Nation-building efforts in Afghanistan face a major turning point.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has started withdrawing troops stationed in Afghanistan. European and other countries helping to maintain security in Afghanistan will follow suit in reducing their military presence.
The transfer of security duties to Afghan forces is under way, with completion targeted for the end of 2014.
For countries that deployed troops in Afghanistan, the start of troop withdrawals will help them reduce their burdens.
But whether these troops can be pulled out smoothly hinges on the self-sustainability of the Afghan government.
The Afghan administration of President Hamid Karzai, which was established with the backing of the international community, is still vulnerable.
Improvised explosive devices and gunfire killed 1,462 civilians in the first half of this year, the worst six-month toll on record. Most of the fatalities were laid at the door of the Taliban, who formerly ruled most of the country, and other antigovernment elements.
Karzai’s brother, a leading power broker in the country’s south where the Taliban forces have strong roots, is among those who have been killed. Other victims include a close Karzai’s aide and an influential mayor. Before anything else, it is important to bolster public safety capabilities.
A mere 800 U.S. troops were pulled out in July, but 33,000 troops or one-third of the total U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by September next year. The United States should intensify its training and education efforts to bolster the capabilities of Afghan security forces.
The U.S. and Afghan administrations have launched reconciliation talks with the Taliban in the belief it will be difficult to completely control the Taliban.
Cooperation from Pakistan, which can exert influence over the Taliban, is indispensable to promote these negotiations. But U.S.-Pakistan relations, which recently became strained, must be improved first.
China and India are expanding their engagement with Afghanistan in the pursuit of mineral resources, while Iran is trying to increase its political influence over the country. The interests of these regional powers threaten to destabilise the fragile country further.
Japan, for its part, has cooperated in the reconstruction of Afghanistan by promoting disarmament and hosting an international conference on assistance to the country.
The Maritime Self-Defence Force’s refueling operations in the Indian Ocean were discontinued by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government following its inauguration in September 2009. Instead, the government pledged to provide a staggering $5 billion in civilian assistance over five years.
About $1.7 billion has been extended, with Japan covering the salaries for about 130,000 Afghan police officers.
However, corruption still pervades the Karzai administration. For instance, 20 percent of police officers are said to exist only on paper.
The Japanese government must ensure that its aid to Afghanistan is being used effectively to rebuild the country.
Editorial, The Yomiuri Shimbun
(Asia News Network)