In October 2018, the US-led war against the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan entered its 18th year. Coincidently, during the same month, Afghans went to polls to elect the third batch of their members of the parliament. The current Afghan parliament’s five-year term expired in June 2015, but security fears and internal political strife prevented the Independent Election Commission (IEC) from holding elections to choose a new legislative assembly.
The continuing conflict has greatly affected the democratic process. The US-led mission’s inability to subdue the Taliban insurgency and the group’s expanding influence and refusal to accept the current constitution make democratic process irrelevant at least in parts of the country they control. Numerous attacks on voters’ registration centres and election rallies and killing of various candidates induced fear among Afghans and affected voter’s turnout. The deteriorating security, law and order situation, a derailed democratic process and a baffled strategy ridden with disagreements within its own administration and with Afghan government clearly reflect that the US is losing its position in Afghanistan.
Contrary to get reduced in its intensity and paving the way to peace and stability, the war in Afghanistan has intensified and the insurgent group is gaining territory and strength. Afghan government control of the country has declined by 16% since November 2015, while insurgent-controlled districts increased by 7% and those considered “contested” between Afghan security forces and militants jumped by 9%. Additionally, the percentage of the Afghan population living in areas under government control or influence has declined by around 4% since August 2016, while those living in contested areas increased by 6% and areas under insurgent control by some 3%. As of May 2018 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, the Afghan government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts (56.3%). The Taliban controls or influences 59 districts (14.5%). The remaining 119 districts (29.2%) are contested.
Attempts to gain more territory and degree of insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces have even increased during the last few months. In August 2018, the Taliban attacked strategically located Ghazni city and managed to control the majority of its parts, resulted in the deferral of elections across the province. While in September 2018, the insurgent group captured the strategic Chahartot area in northern Faryab province. In October 2018, Samangan’s Police Chief was killed in a clash with the Taliban. A few days later, Kandahar Governor, provincial National Directorate Security Chief and Provincial Police Chief were also killed in a coordinated Taliban attack which also caused to postpone the election in the southern province.
Widespread attacks and expanding influence of the Taliban have a certain bearing on the viability and legitimacy of democracy and the democratic process. The insurgent group has outrightly boycotted the elections and warned Afghans against taking part. The relevance of the democratic process remains in question across approximately 45% of Afghanistan which is either in Taliban’s control or contested. Additionally, widespread attacks on election-related activities certainly affected the voters’ turnout. Out of around 36.6 million people, only 8.8 million could be registered by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan and voters’ turnout remained between 3 to 4 million. Security-related several incidents and attacks during the elections caused the life of at least 78 people across the country.
The war has also affected the National Unity Government’s (NUG) performance in terms of bringing about reforms in the electoral system. The NUG is forced to focus its resources and efforts on the conflict with the Taliban. This added with the lack of consensus within NUG on a variety of issues related to the electoral structure have led to the delay of the parliamentary elections for more than three years.
One of the main reasons behind the lack of consensus and disagreements within the Afghan government could be traced down from the history of the Afghan conflict. The two main ethnicities comprising the majority of Afghanistan’s population are Pashtuns and Tajiks who were locked in a fierce civil war when the former Soviet Union withdrew from the country. The historic rivalry arose once again when the 2014 presidential election results showed a stalemate between President, Ashraf Ghani, who is a Pashtun and Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah a Tajik by ethnicity.
The country was at the brink of another civil war when former US Secretary of State, John Kerry brokered an agreement between the two and solved the matter. However, there exists an internal power struggle between the two strong men which not only hampers Afghanistan’s socio-economic development but also causes to affect the public’s trust on democracy and democratic process. Interestingly, various discords between the two factions did not allow them to constitutionalize the role of country’s Chief Executive during the last four years which might jeopardize the 2019 presidential election.
The deteriorating security situation and the derailed democratic process directly affect the US position in Afghanistan. The poor state of internal politics is not the sole cause of worsening US’ position in Afghanistan but its own strategy seems unclear and confused. Not only does the US unwilling to cooperate with regional powers for a reconciliation process but there seems an intra-institutional lack of coordination when it comes to the Afghan imbroglio. Due to continuous setbacks, Washington decided to install a special envoy to the war-torn country who recently concluded his visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. However, the envoy’s visit to Qatar, where he met with the Taliban leadership, was marred with controversy as the planned meeting was not disclosed to the Afghan authorities. President, Ghani showed his concern that such meetings could potentially ruin the peace and reconciliation process which ought to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
With a failing security situation, derailing democratic process, discords and disagreements with NUG and within its own administration, the US seems to be stuck in Afghanistan. Additionally, Washington’s relations with its only trusted regional strategic partner, India, are on a downward trajectory after the commencement of China-India cooperation in Afghanistan and the finalization of Moscow-New Delhi S-400 deal.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.