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CWA # 514, 18 July 2021

Afghanistan
Five reasons why Afghanistan is closer to a civil war

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

The withdrawal of troops coupled with the dormant intra-Afghan negotiations and the Taliban's offensive will push Afghanistan towards a civil war. 

As the US prepares to bring to end its 'longest war,' the commander of the US-led mission in Afghanistan, General Austin S Miller warned that the country could be on a path to chaotic civil war as American and other international troops prepare to leave in the coming weeks. He said, with the Taliban offensive that has seized around 100 district centres, left dozens of civilians wounded and killed, and displaced thousands more, "civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if it continues on the trajectory it's on. That should concern the world." Similarly, former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said, "Look at the scene. We are in shambles. The country is in conflict. There is immense suffering... Those who came here 20 years ago in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism not only failed to end it but, under their watch, extremism has flourished. That is what I call failure."  
Afghanistan is likely to spiral into a civil war for the following five reasons.

1. Withdrawal of troops and the capability of the ANDSF
In April 2021, President Joe Biden announced that "it is time to end the forever war," saying that he would withdraw the remaining US troops in Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 as it has accomplished its main mission of denying terrorists a haven in the country. Since then, both the US and NATO troops have begun departing from the country. On 2 July, the US military left the Bagram Airfield, its last base, and handed it over to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). With Bagram gone, a small number of American forces would remain in Kabul. No doubt the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan is essential, however, the US troops were engaged in counterterrorism pursuits, including with Afghanistan-based aircraft. These strike aircraft are now gone, along with any logistical and training support for the Afghan forces. Meanwhile, the US has planned for 'over the horizon' counterterrorism measures, however, the effectiveness of it is yet to be seen. Additionally, concern have been raised on the Afghan security forces ability to hold off Taliban advances across the country, as the ANDSF who are meant to fight against the Taliban is rife with corruption, demoralised and struggling to keep territory. However, the government claims that the security forces are capable of fighting, but military experts warn of a tough fight ahead for forces whose loyalties are torn between their country and local warlords. However, the ability of ANDSF will determine security in Kabul and the future of the Afghan government by keeping pressure on the Taliban.

2. Taliban's offensive
The Taliban has gained both psychological and military momentum since the foreign troop began its withdrawal process on 1 May 2021. The Taliban has taken advantage of this strategic opportunity and has launched an offensive campaign to capture and control territories. The Taliban has reportedly made substantial territorial gains by overrunning several districts. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban now controls roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centres as its march through northern Afghanistan gains momentum. Reports also claim that pro-government forces in many areas have had to surrender and abandon their territory without offering any resistance to the Taliban. Meanwhile, several Afghan border troops have begun escaping to bordering Tajikistan and Uzbekistan due to the Taliban's offensive. The Taliban's considerable gains have fuelled fears that it could topple the government and overrun the security forces.

3. Revival of armed regional militias
As the Taliban expands its offensive, mujahideen warlords, who have been fighting along the Afghan government forces are seen defending their regional fiefdoms. This has particularly been the case in northern Afghanistan where the Taliban offensive in has been a major reason behind the revival of the militias representing different ethnic groups in the recent months. While these militia movements have helped reinforce the government forces fighting the Taliban, their consolidation will weaken the authority of the government in Kabul, thus dividing the country along ethnic lines and empower regional strongmen.

4. Disunity within the Afghan government
The government lacks political unity and stronger leadership because of the deep mistrust and political selfishness. The disunity and differences within the Afghan government have made it difficult for the implementation of measures such as Supreme State Council. The leadership has not been able to move past their differences and has resorted to using the political crisis at hand as an opportunity to settle past disputes about power-sharing within the Republic rather than to unite to confront the existential threat posed by the Taliban. This lack of political unity will not bode well for peace in Afghanistan.

5. Dormant intra-Afghan negotiations
While the Taliban and the Afghan Republic negotiating teams meeting in Doha largely being dormant, the prospects for peace are unlikely. Many have argued that the negotiations are likely to continue to stall as the Taliban were never serious about negotiations and only came to the table to fulfil the conditions of the 2020 US-Taliban agreement for a troop withdrawal. Thus, now with the troops out of the picture, there have less incentive to talk. With the talks remaining dormant, the possibility of an 'Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process' is unlikely.  

The signs of a civil war in Afghanistan are far clearer than peace. With the warring sides at odds with each other and between each other it leaves one pessimistic about the future for Afghanistan. The break out of a civil war would be the last straw in the ongoing conflict, however, this nature of this civil war would be different from the past. There would be an intense yet short bout of violence that would eventually lead to a deadlock, leaving Afghanistan in a perpetual state of conflict. This would continue until the warning side understand the importance of negotiation and initiate the peace process.



Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Project Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Her areas of interest include peace and conflict in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus. As a part of her research focus at 'Pakistan Reader' she looks at issues relating to gender, minorities and ethnic movements.

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