The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has failed to make permanent progress outside of Kabul since 2002, said William Maley, professor at the Australian National University, at the Carnegie Endowment on May 12. The stalled security situation is troubling on its own, but is potentially even more damaging because the Afghan people are attuned to this loss of momentum. Maley said that if ISAF were to move strongly against Taliban leadership structures, it would have a large impact on the expectations of the Afghan population.
ISAF has made little progress securing the southern and eastern provinces that border Pakistan, where the Taliban and other militant groups are currently based, Maley said. A variety of factors, including weak local governance, the fragmentation of elites, the politicization of religious identity, and a politics based more on symbols than on policy have contributed to the Talibanization of Pakistan.
Furthermore, the Taliban is receiving assistance from Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, including some senior intelligence officials who would like to see the Taliban maintained. Afghans are stunned by the silence from the international community on the Pakistani government’s support for the Taliban, Maley said, who noted that it was the duty of the democratically elected government in Pakistan to prevent the country from being a base for attacks in Afghanistan.
Maley said that the Afghan conflict is embedded within other complicated South Asian relationships which need to be addressed directly if progress is to be made. Pakistan is nervous about Indian involvement in Afghanistan, despite the fact that India’s presence has been felt mostly in the west, far from the Pakistani border. The China-Pakistan relationship could be a crucial one for highlighting the necessity for Pakistan to move against militants based on its soil. And involving Iran as a constructive partner is critical, because it has the capacity to act as a spoiler, he said.
Maley urged U.S. leaders to rhetorically separate the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts. Describing the two as fronts in the same larger war on terror is politically disastrous in Europe and in Afghanistan, he said.
On the issue of opium cultivation, Maley said that the debate was usually seen as a tension between those who would support eradication of crops and those who support investing in alternative livelihoods. Maley said that the reality of the situation precludes either solution alone. Many people are growing opium to raise money to invest in cereals; still others rely on opium as an income supplement, without which many people would be plunged back into poverty, and some chased in the arms of the Taliban.
In the question and answer session, Maley agreed that the Afghan police were the weakest of the security forces operating in Afghanistan. The police are seen as legitimate, but they are often isolated from support and lack an effective judicial system. Police training is far more difficult than army training, said Maley.
Maley spoke about the lessons that the 2005 elections hold for the upcoming polls. Maley was cautious about out-of-country voting, warning that it would be unfortunate if people in Afghanistan had to live with the actions of a government they felt was elected by those living elsewhere. In addition, it would be politically impossible to allow out-of-country voting for Afghanis living in Pakistan but not Iran, since different political groups would benefit differentially from the two groups of expatriates.
The elections pose other election difficulties as well. In one province, the reported female turnout was 68%, but observers said they saw no women, and the UN reported that only 20 women turned out to vote, he said.
Afghanistan's 2005 elections were organized by international experts, which Maley called a major mistake. The polls were successful, but local capacity was not built in the process, which is necessary for long term state building.
Maley advocated for a regional conference to discuss issues including economic development and energy cooperation to increase the stake that countries have in the outcome in Afghanistan.