some analysts have even accused Islamabad of trying to detribalize Afghan society in an effort to control territory, especially within the country’s south and east, which would give Pakistan “strategic depth” in the event of a war with India. Hence, Pakistan stands to gain immensely from the erosion of Afghan nationalism and the propagation of the Taliban’s firebrand ideology.

Ghani’s sentiments, however, contradict a peace process roadmap designed by Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) which was leaked earlier this month, a plan that would empower Pakistan as the prime interlocutor in any settlement between the Karzai regime and the Taliban. According to the Times of India, the roadmap has infuriated Indian officials who suspect Washington of “trying to declare victory and get out, as the countdown draws near.”

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have exaggerated the significance of recent talks held in Chantilly, France between Afghan government officials and Taliban figures. According to the Afghanistan Analysts Network’s Thomas Rutting, claims of the Taliban “softening” its posture represent “wishful thinking” by Western leaders who are in “mission liquidation” mode and tend to frame minor developments as major breakthroughs.

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The Chantilly meeting gave the Taliban more of its desired recognition as a party to the conflict and helped further establish the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as a fact on the ground. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the invitation to the conference showed that the Taliban has a “political representation in the world.” He even claimed that the Emirate represented hpw “the existing regime” of Afghanistan, pointing to functioning courts and educational institutions as proof.

Rutting also underlined the fact that the process still requires a broader representation of the populace and must include more members of Afghan civil society.

Ghani believes Afghanistan’s future looks bleak if its national army and police are not fully trained and equipped. Lack of capacity, inadequate resources and a “functionally nonexistent” air force are considered the main shortfalls of the Afghan security forces. “Government officials are also afraid of the uncertain situation of the country after 2014,” he added.

Yet U.S. officials have seemed obsessed with quantity over quality, pumping up the number of Afghan troops to 352,000, a size that is both unwieldy as well as unaffordable. The estimated cost to maintain such a force is $4.1 billion a year, more than twice the Afghan state’s annual revenue. The IMF has estimated that Afghanistan will not be able to finance its own security forces until at least 2023.

The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that, despite the U.S. providing years of training and investing almost $50 billion, not one Afghan army battalion is capable of operating without U.S. advisers while Afghan policemen spend more time extorting bribes than they do keeping the peace.

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President Karzai is set to meet with President Obama at the White House next week to discuss the level of U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan after the official 2014 NATO withdrawal. On Thursday CNN reported that General John Allen has submitted a plan to the Pentagon that could keep between 6,000 and 15,000 American personnel in Afghanistan for counterterrorism efforts and training Afghan security forces.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a few weeks ago said the fundamental mission was to ensure Al Qaeda never again finds a safe haven within Afghanistan from which it could attack the United States or any other country. “The goal here is an enduring presence,” Panetta added during a November 28 press conference.

Many are worried that the U.S. withdrawal might resemble what happened after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, when many of the U.S.-backed mujahidin militants turned on each other and the country devolved into a bloody civil war.