Clamp Down Post-2014 Expectations: How Should President Obama & President Karzai Sell Their Post-2014 Strategy?
By: Atta Nasib
— The current negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan for a security agreement that would outline terms of the American follow-on presence provide an opportunity to ratchet down the rhetoric and settle on provisions that might strengthen public confidence on both sides for an ongoing relationship.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington this week. This visit has fuelled speculation over whether and how the White House might finally outline a more coherent strategy to end the war in Afghanistan and support its fledgling democracy for the foreseeable future.
No matter what kind of plan emerges, the wave of public optimism or pessimism in Afghanistan and the U.S. will rest mainly on the way the two nations’ leaders frame and subsequently sell the plan.
Conversely, media hype might raise expectations too high, as happened last May, when Afghan news outlets talked about the broader U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement as if it were a defense treaty because it gave Afghanistan the status of a “major non-NATO ally.” This designation, however, was meant to allow Afghanistan to be ‘eligible for bilateral military training, and to qualify for loans of military equipment,’ notes the State Department.
The current phase of negotiations will require more careful delineation and some transparency to bring expectations to reality while at the same time reassuring the public in both countries. Already, President Karzai is demanding what some Americans might consider unrealistic.
In a joint press conference with visiting Secretary Panetta in Kabul on December 13, Karzai said he is willing to persuade the Afghan public of the U.S. requirement of legal immunity for any troops present in Afghanistan after 2014. However, Karzai first wants assurances that the U.S. will “support Afghanistan, equip Afghanistan, give us a good army, a good air force, and a good ability to protect Afghan interests in the region for the protection of the Afghan people.”
In response, the White House is mulling recommendations made by Marine Corps General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for a residual force after 2014 that would train Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and support counterterrorism operations. The NY Times and the Wall Street Journal have quoted anonymous U.S. officials as estimating that number to be between 3,000 and 10,000.
The next step will be determining how to draw down to that size from the approximately 68,000 American forces in Afghanistan currently. Undoubtedly, other NATO troops in the coalition will cut their numbers proportionately.
The decisions follow a year of relentlessly negative news about conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. The persistent government corruption, conflicting reports about security gains and devastating reports of insider attacks by Afghan forces on coalition troops has poisoned American attitudes toward U.S. presence in Afghanistan. President Karzai’s fiery rhetoric to accuse American and other coalition soldiers of fueling the insurgency is the icing on the cake and a bitter pill among Washington insiders.
These reports have transformed U.S. public opinion. Four years ago, Americans supported President Obama’s view of the conflict as the “war of necessity” or the “good war.” Now they see it as an unwinnable battle meriting no sentiment stronger than “let’s get the heck out of there ASAP.”
The non-partisan, independent research group PollingReport.com recently released results showing that more than 60 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should remove troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
In November 2012, the U.S. Senate weighed in with a 62-33 non-binding vote to accelerate the troop withdrawal after 11 years of fighting.
In turn, the war-weariness in the U.S. has led many Afghans to panic, with some inclined to flee abroad for fear of continuously deteriorating security condition with the exit of most American troops by the end of 2014. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) found that the operational capabilities of ANSF are limited without the support of foreign troops. The report underscores that Afghan Security Forces should continue to be backed by the Americans.
As for President Obama, analysts believe his re-election gives him political space to pull through with his previous agenda of withdrawing most troops by the end of 2014 that would allow him to leave behind a minimal military and civilian presence in an advisory capacity. The U.S. and its allies already have pledged at least $4 billion a year to support the Afghan security forces and an equal amount to help support Afghanistan’s economy.
Should that fail, Afghans will be looking for a post-2014 American presence sufficient to root out extremist organizations and support the Afghan security forces. Without that, security transition will be marred by the same failures that followed the Soviet Withdrawal in late 1980s.
President Karzai provided some reason for confidence from his side with his pledge last year to step down in 2014 rather than wrest more time in office in violation of the constitutional limit of two four-year terms in office.
The onus is now on the Obama administration to put forward a strategy that will close, or at least narrow, the gaps in perceptions between Afghans and the foreigners who are supporting them. Americans need to understand their interests in thwarting the lingering threats posed by the extremists still operating in the region and in Afghanistan. Ultimately, Afghans want reassurance that the U.S. will continue to help them ensure that civil war becomes a distant memory.
