Afghanistan and the promise of democracy? The fable of ‘Enduring Freedom’.

Wars fade from consciousness. As soon as military involvement ceases, public interest dwindles and attention is focused elsewhere. Afghanistan has suffered this unfortunate fate. After withdrawing the majority of its forces in December 2014, America ended its thirteen-year military involvement in the country, bringing ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ to an end. No longer are we greeted with the stories of the death caused by the war in Afghanistan; it was almost daily that newspapers, television newsrooms, political commentators and government officials were declaring another death in the Afghan region as a result of the war. With an estimated 3,500 military service men and women from various coalition partners and over 21,000 civilians killed, it is no surprise that Afghanistan could not escape the public eye.

Yet, 2016 has caused this eye to shut. Afghanistan has faded from memory as developments in other areas, namely Iraq and Syria fixate public concern. The emergence of ISIS has created a new enemy. We are now greeted with stories of hostages and air strikes with ISIS becoming the new global security threat; a threat which can be encompassed by the recent terror attacks in Paris. As important as the impact of ISIS is, Afghanistan has become a child overshadowed by the birth of a new sibling. It has been neglected and pushed to the side, replaced by something new and more interesting. Arguably, in a few years, ISIS may suffer the same fate. But, it does not mean the impact of thirteen years of torment should be assigned to the history books as soon as the last soldier leaves. Ironically, the neglect of post-war Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal in 2011 has catalysed the developments which we are seeing today. Why should Afghanistan suffer the same fate?

2014 was supposedly a landmark year in Afghanistan. For the first time in its history, the country looked to peacefully transfer power from Hamid Karzai, President since 2002, to a democratically elected leader. This would be supplemented by complete withdrawal of military presence, placing Afghanistan on a track towards autonomy. Or so the story went. Marred by fraud, the elections produced a turbulent atmosphere, with the two ballot system producing two ethnically opposing candidates; Dr Ashraf Ghani, who appealed to the ethnically dominant Pashtun’s composed of 40% of the population, and Abdullah Abdullah, who appealed to the 27% of Afghan’s Tajik community. Eventually gaining the premiership, Ghani was forced to work alongside his rival Abdullah as a power-sharing agreement was reached in September, with Ghani as President and Abdullah as Chief Executive, similar to the role of a Prime Minister. By the end of January 2015, only 8 out of 25 of the nominees proposed by Ghani for government office had been approved. Ministerial roles in the most influential departments, namely the economy, defence and justice are currently vacant. This serves to highlight the sheer difficulty that Afghanistan faces in the political arena. A government that cannot compromise causes deadlock which is detrimental to a state where reform is paramount.

The swift ejection of the Taliban from office in December 2001 and the subsequent military operations against them has undoubtedly weakened their control. But the threat of the Taliban has not been eliminated. The elections were not only marred by fraud but were accompanied by a wave of Taliban attacks in the hope of disrupting the transfer of power. Evidence suggests that more Afghani soldiers were killed by the Taliban in 2014 than any other year which serves to highlight their continued presence. Although their control of urban areas is non-existent, they pose a grave order keflex uk danger in rural communities due to the lack of governmental control and deep regional ties in these areas. 10,000 American troops still remain in Afghanistan to help train the Afghan National Army against the Taliban. Their importance cannot be understated; their expertise is essential in helping ensure Afghan security. Yet, ultimately it highlights the failure on behalf of the U.S. to fully stabilise the country.

Afghani civilians, as well as political figures, were not spared from Taliban attacks. Ignored by much of Western media, incidents such as the one in the Northern province of Kunduz on 10th February, where two suicide bombers attempted to kill a female politician are an all too regular occurrence. Not conforming to traditional Islamic ideology, women have been a constant target by Taliban insurgents, and this is tied to their increasing presence in society as a whole. Ghani promised to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan in a speech made during his inauguration. Yet these promises have failed to come to fruition, with three female nominations proposed by Ghani for government office being rejected. This not only symbolises the checks placed on the authority of the President but also signals the contentious role women play in Afghanistan’s society. Although there have been symbolic gestures of improvement for a small minority, the female masses are ignored. Without any improvement in women’s rights, the Afghanistan of 2015 arguably resembles the Afghanistan of 2001 under the Taliban.

Military troops were not the only foreign element leaving Afghanistan in 2014. International aid has also dramatically reduced since the American withdrawal, leading to crippling unemployment, widespread corruption and a large balance of trade deficit. The economic crisis is compounded by an ineffective government which cannot agree on economic reforms. The World Bank predicts that economic growth in 2015 will be a measly 1.4%, in comparison to the 14% growth experience in 2012. Any money invested goes straight to the army in order to help fight the Taliban, leading to key areas in need of development neglected. Thus, millions of ordinary Afghani’s are without jobs and struggling in poverty, becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government.

The war in Afghanistan is supposedly over. Yet, thirteen years of war have ended with the Taliban still a threat to Afghanistan’s democracy. It has ended with a political system put in place where two rivals compete for power and who cannot compromise. Women promised equal opportunities, are still oppressed. The economy lay in ruins. For the everyday Afghani, war is on- going. This makes it all the more worrying that Afghanistan has fallen off the radar. ISIS may currently be a bigger threat, but have we not learnt from ISIS itself? Emerging out of post-war Iraq, they are the result of the instability that encompassed the nation after 2011. What is stopping Afghanistan descending into a similar scenario? Early reports suggest that ISIS has begun to assert a small influence in Afghanistan due to its fragile environment which is conducive to extremist tendencies: unemployment, political disenchantment and poverty. We cannot predict the future of Afghanistan, just like we could not predict the future of Iraq. But we can learn. The situation in Afghanistan cannot be ignored and we must not allow it to be sidelined just because foreign intervention has ceased. Both the Afghani government and the international community must continue to work in tandem to avoid a situation similar to the one we see emerging in the Middle East today. If we really want enduring freedom, we cannot leave Afghanistan to its own devices.

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Jack Lee 1 Article
Jack is currently studying History at the University of Sheffield. He is looking to go into the research field hoping to study International Security and Terrorism. A marathon runner, Jack enjoys football, politics and brewing craft beer.

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