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Uncertain times: on the security situation in Afghanistan (hindu)

The major terror strike in Kabul underlines a rapidly deteriorating security situation

Afghanistan is no stranger to terror attacks. Even so, the repeated strikes in the most fortified areas with mounting casualties demonstrate a steadily deteriorating security situation. In April, the Taliban had targeted an army base in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing over 100 soldiers. Now, at least 90 people, mostly civilians, have been massacred in a suspected truck bomb blast in Kabul. The Wazir Akbar Khan area where the blast occurred is one of the most secured places in the city, given its proximity to the presidential palace and embassies, including India’s. Still, a terrorist managed to drive in with a vehicle full of explosives and detonate it. It is not immediately clear who is behind the attack. The Taliban have denied any role, saying they don’t kill civilians. Afghanistan’s jihadist landscape has been diversified. There are multiple Taliban splinter groups that do not accept the current leadership of the insurgency. And then there is the Islamic State, which operates from eastern Afghanistan and had targeted civilians in the recent past. Amid all this, the Afghan government is struggling to win a modicum of public confidence that it can turn things around. Since most American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, terror attacks have been on the rise. Last year was particularly bloody, with over 11,500 people having been killed or injured even as the Afghan government’s writ shrunk to just over half of the country’s 407 districts.

The problem has political, diplomatic and security dimensions. Politically, the government is seen to be corrupt, incompetent, and unable to get its act together. Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who faces allegations of sexual abuse, has fled the country. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are reportedly not on the same page on key issues. Corruption is pervasive across government departments, and Mr. Ghani is yet to begin delivering on his promise to streamline governance. The diplomatic challenge before Mr. Ghani is to cut off the Taliban’s supplies from abroad. It is an open secret that Pakistan is supporting the insurgency. There were reports recently that Iran and Russia may also be arming them for geopolitical reasons. Unless the Taliban are cut off from their external backers, Kabul’s writ will remain circumscribed. The security challenge, perhaps the most important one, is that the Afghan army, after years of relentless war, is demoralised. Though Afghanistan has a 170,000-strong army, the main combat operations are overseen by a small U.S.-trained contingent. They are stretched on the battlefield, given the challenges from different militant groups. The question is, what is Mr. Ghani’s government doing in the face of these challenges? Do its international backers, including the U.S., have any plan to stabilise Afghanistan, and if so, what priority do they accord it? As things stand, the country is at risk of sliding back to the chaos of the 1990s.

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