Atta Nasib is a member of the Afghan Analytica outreach team. The views expressed here are his own.
Iran’s Aggressive Campaign to Undermine U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan
By Ahmad Khalid Majidyar –
As the U.S. winds down its combat mission in Afghanistan, Iran has launched aggressive hard-power and soft-power campaigns to speed up the U.S. troop withdrawal and expand its influence in post-2014 Afghanistan. American and Afghan officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has increased not only material and financial aid to the Taliban, but also its soft-power efforts to incite anti-American sentiments and derail a potential security agreement between Kabul and Washington. Iran is worried that a postwar military presence in Afghanistan would give the U.S. a strategic intelligence and military advantage amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran over the latter’s controversial nuclear program.
Two days before President Hamid Karzai left for Washington to hold talks with President Barack Obama over America’s future role in Afghanistan on Monday, Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, traveled to Kabul to meet with Karzai and his senior aides and convey Tehran’s opposition to any American military footprint in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Jalili pledged Iran’s continued support for the Afghan government and called for all “aliens” to leave Afghanistan.
Since the fall of the Taliban 11 years ago, Iran has pursued a double-faced policy in Afghanistan. While Tehran has fostered close ties with Kabul and contributed to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, the IRGC’s shadowy Quds Force has provided weapons and monetary assistance to groups affiliated with the Taliban. The Quds Force is responsible for the IRGC’s external special operations and was engaged in a proxy battle against American forces at the peak of insurgency in Iraq. The Ansar Corps, a Quds Force subcommand based in the Iranian city of Mashhad, is responsible for the agency’s operations in Afghanistan. On August 3, 2010, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned General Hossein Musavi, the commander of Ansar Corps, for providing financial support to the Taliban. Afghan officials say Tehran has recently allowed the Taliban to open an office in Mashhad and accuse the Quds Force of running terrorism training camps in the Iranian provinces of Khorasan, Kerman and Sistan va Baluchistan. Recently, Afghan authorities arrested Iranian agents in Kabul and western provinces of Herat, Farah and Nimroz on espionage charges. NATO officials also claim that the Quds Force has recently provided the insurgents with new, more sophisticated weapons.
While U.S. and NATO officials often complain about the IRGC’s support for the Taliban, Iran’s growing soft-power influence in Afghanistan is largely neglected. The Iranian government uses a wide range of soft-power tools such as charity work, religious projects, media programs, refugee deportations, economic influence, and political and diplomatic means to influence policy in Kabul and undermine U.S. interests in the region.
In recent years, Tehran has systematically used Afghan refugees as a bargaining tool for its political ends in Afghanistan. Whenever Kabul’s policies upset Tehran, Iranian officials threaten to expel all Afghan refugees. Last year, Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan sparked a diplomatic row between the two neighbors after he threatened Afghan lawmakers to reject the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with the United States or his country would expel all Afghan refugees immediately. Iran understands that Afghanistan cannot absorb over 2 million returnees under current security and economic hardships. Iran’s forced deportation of Afghan refugees, often without prior consultation with the Afghan government, has at times resulted in political crises in Kabul as well as security and humanitarian problems in western provinces. Mass expulsions also provide a cover for insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan. Unless the U.S. devises a development strategy to help the Afghan government accommodate the returnees, the Iranian government will continue to play the refugee card against the Kabul government, which is often at the expense of U.S. interests.
Moreover, Iran’s political clout is ubiquitous within the Afghan government. U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks showed that senior Afghan officials at the Presidential Palace and ministries, some members of parliament, and religious leaders are on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian embassy in Kabul bribes Afghan lawmakers to raise anti-American talking points, such as civilian casualties, at parliamentary discussions and urge them to reject a postwar U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Davood Moradian, the director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), says Iran spends $100 million annually on funding media, religious and cultural organizations. One-third of Afghanistan’s media outlets are said to receive direct aid from Iran. As Afghan and U.S. diplomats are negotiating the terms of a bilateral security agreement, the pro-Iran media inside Afghanistan is busy depicting such a deal as fruitless and warning the Afghans of its consequences.
As the United States and NATO are scaling down involvement in Afghanistan, Iran is doubling down on its soft-power efforts to fill the void. Suffering from crippling sanctions, fearing a potential military strike by the United States or Israel, and concerned about losing its closest regional ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Iran’s increased focus on Afghanistan may be part of the country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of international isolation and also use support for the Taliban elements as a countermeasure against the United States.
