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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

With elections looming, Ashraf Ghani has yet to tackle insurgency despite campaign promise

Militancy threatens to destabilise Kabul's efforts to secure its borders

An Afghan security officer on duty: Taliban fired rockets toward the presidential palace in Kabul as Ashraf Ghani was giving his holiday message for Eid Al Adha. Rahmat Gul / AP
An Afghan security officer on duty: Taliban fired rockets toward the presidential palace in Kabul as Ashraf Ghani was giving his holiday message for Eid Al Adha. Rahmat Gul / AP

Even as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was speaking to the nation in a televised address to mark Eid Al Adha, mortar rounds could be heard in the background.

It was a stark reminder that the National Unity Government’s inability to deliver on most of its promises has led to a strengthening of insurgency in the country.

The government’s efforts to end insurgency have borne little fruit, with the latest offer of a ceasefire rejected by the Taliban.

Mr Ghani and his government have used different methods to end the militancy, to no avail. These efforts have included talks between senior officials from his government and the Taliban and travels to Pakistan to meet army officials at military bases, breaching diplomatic protocols. He was also mocked for offering ice-cream to insurgents in the June ceasefire as a gesture to broker peace.

These efforts have not weakened the insurgency but the group has instead intensified its attacks on Afghan civilians and the security forces.

Ending the violence requires strong commitments and appropriate strategies, not ice-cream, a gesture which was mocked by political commentators and activists.

Nearly four years after Mr Ghani came to power, Afghans feel disenchanted with his government’s efforts aimed at countering militancy.

Increasing poverty, unemployment, a weak economy, the worsening security situation, which has forced businesses to relocate, and youth migration to other countries are just some of the areas the government has been criticised for.

Afghans believe the president has failed to deliver much of what he promised before he was elected.

As part of his election bid, Mr Ghani pledged an ambitious programme of actions. As his term is about to expire, he and his government have not been able to fulfil half of the key promises he made.

They included appointing qualified ministers and other senior officials, combating corruption, restoring peace, creating jobs for youth, who constitute more than half the country’s population, providing biannual and annual reports on the state of governance to the nation, establishing at least one specialised hospital to reduce the need for Afghans to go abroad for medical treatment and defending the sovereignty, freedom and borders of Afghanistan.

Not fully meeting those promises has led many Afghans to feel betrayed.

Signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US was one of the main promises the president fulfilled.

However, the US is to be criticised for not fully playing its part in light of what was promised and agreed upon.

Supporting Afghanistan against external aggression and strengthening its defences against “threats to its territorial integrity, sovereignty or political independence” is part of the agreement.

However, the fall of provincial capitals of several Afghan provinces into the hands of Taliban militants, such as Kunduz in the northeast, Farah in the west and Ghazni less than 100 miles from the capital, as well as the presence of Taliban and Haqqani Network and other terror groups on Pakistani soil demonstrates that the agreement has not been fully implemented.

The five-day siege of Ghazni’s provincial capital this month left at least 100 members of the Afghan security force and 35 civilians dead.

Other factors that have led to the government and its international allies’ failure to effectively counter the insurgency and defend the territory against the insurgents include a lack of co-ordination between different security forces such as the police, army and the intelligence agency NDS.

The Afghan government is highly centralised and these forces have to follow different commands and orders from their line ministries in Kabul.

The capture of territory by the insurgents has undermined people’s confidence in the government’s ability to protect them and their properties.

The disagreements within the national government in Kabul have also led to weakening counter-insurgency efforts at more regional levels.

The next few weeks will be crucial. Taliban representatives will take part in talks in Moscow next month while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Islamabad and said the US was “ready to support, facilitate and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It is time for peace.”

With less than a year left of the president’s current term, the key issues will be pressuring the US to uphold its part of the security pact, appointing provincial civil and military officials based on merit, not political affiliation and securing the country’s borders.

Only then can the government talk to the insurgents from a position of strength, not weakness.

Noorrahman Rahmani is the Afghanistan country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting

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