The View From New Delhi: Don’t Pull the Plug on Afghanistan

The worst thing the international community can do after draw down in 2014 is to pull the plug on Afghanistan. The country needs economic and military support for at least another decade.

By Lt. Gen (retd.) Ravi Sawhney, Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation

India China [flags] photo courtesy of the Indian ExpressNotwithstanding all the problems that the Afghan state faces – fragile security situation, weak economic base, governance deficit, fledgling institutions, pervasive corruption etc., – a Taliban takeover that many in India and rest of the world fear is by no means inevitable. If the international community continues to support the Afghan government with monetary and military assistance for at least another decade i.e., until 2025, then not only will the Taliban be defeated, but Afghanistan will be able to realise its potential of emerging as a fairly stable and relatively functional democratic state.

Indeed, there is a far greater chance of Afghanistan pulling through than there is of its tormentor Pakistan getting out of the self-created terrorist hole that it finds itself in. The caveat is, of course, that the international community doesn't abandon Afghanistan and undermine its tremendous achievements of the last decade. Compared to Afghanistan, pumping money into Pakistan to stabilise it is going to prove utterly counter-productive. Counter intuitive though it may sound, the fact is that pulling the plug on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan is what could lead to better results in terms of reining in and ultimately eliminating the jihadist terrorist networks in the Afpak region. This would force Pakistan to change its strategic policy framework. Continued support to Afghanistan is not throwing good money after bad; pumping money into Pakistan is.

To be sure, Afghanistan faces monumental challenges. Interestingly, even top Afghan officials don't try and gloss over the enormous problems that confront their country. But unlike the outsiders who appear to be all set to throw in the towel because they think these problems are insurmountable, the Afghans are showing remarkable resoluteness in improving their capacity and ability to grapple with the problems that their country faces.

There is undoubtedly a growing sense of uncertainty that seems to gripping many Afghans. But this isn't so much because the Afghans have given up but more because it is being fuelled by the growing apprehension among the Afghans that the rest of the world is in the process of giving up on them. There is palpable concern among Afghans that the international community is getting ready to cut and run and even turn its back on Afghanistan and write it off as a bad nightmare.

More than anything else, this faux conjecture that the Afghan state will not be able to hold its own against the Taliban onslaught after the Western troops’ withdraw, which is causing more damage than anything that the Taliban and their patrons across the Durand line have thrown at the Afghan state. Senior Afghan officials and politicians are mindful that they need to demolish this conjecture and change the narrative in order to re-instil confidence among the public within Afghanistan and without. If they manage this, defeating the Taliban won’t be very difficult.

More difficult than getting rid of the Taliban, however, will be the task of nation building, which is still pretty much a work in progress. The institutions of state and society in Afghanistan –army, political system, judiciary, civil service, civil society etc. – are still in their infancy and therefore vulnerable. They need time to grow and strike deep roots.

Any premature or hasty and ill-thought out pulling out of support, whether for reasons of political correctness, a Faustian strategic bargain, simple exhaustion with involvement in Afghanistan or even financial problems back home, will pretty much mean pushing back Afghanistan into chaos. Apart from institutions, the Afghans need to start thinking of putting their economy on more solid footing. This means steadily lowering the dependence on foreign aid and assistance and becoming self sufficient. Afghanistan has enough going for it to be able to manage without external hand-outs. But again they need time and political stability in order to develop their capacity to be able to gain economically from their mineral wealth and their geographical location at the cross-roads of Middle-East, Central Asia, South Asia and China.

It is here that India-UK Joint Working Group can chart out a plan to work together in building the institutions of Afghan state in consonance with plans envisaged by the international community. Time is fast running out and time for action is now.

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