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan’s neighbors, primarily Pakistan and Iran, increased arming and supporting their proxy groups for regional influence. The result was a protracted civil war that allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to establish their rule over 90 percent of Afghan territory. If the United States and its allies repeat the mistake of disengaging from Afghanistan precipitously, Afghanistan could yet again become a proxy battleground between regional countries and a nucleus for global terrorism, with dire consequences for the United States and the world.
Ahmad Khalid Majidyar is a Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on South Asia and the Middle East.
Foster Afghan Women’s Role in Decision-Making
Sabrina Saqeb -
Almost twelve years ago, Afghanistan began a democratic journey and, compared to what it was under the Taliban, has experienced countless positive developments in many areas, especially concerning the growing role of women. With Afghanistan’s upcoming 2014 presidential election in the spotlight of both national and international attention, continued national and international efforts will remain key to sustaining and protecting the achievements Afghanistan has made in providing for women’s participation in both social and political arenas.
The progress made in fostering women’s social and political share in society is unprecedented. The clear examples are in the Afghan Parliament where women occupy one-third of the seats in the lower house (out of 269) and nearly the same in the upper house (out of 100). Afghan women have also secured close to 130 seats in provincial councils. Additionally, women ran as candidates in the 2009 and 2010 Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections, where nearly 40 percent of those who voted were women.
In the lead up to security and political transitions in 2014, every effort must be made to ensure that these accomplishments are not only sustained, but also further bolstered in quality and quantity. However, any efforts to ensure women’s continued social and political development will be doomed without the financial and cultural support of the international community. To further buttress that, Afghanistan’s democratic system must be strengthened as the only force to ensure security and public service. The policy to promote and support women’s participation in governance and socio-political activities must be advanced. We believe it is of paramount importance for qualified women to be given opportunities to serve in government positions at the national and sub-national levels, as well as to lead social organizations, political parties, civil society and associations.
However, the plight of women will not improve and their political and social isolation will deepen unless the many impediments and challenges they face are properly addressed. Perhaps the most significant of all are fighting widespread illiteracy, ensuring a just allocation of budget, creating jobs, encouraging economic self-reliance and ensuring a balanced development agenda for women. Equally important is to support efforts aimed at alleviating the damaging traditional practices that discriminate against women. Afghan women need public support and legal protection for their activities, and require support by media, social, political and cultural organizations, youth associations and other parties.
Additionally, more work is needed to enhance the level of cultural interaction between men and women to fight discriminatory perceptions, and to promote an apt understanding of the effective social and political roles Afghan women can play in society. As well, women need support for equal pay and work opportunities, adoption of laws and regulations that promote women’s status, awareness programs, elimination of violence and discrimination, particularly in rural areas, and encouragement for their active participation in planning and decision-making for a modern society.
Similarly, the inclusion and presence of women in peace process, especially their role in provincial peace committees, is of vital importance. More than any other segments of the society, Afghan women and children have endured a brunt of the war with countless sacrifices. Women’s roles, although small in making peace among men, has traditionally held a special place in the Afghan cultural context.
However, all such efforts require sufficient financial and human force, which Afghanistan cannot afford on its own. The Afghan government and the international community should encourage and support a meaningful and practical participation of those affected by war, especially women in decision-making. Any plan that detaches and denies the rights, knowledge, and inclusion of Afghan women in any important discourse about the future of Afghanistan will be of no use. But only through continued national and international support can these efforts be achieved.
Sabrina Saqib is a former member of Afghan Parliament.
Afghan Higher Education: A Chronicle of Control, Ideology, and Resistance to Reform
Dr. Sharif Fayez -
Afghanistan’s higher education, which started with Kabul Medical Faculty in 1932 – long before the official creation of Kabul University (KU) in 1946 – has faced many barriers, particularly during the last three decades of war, sectarian violence and ideological conflicts. However, for more than a decade (1964–1976), KU and a few other regional institutions enjoyed significant progress in quality, academic openness, and governance. This was a peaceful period when KU enjoyed the presence of about 100 international academics teaching and conducting research in various fields. Hundreds of brilliant graduates of KU continued their studies at European and US universities and many of the creative minds and competent leaders of the county belong to that golden period.
