Afghanistan – Stability Projections and Trends April 2018
Afghanistan displays a major positive political trend and two key negative trends in the beginning of May 2018. On the positive side long delayed (3 Years in July) Wolesi Jirga (WJ) (Lower House of Parliament) and Districts Council’s elections are scheduled for October, 20, 2018. Process of registration for the elections commenced with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and First Lady Rula Ghani officially launching voter registration followed by Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah Abdullah in April. General political support for voter registration process is widespread, however deliberate targeting of registration centres by the Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) poses major challenges for the electoral process
On the negative side, rollout of electronic National Identity Cards (e-NIC) by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani during May has been contentious. The Jamiat Islami party led by Salahuddin Rabbani and Ata Mohammad Noor has opposed the unilateral roll out without building consensus. Dr Abdullah Abudllah has also similarly come out against the E-NIC. The main contention is denoting national identity as Afghan which non Pashtuns have objected given the perception that this is closely linked to Pashtun ethnicity.
Members of a proposed new coalition of parties who are opposed to the national unity government met in Turkey. First 1st Vice-President Gen. Atta Mohammad Noor, former Balkh and others held discussions on creating the “National Coalition of Afghanistan.” Jamiat Islami, Jumbish, Jamiat-i-Millie Afghanistan and Hezb-i-Wahdat Millie are likely to be the main constituents. These may pose a united front to gain ascendancy in the parliament in the forthcoming elections and also pose a challenge to President Ghani creating conditions of instability.
Sustained attempts to improve governance are ongoing by the National Unity Government by streamlining processes, bringing in greater accountability and targeting corruption including at the highest level. Entrenched bureaucracies, patriarchy and nepotism will remain key challenges including in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
Trends in violence remain consistent with the pattern in 2017. As per Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) Data, April was the deadliest month this year with 1,220 killed and 866 injured making a total of 2086, this was followed by January with a total of 2044 casualties, 1,199 killed and 845 injured. In March there were total 1810 casualties to include 1,018 killed and 792 injured. February has seen the least violence with 986 killed and 412 injured to make a total of 1398. The spike in April could be attributed to the commencement of process of registration for the parliamentary and district council elections. In January 27 at the Sadarat Square in Kabul an ambulance packed with explosives was set off, killing 103 and 235 injured as per PAN.
Maximum attacks were recorded in Nangarhar, Helmand, Faryab, Uruzgan, Farah, Kandahar, Ghazni, Jawzjan and Kabul . Bamyan, Nuristan, Panshir, Nimroz and Takhar were generally violence free. Violence by the ISK is a major challenge as it has been able to penetrate the capital Kabul. Pentagon’s Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that the Afghan government controls 229 of 407 districts in the country which has not changed in the past few quarters. Meanwhile Taliban announced Spring Offensive on 24 April, titled Al-Khandaq and threatened to target, “American invaders and their intelligence agents”. Taliban has not responded to the call by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in end February to commence talks with the government. Violence may spike in run up to the polls.
Complex regional and global politics remain a major challenge for a donor dependent Afghanistan where stability will be dictated by support of the international community for many years to come. While President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi held talks in Kabul on 06 April and agreed on seven key principles to finalize Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), there has been no progress in formalising the process into practical formulations toward confidence building even though routine accusations of safe havens have reduced. At the geo-political level Russia’s contested position with the West and Iran – US confrontations have added to the complex dynamics of management of diplomacy for Kabul. Russia and Iran have been accusing the US of supporting the Daesh while the United States has blamed Moscow for supporting the Taliban. Breakdown of consensus has a deleterious impact on Afghan security and stability.
Security Capacity Building
Security capacity building has picked up pace with increase in strength of advisers and mentors in the Resolute Support Mission fielded by NATO. 1st United States Security Force Assistance Brigade a specialized US unit tasked for capacity building has been inducted in Afghanistan which is expected to increase effectiveness. Consolidation of local forces is in progress with the ttransition of 13,500 Afghan Public Protection Force (PPF) personnel to the Ministry of Defense (MoD). The proposal for raising a separate for the Afghan Territorial Army (ATA) on the lines of the Indian Territorial Army or home and hearth force has gathered momentum. In line with the Afghan 2020 roadmap, Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps (ANASOC) strength is being enhanced by building six additional Cobra Strike Kandaks. The Special Operations Kandaks (SOK), Special Forces Kandaks and Cobra Strike Kandaks will form the core of the ANASOC. 4,000 new Commandos will join the 10 Special Operations Kandaks, or battalions. Afghan Air Force (AAF) capacity building is continuing with addition of A9 Super Tucano light combat fighters and the Sikorsky Black Hawk attack helicopters replacing the Mi 17 and Mi 35 attack helicopters provided by Russia. With a view to reduce the top heavy structure– a number of senior officers have been send on retirement. On the negative side a drop in holding of the ANDSF is estimated to 296,400 in January 2018 against the authorized 334,000 personnel thus a decrease by nearly 11 percent in the past year has been noted by Pentagon’s Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)
The World Bank[ii] in an update on 10 April 2018 indicated that economic recovery in Afghanistan is slow as continued insecurity curtails private investment and consumer demand. Real GDP growth was estimated at 2.6 percent in 2017. Inflation accelerated slightly from 4.4 percent in 2016 to 5 percent in 2017. The slight increase reflected higher food prices and depreciation during the early period of the year. Despite the large trade deficit (35% of GDP) the current account remains in surplus (4 percent of GDP in 2017), largely due to aid inflows. Foreign exchange reserves remain at comfortable levels (10 months of prospective imports). The Afghani depreciated by around 4 percent against the US dollar during 2017 (end period) driven mostly by declining private foreign exchange inflows and slowing foreign direct investment says the World Bank. Growth is projected to slow to 2.2 percent in 2018, increasing slightly to 2.5 percent in 2019. With an average annual population growth rate of 3 percent and 400,000 Afghans entering the labor market each year, living conditions may further deteriorate.
The IMF 2017[iii] consultation envisages growth at 2.5 to 3 percent in 2017– 18. The outlook is subject to significant downside risks, including a possible further deterioration in the security environment, a shortfall in grants, or stalled reforms. As per World Bank, long-term, sustained economic growth requires a structural economic transformation and new sources of growth. Increased human capital investment and improved agriculture productivity could provide significant opportunities. Development of the extractives sector could help generate domestic revenues and foreign exchange earnings against a possible decline in future aid flows.
[UPDATED 07 May 2018. Indicative measures based on open source information for the purpose of debate on security]
[i] Projections are based on trends mapping from open sources.
[ii] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/afghanistan/overview Date of Updating by World Bank 10 April 2018.
[iii] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2017/12/14/Islamic-Republic-of-Afghanistan-2017-Article-IV-Consultation-and-Second-Review-under-the-45473. Date of Report December 2017.