Europe in the World

EU-Asia Dialogue

Transition in Afghanistan – Possible scenarios and their impact on Europe

15 November 2011

Conflict and its legacy have made their mark on Afghanistan’s war-torn and fragmented society, resulting in a tragic way of life for its citizens, said Major General Ashok Hukku, former Chief Military Intelligence Advisor in the Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of India and a founding member of the World Peace and Security Organisation

With the international community preparing to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, leaving behind just 25,000 soldiers, the future of the country could easily fall into the hands of a Pashtun-dominated government backed by Pakistan, Major General Hukku argued.

NATO-ISAF’s objective of reducing the ability and will to fight of the insurgency would be undermined by a government with Taliban sympathies, Hukku predicted. The questionable desire of the fledgling and unprofessional ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) to hunt down insurgents further compounds this bleak outlook, he said.

He outlined four transitional scenarios:

1) An early and promising peaceful transition could mean the end of President Hamid Karzai’s troubled government. The Taliban will extract maximum political advantage and once NATO withdraws they will also attempt to impose Sharia law and expand their power beyond the frontiers of a country whose political boundaries they do not recognise. The only internal opposition would come from dissenting warlords.

2) Prolonged negotiations and transition would shift the initiative in favour of the Taliban and Pakistan. As NATO exits the country, the will of the ANSF to fight the insurgency diminishes. The end result is same as the first.

3) The negotiations fail and the insurgency increases. Troops are diverted from maintaining security and the ISAF is mired in both extensive combat operations and difficult negotiations. The outcome is the same as in scenarios 1 and 2.

4) NATO suffers heavy losses and the conflict begins to destabilise Afghanistan beyond acceptable levels. NATO delays the 2014 troop withdrawal timeline. This is the most likely scenario, according to Hukku.

Bettina Muscheidt, political desk officer for Afghanistan at the European External Action Service, stressed that despite negative media coverage of the country, Afghanistan had made remarkable progress.

The process of urbanisation and development of education are now deeply rooted and cannot easily be turned back, while an active civil society is also emerging, Muscheidt argued.

Nearly 65% of Afghans are under 27: this presents both an opportunity and a threat should unemployment persist. “Despite all our efforts, Afghanistan remains extremely poor,” the EU official warned, adding that the country currently enjoys preferable trade conditions with the EU under the European Commission’s ‘Everything but arms’ initiative.

Afghanistan’s biggest area of economic activity is its agriculture sector, but its agricultural exports remain negligible, Muscheidt said.

“The international community cannot afford to leave a country as a black hole in a globalised world,” she warned, pledging that the EU would honour its strategic long-term commitments in Afghanistan.

EU development aid for the country will remain the same and could even increase, she said. But she warned that blood must not be spilt over Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits.

Muscheidt agreed with Hukku that boosting regional cooperation was imperative for Afghanistan’s development.

The long-term stability of Afghanistan will continue to be unclear as long as the wider regional picture is uncertain too, the EEAS official concluded. 

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