The decline began with the Communist Coup of 1978 and, more dramatically, the Soviet Invasion of the country in 1979 when most of the western-educated Afghan academics began to leave the country. The invasion and communist ideology, which bred leftist and Islamic extremism and thus polarized the campuses and society in general, brutally radicalized the higher education institutions. During the occupation, all the institutions – constantly harassed by the regime’s security apparatus and violent elements of the ruling communist party – were isolated from their communities. For the sake of more effective control, the regime began to fragment the higher education system into smaller units, with thousands of students from Kabul-based universities and regional institutions being sent to the Soviet Union and its satellite states.
The continued control of Afghan higher education by different regimes, particularly the ideological ones, has been largely responsible for hindering change and reform. Although Afghanistan is now enjoying a new democratic era, the legacy of government control is still lingering and hampering any type of major reform. Reluctance on the part of the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and its major institutions to ignore the implementation of the Strategic Higher Education Plan, and approve the New Higher Education Law, with several other reform documents drafted between 2003–2004, largely stems from the government’s resistance to the decentralization of the higher education system, which is considered to be the most outdated in the world. However, the government has almost lost control over the emerging private higher education, proliferating during the last two years, and it has failed to introduce an effective monitoring mechanism aimed at enhancing quality assurance and requiring transparency.
It is perhaps for the same reason that the largest and oldest university in the country – Kabul University – is still unfamiliar with such important academic terms as academic freedom, institutional autonomy, board of trustees, accreditation, etc., not to mention the application of such ideas. It can be argued that most of these problems have their roots in ideological regimes, which often controlled higher education and used it as a political tool to perpetuate their rule. After all, a significant number of top officials in the government, including several education ministers and heads of universities were affiliated with leftist and fundamentalist regimes.
Since the fall of the Taliban, during the last nine years, Afghan tertiary education has dramatically increased its enrollments from about 4,000 students to about 90,000 students in 2010 (70,000 in public institutions and about 20,000 in private institutions). Today there are 23 public institutions and 32 private ones throughout the country. The public sector is still outdated and underfunded, with a small percentage of doctoral faculties (6%). Similarly the for-profit private sector is also suffering from lack of quality and standardization, and good governance. However, the private sector has organized itself in response to market needs, offering skills and other practical courses. As a new phenomenon, the private sector is dramatically expanding, but without any strategy for assuring quality. For many of these institutions making a profit is the priority, not building infrastructure and enhancing quality.
Among these 53 institutions, only the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) – the only not-for-profit private university in the country – is recognized as a leading quality institution. AUAF, which presented its first graduates to Afghan society in 2011, is also preparing to start its accreditation process. It is hoped that AUAF, with its world-class faculties, accomplished leadership and modern facilities, will lead the Afghan higher education system and inspire changes in both the private and public sectors.
In general, Afghan higher education, subjected to unnecessary government control, has failed to have clear objectives and visions. Different regimes, with different political and ideological agenda, have always imposed “ownership” restrictions on these institutions, unwilling to allow them to embark on a fundamental reform course. The government, being the only stakeholder, the only provider and benefactor of the commodity that the public universities produce, has indeed distanced the institutions from the participation of their communities and other possible stakeholders.
The idea of a board of trustees for an Afghan university is interpreted as a conspiracy against the government; the idea of involving a province or a city as a stakeholder for its local university is also interpreted as a plan for undermining the central authority of the Ministry; even the idea of asking the public universities or their students to form their own associations is considered a scheme against the central authority of the Ministry. The government-control mindset rooted in old ideological and dictatorial regimes has been responsible for the status quo of Afghan higher education, which is the most outdated in the world.
Nearly a decade after the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan institutions of higher education are still facing major challenges in the areas of quality assurance, governance, legislation, academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Afghanistan needs a new definition of its higher education system, a clear understanding of its mission, and a modern law and strategy to shape its future course, without which the country cannot expect to grow economically and build its social and democratic institutions.
This overview is based on Dr. Sharif Fayez’s experience as a former student and professor at Kabul University in the latter part of 1960s and early part of the 1970s. As a former minister of Afghanistan’s higher education from 2002 to 2005, he played a direct role in reviving the Afghan higher education. Since 2005, Dr. Fayez along with other stakeholders, has been engaged in setting up and expanding the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and also helping the Afghan private higher education institutions. This study is perhaps the first of its kind in presenting an analytical overview of the Afghan higher education with some of its old challenges still unmet.
