International missions isolated
On 31 May 2017, the Taliban carried out their deadliest attack in Kabul since 2001. In the direct vicinity of the German embassy a suicide bomber detonated explosives placed in a water tanker. More than 150 people were killed. The German embassy was then vacated – as was the case in Mazar-i-Sharif in November 2016 after the German consulate was destroyed in a bombing. International missions are hidden behind ever higher protective barriers and diplomacy takes place in isolation and far removed from the general population.
Afghan security forces are suffering heavy losses and currently control less than 60 percent of the country. The U.S. and its partners, the most powerful military alliance in the world, have no exit strategy. "This war cannot be won with bombs," asserts Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kabul. "It can be won by winning public support through the promotion of accountability and justice. Corruption is another factor for the growing distance between the people and state institutions. And so is the friendship of the international community with corrupt warlords."
There are currently many indicators that the U.S. and NATO intend sending more troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to once again turn the tide. The figure currently being bandied about is 4,000 soldiers.
But according to Wieland-Karimi from ZIF, more soldiers cannot rectify what politicians have neglected. "Pacification can only be achieved when international, regional and national actors develop a collective strategy and objective," says Wieland-Karimi. "They must sit at one table and then make their respective positions transparent." The expert adds that the political will of all parties is key along with the support of international institutions like the United Nations (UN). "It is a complex and lengthy negotiation process, but without it there will never be a peaceful solution," said Wieland-Karimi.
Civilians have many enemies
A peaceful solution seems to be years away. Fighting and terrorist attacks are reported from almost all provinces, turning an increasing number of people into refugees in their own country. According to the United Nations, more than 170,000 Afghans have been made homeless since January 2017.
Afghanistan has constantly been in a state of war for almost four decades. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union occupied the country with over 100,000 troops. The long period of conflict has socially and politically splintered the multi-ethnic Afghan society.
The current national unity government in Kabul, led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, has been paralyzed by acute internal power struggles. There is increasing opposition from within. In a bid to stabilise the situation, the international military mission continues to work closely with local and regional leaders, many of whom are involved in drug trafficking, human rights abuses, sexual crimes and other criminal activities. Some, like Vice President Rashid Dostum, have their own private militias. Dostum is currently facing accusations that he ordered a political rival to be raped and tortured. The vice president has been in Turkey since May this year.
This culture of impunity "provides a great legitimacy gap that allows the Taliban and other militant groups to exploit people's grievances", stresses the Afghan political scientist Niamatullah Ibrahimi. He considers the power vacuum to be a dangerous breeding ground for jihadists. Ibrahimi strongly urges the international community to "work closely with President Ghani and the political opposition groups to develop a common political consensus."