NATO In Afghanistan

NATO forces in Afghanistan comprise of a conglomeration of troops from as many as 37 countries. Thus the challenge is as much internal of seeking the best out of this disparate force as external in controlling the insurgency in Afghanistan. The initial impetus of nation building and development activities has been undertaken by the establishment of a grid of Provincial Reconstruction teams (PRTs). 17 such teams are operational in Afghanistan which provides the security hub around which development activities are carried out.

Rebuilding institutions is the second facet of this program. Each major participant has been undertaking the task of reorganizing and re establishing institutions in the country. The United States is responsible for rebuilding the Afghan National Army while Britain has the most challenging task of elimination of poppy cultivation. The latter has not had much success as in the recent past Afghanistan has seen an exponential growth of poppy.

NATO forces are also undertaking active operations in the South particularly in the Kandahar area where the Taliban has reestablished its hold in some of the traditional areas supporting it, such as the Panjweyi Valley. The success in elimination of large Taliban bands, however has come to NATO with a heavy price. An adverse sentiment is gradually building up against Western forces due to excessive use of air and helicopter fire power which has seen the death of a number of civilians. The latest incidents in the Panjweyi Valley have led to large scale outcry. The hearts and minds battle has thus received a serious setback.

This in turn has also affected the popularity of the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, which is increasingly been seen as a puppet of Western forces, inimical to Afghan interest. The Taliban which had shunned the media in its previous avatar has been vocal in castigating the Karzai regime. Mullah Omar, Taliban commander, has proclaimed that President Karzai will have to face the Islamic courts in the future for his alliance with the west. While these may be empty boasts, the danger of continued insurgency in Afghanistan necessitates a year of continuous engagement, military, political, economic and development for the World community.

General Richards has recognized the necessity to take Pakistan on board the efforts of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to bring order into Afghanistan. He has been seeking positive support denying any intention of confronting Musharraf with evidence of support of the intelligence agencies to the Taliban. Pakistan has powerful leverages in Afghanistan which are based on geographical proximity, tribal ties built over the centuries and the large number of refugees which continue to be hosted in the country.

Pakistan seems to have its own logic to the state of affairs in Afghanistan. One opinion goes that it seeks to keep it unstable so that it remains in the eye of the West, with substantial aid both military and civil flowing into the treasury. Pakistan has reportedly received $ 3.6 billion in aid over the past five years as per Congressional Research Service. Thus it is alleged that there has never been a serious effort on the part of Islamabad to support stability in Afghanistan.

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Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.