For background on Afghan Higher Education, click here
U.S.-Afghan Security Agreement: What’s at Stake?
By Javid Ahmad -
For months, Washington and Kabul have been working towards a bilateral security agreement to set a framework for a lighter U.S. military contingent to remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in 2014. President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington next week may provide him and President Obama an opportunity to jointly announce the size and precise role of the follow-on force, expected to be between 6,000 and 20,000 troops. But as the two presidents meet, there are a number of important and contentious issues that are likely to dominate discussions.
Prominent among them is reaching an agreement on legal immunity for U.S. forces from prosecution in local courts, especially if Afghan laws are violated. While exemption from local laws is a standard issue wherever American forces are deployed, President Karzai has opposed granting immunity to U.S. forces unless Washington fulfills some Afghan conditions. These conditions include: respect for Afghan laws and the people; the closure of all U.S.-run detention centers and handover of detainees; ceding control of Afghan airspace to the Afghan government; and training Afghan security forces. U.S. officials are skeptical that any premature release of detainees could be dangerous and also raises the risk of many rejoining the insurgency. However, resolving Afghan disparities with the United States regarding rules for indefinitely holding suspected insurgents without trial is fundamental for the Afghan government as it asserts its sovereignty. Kabul reinforced its point this week by releasing over 80 detainees from custody.
Another important issue may be the number of U.S. military bases the residual forces will need in Afghanistan. Washington has voiced its intentions not to seek permanent bases in Afghanistan and is already handing over 300 bases and outposts to Afghan forces. Nonetheless, both countries still need to reach an agreement on the number of bases the residual forces will occupy, their locations and precise roles, the legal jurisdiction over these bases, and just as importantly, whether any of these bases will be shared with the Afghan forces. Equally important is to determine whether U.S. forces will use the bases to operate armed drones or establish separate drone ground control stations for counterterrorism purposes in Afghanistan.
Regardless of how these issues are ironed out, many Afghans believe that while more than being key venues for upholding security inside Afghanistan, Washington will use its military bases to boost its own interests and monitor regional countries. However, while U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 has already made a number of regional countries uneasy, the Afghan government will need to do a better job at juggling competing priorities in order to ensure that U.S. forces’ presence does not upset its relations with neighboring countries.
Many compare the U.S.-Afghan security deal discussions with similar U.S. negotiations with Iraq last year that failed and ended American military presence. But despite intractable resistance of the Iraqi government and its people, the situation in Iraq was significantly different than it is in Afghanistan today. At present, the Afghan government is confronted by an uncertain future beyond 2014, aggravated further by rankling insurgency and a resilient enemy, which not only challenges Kabul’s survival on a daily basis but also has undermined its maneuvering power. As well, unlike Iraq that counted on its oil revenue, the Afghan government is not in a position to sustain itself and its nascent security forces without an open-ended commitment in American aid. Hence, Kabul will most likely water down many of its preconditions and ultimately grant U.S. forces legal immunity as part of the security pact.
Nevertheless, President Karzai should make up for it by seeking continued U.S. support for sustenance of Afghan forces to remain operational and effective in combat. As U.S. forces shift away from combat missions, there must also be a corresponding commitment to bolstering Afghan forces. A robust and well-trained security force equipped with necessary weaponry and backed by U.S. forces is essential not only for Afghanistan’s sovereignty but its survival after 2014. Most crucially, when the two presidents meet, they must also ensure that if the U.S. security mission after 2014 is closely focused on counterterrorism operations, any continuing U.S. training and advising to Afghan forces will be sternly undermined and could derail the ability of Afghan forces.
The United States and Afghanistan are codependent and much is at stake unless such an agreement is finalized. While Washington sees its own national security priorities in Afghanistan, Kabul needs a security partnership with Washington to ensure its long-term security and assistance to Afghan security forces. As President Obama and President Karzai meet to discuss a shared vision for Afghanistan beyond 2014, they should ensure that the months-long negotiations between Washington and Kabul over important, but still relatively marginal issues, do not hamper reaching a pact that best serves the interests of both countries.
Javid Ahmad, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views reflected here are his own.