During a recent visit to Afghanistan to assess the implications of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) withdrawal with regard to humanitarian needs and responses, I was struck by the dissonance between the debates over Afghanistan’s future inside and outside the country.
The troop withdrawal has dominated the international agenda since it was announced in 2009. It still remains unclear how many troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when ISAF’s mandate is set to expire, and what their role will be. Meanwhile, the recent row over the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has raised the specter of a “zero option” involving the total withdrawal of all U.S. troops, unlikely as most experts consider this outcome to be. There has also been considerable analysis of the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces to maintain security after the ISAF withdrawal, with generally pessimistic forecasts.
Afghan government officials, organizations and people with whom I spoke are genuinely concerned about the very real possibility of rising insecurity in Afghanistan during and after 2014. But they tend to focus on two other transitions that may be just as significant as the troop withdrawal for Afghanistan’s security, one political and the other economic.