KABUL, Afghanistan — In his opening remarks at the Council for Foreign Relations on March 26, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the “state system is a chain. When links are severed and when several links break simultaneously, the risk to the rest of the system increases.” When thinking of the state system as a chain, it is unavoidable to think that security is one of the links that keeps the system stable and connected. While President Ghani spoke of the amount and value of resources his country has, he did not mention security as one of those resources.
Security and stability have been scarce in Afghanistan for a long time. After the Soviet invasion, the Taliban became incredibly powerful. With the American invasion, the Taliban “was toppled…but it has not been defeated.” That was in 2001. Security and stability still seem like vague ideas that politicians tout for the future for Afghanistan, but they are key in alleviating poverty and other humanitarian issues in the country.
After a closed-door meeting with President Ghani earlier this year, President Obama said he would be keeping more troops than planned in Afghanistan through 2016. Previously, a timeline had been established for the drawdown that would have left almost no American troops in Afghanistan after this year. Even with the extension, President Obama has pledged to remove some troops this year, and all troops by the time he leaves office. He also said that a new troop withdrawal schedule would be announced later this year.
Domestically, President Obama faces a constituency that is war-weary but nervous about growing insecurity issues around the Middle East. Many people have drawn comparisons of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal timeline with the Iraq troop withdrawal timeline that concluded in 2011. While not equal in every aspect, the comparison is justified. After a concrete, public timeline was followed and American troops were removed from the country, Iraq seemed to dissolve into near chaos. ISIS is knocking at Baghdad’s door, Iraqi security forces are a far cry from the professional, prepared troops the country needs and internal ethnic and religious divides have added a dimension to conflict that makes reconciliation hard.
With the world’s eyes turned to ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, it has become easier to overlook the residual security problems that linger in Afghanistan. After decades of instability and war, the country still wrestles with huge insecurity and instability issues that have caused a lasting humanitarian crisis.
Afghanistan has produced over two and a half million refugees and has over half a million internally displaced persons. It remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GNI per capita of $690. Almost 36 percent of its population lives under the national poverty line. Life expectancy is only 60.9 years, compared to a regional 67 years and an overall 71 years. Many of these issues would be greatly helped with an increase in stability and security.
With just a tenth of the American forces remaining in Afghanistan compared to the height of the war, the threat of instability may actually be increasing. Kabul is tense. Westerners in the city and around the country do not often go out to restaurants or many public areas. American diplomats have been given extra protection. Additional blast walls and barbed wire have popped up around the city in an effort to protect property and lives. At the height of troop deployment to Afghanistan, these issues were not as severe.
Keeping American forces in Afghanistan and creating more flexibility in withdrawal creates a platform for development in Afghani security and stability. American troops, who remain in training and consulting capacities, can continue to help and train Afghan security forces. Allowing for future developments instead of insisting on a concrete timeline for withdrawal will increase stability.
Stability and security are key in lifting the Afghan population out of poverty and creating a functioning government and economy. The situation for the Afghan population will be dramatically improved with security and stability, not only because it removes the immediate threat of violence, but also because it allows for future development and advancement.
– Caitlin Huber