Fourth Annual Members’ Conference – Is Afghanistan Ready For the Transition Beyond 2014?

Summary of the town hall “Is Afghanistan Ready For the Transition Beyond 2014?” at the 2012 Annual Members’ Conference.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Chairman, Institute for State Effectiveness
Moderated by Mr. Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

This session focused on Afghanistan’s current landscape and preparation for the major security and development transition that the country will soon face as most international troops are withdrawn from by 2014. Accompanying the withdrawal is an expected decline in civilian aid as international attention shifts elsewhere, which could have implications for Afghanistan’s political and economic landscape.

Most policy thinking is a projection of today to tomorrow but the better approach is to imagine what 2014 will look and then think backwards. To understand whether Afghanistan is ready for the transition, there are three aspects to Afghanistan’s internal dimension: economic, political and security. A significant portion of the government’s operating budget comes from foreign aid, leading credence to either an economic depression or major recession when the troops withdraw. The large aid inflows have benefited Afghanistan but have also brought problems. It has allowed for much of the progress since 2001 but has also been linked to corruption and weakened governance. Politically, elections will need to be held by May 2014. Regarding the security transition, the mission of the U.S. forces in 2013 is to support, not combat and by the end of 2014 there will be no NATO combat troops left in Afghanistan.

The regional and global dimensions must also be considered. Afghanistan’s neighbors assume that nothing will change until 2014 while globally there are two significant issues: the lack of will to continue the military mission and the globally fiscal environment which is making it more difficult to subsidize Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and its allies must make choices. Should the approach be security or stability? Afghanistan is a landlocked country -there is a need for investment in transport; it currently depends greatly on Turkmenistan. There is also a need for a bilateral security arrangement and an imperative for a special relationship with Pakistan.

From an Afghan perspective, the Afghani imperative is that they cannot become refugees again because the region cannot bear it but equally so, 99% of Afghans do not want to become refugees. While there are several risks that Afghanistan faces, including its relationship with Pakistan, Afghanistan has opportunities as it has several assets within the region. These include its location – which is critical for regional trade, water – it is home to the headwaters of several major rivers on the Central Asian plateau and mineral wealth – it is one of the countries with the richest and biggest intact mines in the world.

The agenda of transition is clearly articulated and foreign troops have gone to every location to speak with Afghan soldiers and build consensus. Although it has taken four years, the transition process is organized but an unexpected event could damage the process. Given the engagement of more than 140,000 troops, the process is being handled in a way that will hopefully leave its mark.