Time for Politics in Kabul

LONDON – As US and NATO soldiers prepare for their tenth Christmas in Afghanistan, a new buzzword is making the rounds: “transition,” the process of transferring responsibility for security from international to Afghan forces ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops, which is set to begin in the spring of 2011. But, in order to realize the hope that ordinary soldiers take from the new jargon, Western leaders will need to forge a clear political strategy for Afghanistan, without which the country will remain at war.

American and European military and civilian leaders have said repeatedly that there is no purely military solution to ending the war in Afghanistan. Yet NATO states have no answer to the question that logically follows: What would a political solution entail? Instead, they prefer to fall back on military-dominated plans for strengthening the capacity of the Afghan army and police, while heeding domestic pressure to demonstrate that Afghanistan will not be an endless conflict.

Afghans themselves are overwhelmingly supportive of seeking a political settlement to end the conflict, as a recent Asia Foundation survey of national attitudes confirmed. They have borne the brunt of 40 years of war, and are well aware that international forces are planning their departure. Afghans’ fears and concerns are focused on what legacy will be left behind, and whether the Afghan state can provide security, justice, and good governance, which it has so far been unable to deliver in the face of an insurgency whose strength is not significantly weakened.

Afghanistan’s international partners are not responsive to these concerns and grievances. Though they have committed themselves rhetorically to supporting the Afghan-led Peace and Reintegration Program, Afghans are voicing discontent and wariness about a process that is decidedly marginal to “transition.”