Often, the only analysis we receive about Afghanistan and the looming ISAF withdrawal is from western observers. However, two European think tanks came together to give Afghans a chance to voice their opinions on what needs to be done for a stable Afghanistan post-ISAF. On 16 September, Friends of Europe and Security and Defence Agenda welcomed five Afghan political activists to speak on the issues facing Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond. This panel, moderated by Giles Merrit, Director of SDA and Secretary General of Friends of Europe, consisted of Massood Azizi, Chief of Staff of the Governor of Nangarhar province and Chairman of a youth organization known as Afghanistan Forward, Hekmat Karzai, founder and director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, Shenkai Zahen Karokhil and Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, both members of parliament in the National Assembly of Afghanistan and women’s rights advocates, and Hamid Saboory, founder of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness.
Overall, the members varied in their opinions about how long it would take for Afghanistan to be considered completely stable or how prepared the country is for ISAF withdrawal. However, something that they all agreed upon was that the three most important transitional issues facing Afghanistan in the coming year are: security, political, and economic issues.
Security is probably the most obvious issue regarding the withdrawal of ISAF troops. Since the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) took over on June 18, they have been working to prove to ISAF leaders that they can handle the security of their own country. Thus far they have done fairly well, but do not seem completely prepared for an ISAF withdrawal; however they still have a year and a few months to fix that. According to some of the panellists, it will be necessary for some Americans and Europeans to remain in the country to advise and train the nascent ANSF.
Politics present yet another large hurdle for Afghanistan. With major elections coming up in spring of 2014, Afghanistan must prove that it can hold free and fair elections without major ISAF assistance. Some of the panellists also agreed that western observers would still be necessary in the years following ISAF withdrawal to help ensure that the elections remain as free and fair as possible. Another point which was made about the elections is that there must be voter empowerment, especially among women and youths. Government and civil society organizations must reach out to these two key demographics to build stronger foundations for future elections and generations.
Economics presents a whole other set of issues. The post-ISAF Afghanistan must be ready to confront corrupt economic deals as it has many assets with which they can build a strong economy. Their geographic location can be considered its greatest immaterial assets as the country is the gateway between the Middle East and greater Asia; their position on the map provides an opportunity for abundant trade. Moreover, Afghanistan’s mineral deposits offer access to wealth over these trade routes. If properly utilized, the Afghan economy can become even stronger after ISAF leaves.
In the long run, these issues should not be considered separate, but connected. A failure in one of these areas will easily spread to and disrupt the others. Consequently, corruption is a major issue that much be addressed in each of these areas. If necessary, some Americans and Europeans must remain in Afghanistan within an advisory role to ensure stability and prosperity post-ISAF.