After Afghanistan – The End of a War
News of the Afghanistan war was broadcasted on every major network almost daily for the last decade. Now that the war is officially over, the discussion has slowed down.
However, the fact remains that foreign militaries provided a lot of stability to the country. In June 2013, the International Security and Assistance Force reported that 100,000 Nato troops from over 50 contributing nations were in country. Now that those troops are pulling out, questions are raised regarding the ongoing security situation in Afghanistan and the potential future that Afghans now face.
One soldier’s account on security inside Afghanistan
During the height of the Afghanistan war, the effects of the war were often a distant concept for Canadians who did not have close connections with military personnel at the time. To better understand the threats that our military faced, I recently spoke with a former member of the armed forces. We discussed his experience in the war and the measures that were in place to ensure safety.
Sergeant Scott Hartley Rtd. served in the Canadian military from 1989 to 2012. Hartley was based in various locations in Canada and abroad during his career, and in 2007 he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. He served in various roles, and his insight gives us a better understanding of the security threats that were a daily reality in Afghanistan.
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After 13 years of war, Afghanistan faces a new set of challenges. A peace process began in 2010 between the Afghan government, its High Peace Council, the United States and the Taliban. Despite efforts, conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government persists.
This week a high profile Taliban minister was shot and killed in Peshawar, Pakistan. Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb was part of the Taliban faction calling for direct peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. No one has claimed responsibility, but his death came as several Taliban leaders were meeting in the United Arab Emirates to launch peace talks with the High Peace Council.
In 2013 the Taliban opened their first office in the Qatari capital, Doha. The office posted a flag and plaque with the inscription of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a name used by the Taliban when it took power in the 1990s. President Karzai closed the office shortly after.
Although foreign troops were successful in driving out al-Qaeda from the country, the Taliban is still a threat to security. CNN estimates that 20,000 to 25,000 Taliban fighters are still active. BBC warns that the territorial gains made by Nato are in no ways irreversible. But, while they remain a threat, the troops are confined to a few districts in the south and east.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been strengthened and now number almost 350,000. However, the UN reports that since June 2013 when Nato transferred security responsibilities to Afghan forces, Afghan National Army (ANA), and the Afghan National Police (ANP), there has been a rise in civilian casualties.
According to the report, civilian casualties are up 14 per cent from last year. More than 2,900 civilians have been killed and nearly 5,700 were injured last year alone. These statistics mark a 7 per cent increase from 2012. Almost three quarters of the deaths are attributed to anti-government forces.
Drug production has increased in the country since the 2001 U.S. invasion. A 2013 UN report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that opium production increased 36 per cent since 2012, with more than 200,000 hectares under cultivation. Afghanistan now produces 90 per cent of the world’s opium. Poppy cultivation is contained to the south and western provinces, but those regions are the most insurgency-prone areas of the country.
Revenue from drug production funds the Taliban insurgency through taxes charged to poppy farmers and drug traders.
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, called the news “sobering. He stressed that the drug situation is a threat to health, stability, and the threat could increase as the troops continue to leave the country.
During the decades that preceded the U.S. invasion, Afghans saw the destruction of most government institutions because of the Soviet conflict with the Mujahideen.
In recent years, many government institutions have been replaced. Afghanistan now has diplomatic relations with 70 countries and representation in most international organizations, according to BBC.
President Karzai was democratically elected, and in April 2014 citizens will return to the polls to choose his successor. According to Javid Ahmad of CNN, Afghans remain optimistic about their future, despite western pessimism. An Asia Foundation survey conducted in 2013 found that 57 per cent of Afghans believed their country was going in the right direction.
The country has an active civil society and vibrant media, but the BBC reports that freedom of expression and information are still challenges for journalists.
In contrast, Saad Mohseni, director of the MOBY Group in Afghanistan, told the Huffington Post that he was astonished to see the improvements that the media in Afghanistan had made. He cites research from Roshan, Afghanistan’s larges telecom company, that reports 60 per cent of citizens watch television and 95 per cent listen to the radio. He said that Afghanistan now boasts the freest media sector in the region.
Human Rights and Refugees
Although the rights of women have improved, violence and discrimination are still reported. BBC reports that Rule of law and the access to justice is a large challenge.
An estimated 500,000 people are internally displaced, living in informal settlements. An additional three million refugees are in Pakistan and Iran.
The future for Afghans
Afghanistan has received billions of dollars in aid over the past 12 years. The money has improved life for many Afghans by building roads, improving the health sector, establishing schools and increasing phone and Internet connectivity. Still not all areas have benefited, and many parts of the population do not have access to education or basic facilities like clean water and healthcare.
The cost of pulling out of the war is staggering.
UK Costs to Leave Afghanistan
US Costs to Leave Afghanistan
Although In a blog for CNN, reporter Javid Ahmad says that although there are still serious challenges on the ground in Afghanistan, stability and success is possible with continued support from the U.S. and its allies.
BBC reports that civilians, although sometimes critical of foreign forces in country, are still worried that the Taliban will increase in strength once troops pull out. Although most countries agreed to remove the bulk of their forces from the country by end of 2014, there are still question over how many foreign soldiers will remain after.
However, support for Afghanistan is faltering. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are very divided in their opinion of the Afghanistan war; 49% believe the war was a mistake while 48% support the conflict. The poll has been conducted regularly since the invasion in 2001. Numbers peaked in 2002 with 93% support for the war.