Rather than build trust and institutionalizing political norms in a divided country, Ghani is keen on consolidating power. But by firing dozens of civilian and military officials, Ghani has developed an exaggerated sense of his control beyond Kabul, all the while earning many more enemies who could bandwagon against him. Political stability in Kabul is a prerequisite for peace with the Taliban, who are unlikely to seek a deal with a sinking ship.
A Comprehensive Strategy
The most prudent path for the Trump administration in Afghanistan would involve a combined political-military-diplomatic approach to provide space for a renewal of peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government and an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Additional coalition forces should be deployed to deny the Afghan Taliban control over Kabul and the provincial capitals over the next two fighting seasons. The Trump administration should also swiftly appoint a U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan empowered to use both carrots and sticks to ensure that the unity government survives, electoral reforms are passed, and parliamentary elections are held in 2018, followed by presidential elections in 2019.
It is also critical that the State Department and the International Security Assistance Force work to build cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan over their shared border. The two countries now frequently exchange mortar fire. Recently, Afghan forces attacked Pakistani census workers and the security team assigned to them in Balochistan, killing nine civilians. Previous attempts by Pakistan to install biometric systems on its side of the Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing have been resisted by Afghan forces. In 2007, several thousand Afghans attacked and destroyed the biometric system installed in Chaman.
Finally, while the reconciliation process must be Afghan-led, it is important that regional power brokers be included in a multilateral dialogue process, to achieve a negotiated settlement to the war. Such a process must not only include Pakistan, but Iran and Russia as well. If left out, they could play the role of spoiler. The last thing the Trump administration would want to do is further escalate the level of violence in Afghanistan and fall into a long-term occupation of a landlocked country that is also one of the world’s most corrupt and poor.
Arif Rafiq is president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides political risk analysis on the Middle East and South Asia. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute and a fellow at the Center for Global Policy.
Image: A coalition Special Operations Forces soldier gives a pen to a young child in Sanawghan village, Herat Province, Afghanistan. Flickr/Department of Defense