What is Next in Afghanistan?
During the last two weeks American and Pakistani forces have reported success on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have captured and killed high-ranking Taliban officials, pushed Taliban forces out of the town of Marja in Southern Afghanistan, and they have made significant efforts to build effective state institutions. At the same time, the casualties for foreign military forces and local civilians have been very limited. Are we on the road to success? What is next?
It is very hard to tell. We do not know if the Taliban are on the run, or simply in hiding, waiting for a better day to fight. We do not know if the Pakistani military and intelligence forces are really on our side or not. Most of all, we do not know if the new Afghan state institutions are capable of building a sustainable order in this difficult terrain.
If nothing else, we can expect three developments in Afghanistan during the next few weeks:
1. More American military forces will arrive in forward positions throughout Helmand Province and other southern parts of Afghanistan. Will they make a difference? Will they add stability or become targets for new instability?
2. The Taliban and its Al Queda allies will surely launch a counter-offensive, somewhere — perhaps outside of Afghanistan. How effective will this counter-offensive be? How will American and Afghani forces react?
3. A new spring planting season will soon begin. Will farmers continue to rely on poppy growth and opium trade for their livelihood? Or will the U.S. and NATO manage to encourage a decisive shift toward different forms of agriculture that feed the population and disempower Taliban opium traders?
American and NATO forces must keep their eyes on the ball. In the next few weeks they must stay focused on effective forward deployments, turning back the Taliban (and Al Queda) counter-offensive, and supporting serious agricultural reform. These are monumental tasks. They will not be easy. They will, however, determine the possibility of success — or something approaching success — in the region. For better or for worse, we have reached a turning point. Distraction at this point will prove irreversible.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.