Shashank Joshi: With the US relationship with Afghanistan in ruins, damage limitation is our best hope

Share
Related Topics

The US-Afghan relationship is about to be battered by its fourth crisis in four months. American troops have this year inadvertently burned Korans, massacred Afghan villagers, and been filmed urinating on Taliban corpses. And now there are more shocking photos of troops cavorting with corpses. This is hardly the basis for trust and friendship.

The relationship between Hamid Karzai and the West has been disintegrating since his fraud-marred re-election in 2009. But Afghanistan's future hinges less on Karzai, who will be gone in 2014, and more on the answers to three questions. The first is how quickly US forces will drawdown from the country. The second is whether the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) can replace them. The third is whether the Taliban are open to a political settlement with the Kabul government.

Over the past year, it has become clear that the US-led counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has failed. This is not about the coordinated Taliban attacks of the sort of witnessed over the weekend. Those are dramatic, but have little lasting impact. The real problem is twofold: the failure of the Afghan government to end corruption, and Pakistan's continued support for the insurgency.

In the face of these odds, the French have already given up and announced an early exit. The US has announced the withdrawal of all combat forces by 2014, and a complete handover to Afghan forces next year. Western hopes are now pinned on the Afghan army serving as a bulwark against the return of the Taliban.

However, this strategy has several problems. First, it means that perhaps tens of thousands of Western troops will need to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 to train up their Afghan counterparts. Even if these are special forces rather than regular soldiers, they will still need bases. Not only does that make it harder to reach a deal with the Taliban, who won't accept any US presence, but it also requires what is known as a Status of Forces of Agreement (SOFA) to give US troops immunity.

It was the inability to reach such an agreement that compelled the US to withdraw from Iraq. The US has made concessions to President Karzai – giving him control over night raids against suspected insurgents, and responsibility for a key prison – but a deal still isn't guaranteed.

Second, Afghan forces remain inadequate and unaffordable. Only a tiny fraction of the army is capable of operating without extensive American help, and its present strength (350,000 men) will cost $7-8bn annually. The solution has been to cut that down to 220,000 in five years. But those numbers may not be enough to secure the country. Nor is it clear whether the US Congress will agree to stump up the cash in the interim. European states no longer see Afghan instability as a threat to their vital interests. They have enough financial problems of their own without also throwing good money after bad.

Third, a political settlement to the war looks out of reach. After some major steps earlier this year, such as the opening of a Taliban political office in Qatar, the group suspended talks a month ago. Yet even if negotiations were to resume, the thorniest problem may lie in splits within the Taliban. Naso's own policy of raids has eroded the middle-ranks of the Taliban, and their replacements are both closer to al-Qa'ida and less amenable to compromise. Of course, the war may be lost even if things fall perfectly into place. We may be quibbling over little more than the scale and speed of defeat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee