| ||Afghanistan will descend into ‘chaos and civil war’ unless the international community remains committed there: Forum panel|
By Richard Foot
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Afghanistan is “very, very vulnerable” and will descend back into “chaos and civil war” unless the world — especially the United States, and NATO allies such as Canada — remains engaged and committed there.
That stark warning was issued here Sunday by a panel of high-profile Afghan business and political leaders. They spoke on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual conference on global security issues hosted by Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
Afghanistan “needs a lot of resources and patience on the part of the international community,” said Abdul Rahim Wardak, a former defence minister and current advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“Unfortunately the Taliban and their supporters have counted from the beginning, that sooner or later the international community will run out of patience and they will leave, and that is why they are preparing for that day.”
For that reason, said Wardak, “we hope international support will continue.”
Canada has already ended its five-year combat mission in Kandahar province. About 900 Canadian troops remain in the capital city Kabul, training Afghan soldiers and police. All Canadian troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by March, 2014, before the Afghan elections that year.
Other western nations are also winding down their military missions. The United States has said it will withdraw its 67,000 troops by 2014, although a small contingent of soldiers will remain as trainers and advisers, along with anti-terrorism special forces units.
During the transition period leading to 2014, Afghanistan will prepare for a new round of elections, in which Karzai is prohibited from seeking a third term.
Observers say it’s critical for the 2014 vote to take place freely and fairly, without interference from Karzai or intimidation from the Taliban, for the next government to have legitimacy and for Afghanistan to have any hope of a stable future.
“How much leverage can the West bring to bear, to make sure those elections are free and fair?” said Ahmed Rashid, a respected Pakistan journalist and longtime Afghanistan observer.
“The last elections were rigged openly by Karzai. If the next elections are rigged, Afghanistan will fall apart, and we’ll face a multi-dimensional war there like we’ve never seen before.”
Said Amrullah Saleh, a former Afghan government intelligence chief who now runs an opposition, anti-corruption movement in Kabul: “Afghanistan is very, very vulnerable. If you in the West think, ‘We helped them for 11 years, and they didn’t help themselves, so now we will abandon them’ then we will collapse and the militants will come back.”
Saad Mohseni, a Middle East media mogul whose company the Moby Group, owns several Afghanistan broadcast outlets, said despite the ongoing war with the Taliban, Afghan society has been transformed by the security offered by NATO and its allies over the past decade.
He said millions of people are now going to school, moving to the cities, and a new generation of young people are hungry for peace and prosperity. But Mohseni warned that the “world needs to remain engaged in Afghanistan” if this progress is to be maintained.
“If neglected, Afghanistan and Pakistan will become the world’s problems in the years ahead. With the nuclear weapons, the drugs and the terrorism, this region must not be abandoned. You have to understand the consequences. I think it’s very important for the political leadership in countries like Canada to explain the importance of Afghanistan to their people,” Mohseni said.
“It’s very easy to disengage now, and it’s very easy to be insular and say your economy’s not doing well, so we have to walk away from Afghanistan. The last time the Americans walked away from Afghanistan, we saw 9/11.”
After listening to the discussion Sunday, MacKay reiterated Ottawa’s position to fully end its military mission there by 2014, but to continue sending financial aid, currently budgeted at $110-million a year until 2017.
“We will, I believe, be working with Afghans for many, many years to come on many levels. But the [Canadian] military piece is over.”
MacKay, who visited Canadian forces in Kabul last weekend, said he came away from the recent visit more optimistic than before.
“I saw first-hand the incredible efforts being made by Canadians and our allies to present the Afghan army and police with the skills they need to go out and defend their country,” he said.
“We’re under no illusion as to the enormity of the task, but they are now a very capable force.”