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Will Afghanistan Follow Iraq's Path?

With Iraq's rapid descent into chaos after an Al-Qaeda splinter group conquered large swathes of the country, many Afghans are asking whether their country will follow the same path.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS) a jihadist group that operates in Iraq and Syria, recently seized some of Iraq's major cities in an offensive that some compare to the Taliban's swift conquest of much of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

Many Afghans are concerned that the planned withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan, coupled with the country's lack of a strong and committed security force, could plunge the country into chaos again.

Javid Kohistani, a Kabul-based political analyst, said that Afghan security forces are neither well-equipped nor adequately trained. He told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that a failure to conclude the now-stalled Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington would facilitate Al-Qaeda's return to its erstwhile sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Conversely, a signed agreement would provide for a residual U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and guarantee security and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.

"The current situation in Iraq is a good indicator of how fast Al-Qaeda can return to Afghanistan," he said. "Compared to Iraq, Afghanistan is far behind in generating resources, governing capacity, and infrastructure."

Former Afghan army general Atiqullah Amarkhel is also concerned that the Afghan security forces afflicted by illiteracy, corruption, and the lack of discipline might not be able to defend their country.

"A rapid Western pullout will lead to the collapse of the whole system in Afghanistan," he said. "Afghanistan now cannot control its borders, so a premature withdrawal of foreign troops will pave the way for Al-Qaeda to return."

U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced his intention to end his country's military commitment in Afghanistan by the end of 2016, a deadline that could change if the BSA is signed. Afghan presidential contenders Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have both expressed their willingness to sign the agreement if elected to office.

Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the pact.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Karzai ruled out the possibility of Al-Qaeda's comeback. "Never, not at all. I am confident about the Afghan people. [But] we do need international support where we don't have the means to sustain ourselves."

Amin Tarzi, Director of Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, said that ethnic and sectarian tensions in Afghanistan are not comparable to Iraq’s. "Look at every single ticket in the presidential elections. They are all [ethnically] mixed and this is a blessing for Afghanistan."

Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, said that the onus of protecting their country lay primarily with the Afghans. "It is the responsibility of Afghans to work together -- to put limits on political disagreements [and] not to push for so much personal power," he said.

Neumann said that the current state of Iraq is the result of disagreements among the country's political leaders. "Afghans can avoid an Iraq situation if they are smarter about the politics," he said.