Afghanistan – Stability Projections and Trends – April 2019
Afghanistan continues to face a complex strategic environment caught in the vortex of geopolitical, regional and internal competition for power; the government lacks adequate instruments and institutions to contain the impact of diverse forces released by these uncertainties. External dependencies in the political, economic and security fields render the country extremely vulnerable to manipulation despite a general commitment by the international community to support stability. Key trends mapped are as given below.
Internal political instability remains a significant concern as democratic institutions are in flux. The results of the parliamentary elections held on 20 October last year are yet to be finalised while the Presidential elections are now being held on 28 September.
Meanwhile, some Presidential candidates have declared that the government should step down in May as the legal term ends and an interim administration should take office. This demand also comes in the wake of what is possibly proposed by the Taliban and supported by the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at least twice publicly.
Concerns are thus not only of the holding of presidential elections but also the legitimacy of the present which is likely to weaken President Ashraf Ghani’s position in the coming months.
Negotiations With Taliban
The sixth round of talks between U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban Doha Council now headed by a massive political weight Mullah Barader is expected in April. There are varying reports of the Fifth Round which commenced in February and continued in March. An agreement on four issues is sought: counterterrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire.
Taliban is expected to agree to talks with the Reconciliation Leadership Council an ad-hoc body comprising of the Afghan CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai amongst others. The Council is due to meet the Taliban negotiating team on 29 April. A consultative Loya Jirga was initially set to be held in Kabul from March 17-20 is now expected to attend on 29 April which will build consensus on the issues for Intra Afghan talks.
Importantly the series of talks that the Taliban has held over a period with state actors which include apart from the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia. This has given a degree of legitimacy to the rebel group emboldening it to avoid talks with the elected Afghan government in Kabul. Given that the Ghani led National Unity Government is on shaky ground due to the constitutional status the Taliban hold an advantage in the negotiations.
The level of violence denotes that talks and bloody encounters including IED and suicide attacks are likely to continue as each side attempts to gain a negotiating edge
Month-wise compilation recorded by Pajhwok News an Afghan news site denotes that there have been 4400 casualties in the first quarter of 2019 as compared to around 25,000 for the whole year in 2017 and 27,000 in 2018.
The trend may appear statistically lower than the previous years but the winter months see relatively lower levels of violence due to reduced mobility for the rebels as well as the government forces even though this year both sides continued with operations.
As the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) have launched spring-summer offensive Operation Khalid, the Taliban have also followed suit on 12 April declaring the main aim of Operation Fateh or victory as forcing the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.
Thus violence is expected to increase in the coming months.
Geopolitical commitment to stability in Afghanistan is a decisive factor. However, differences are emerging. Differences have developed in relations at the high political level between the Afghan Presidential Office and US Department of State over adverse comments made by the Afghan National Security Adviser Hamidullah Mohib Afghanistan Pakistan relations remain on edge over comments by the Pakistan Prime Minister on an interim government in Kabul concerning the peace talks. Perennial issues such as the Durand Line, Cross Border trade and so on are continuing to be significant challenges for balancing the relations into mutual interest
Security Operations and Capacity Building
Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) supported by the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) have launched the spring-summer offensive named Operation Khalid, after the Afghan acting defence minister, Asadullah Khalid who has taken an openly aggressive approach and is expected to upscale the attacks. The RSM in reaction to the Taliban’s declaration of the aim of Operation Fateh as the eviction of foreign forces has declared sustained support to the ANDSF regardless of the talks.
As per the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Report Asian Development Outlook 2019, Afghanistan is expected to grow at 2.5 % in 2019 and 3.0 % in 2020 propped up by “ enhanced tax administration and compliance, as well as measures against corruption in the customs department. Foreign aid is 56.3% of budget revenue, or 15.1% of GDP, to bring total revenue and grants to the equivalent of 26.4% of GDP”.
Here again the ADB factors in political and security uncertainties arising from elections in September 2019 for president, provincial councils, and district councils. A stabilising factor will be the commitment in the Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in November 2018 by the international community.
[i] Projections are based on trends mapping from open sources.