Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
US President Barack Obama is expected to announce the withdrawal of 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan in his upcoming 2013 State of the Union (SOTU) address. The president’s plan will call for US forces to depart the South Asian nation over the next twelve months leaving its security in the incapable hands of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
While it’s uncertain how many foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan post-2014, it’s clear the security transition is gathering steam and, in fact, accelerating. The SOTU announcement will not come as a surprise to Afghan watchers, the country’s citizens and President Hamid Karzai – especially since it was referenced during the Afghan President’s recent visit to the United States.
The US President’s proposal and ANSF’s incompetence will also increase pressure on Kabul to quickly negotiate and sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) since this agreement would allow continued training of Afghan forces and the US to maintain Special Forces personnel in Afghanistan.
The more important concern for all Afghans is likely to be the issue of economic aid. These funds are of immense value to the Afghan economy as they help support a thriving black market, the lifestyles of corrupt officials and, to a lesser extent, generate salaries for honest and hardworking Afghans. In addition, the ANSF relies on these resources and any sharp decline in these funds could have an exponentially detrimental impact on stability in Afghanistan.
One could argue that a SOFA that includes conditions favored by the western governments could ensure the prolongation of these funds and that would be a reasonable assumption with historical precedence.
Long-term stability in Afghanistan is an interesting challenge because, while important, its absence post-2014 will only hurt a relatively small group of Afghans.
A vast majority of Afghans live in villages and mountains that won’t be significantly affected by the presence or absence of NATO troops. Hence, they don’t care whether the troops stay or funds continue to flow.
The rich elite, on the other hand, do care about a consistent delivery of funds but their timeline is quite short as they will most likely depart the country with the foreign troops. Consequently, this group will be quite satisfied if the aid continues until 2014; post that timeframe, these expatriates will reside in their lavish homes in the Middle East, Europe or Pakistan and not have any significant interest in what happens in Afghanistan.
The group that will bear the most brunt of these uncertain times will be Afghanistan’s new middle-class. The members of this group – recently profiled in the New York Times – depend on foreign troops for security and international aid for their salaries. While they continue to believe the US will not leave Afghanistan because of the many sacrifices it has made there, they are realistic enough to know that the outlook is not positive.
Unfortunately for Afghanistan, members of this group hold the keys to its future success and will likely be the first targets as the country descends into chaos. Without any avenues of escape, the already bleak future of the Afghan middle-class will be caught between multiple forces vying for the control of an increasingly desolate Afghanistan.