Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3



NATO's Phased Withdrawal from Afghanistan : Implications for Central and South Asia  

A. Khaydarov


The ongoing war waged in Afghanistan for more than 30 years destroyed both economic and social infrastructure, led to the impoverishment of the population depriving people of any faith in their future and created a breeding ground for rising tensions in the country. According to the UN information, at the end of August 2011, the average monthly number of incidents for the current year was 2,108, representing a 39 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2010.1

The south and south-east of the country, particularly the city of Kandahar and the districts of Kandahar province, continued to be the focus of military activity and accounted for approximately two thirds of total security incidents. The insurgents continued to conduct a campaign of intimidation, including through the targeted assassination of high-ranking Government officials, members of the security forces and influential local political and religious leaders affiliated to the Government. Spring and summer military operations conducted by International militaries allowed, to a certain degree, to change the security environment in some parts of the country. The Government of Afghanistan and the international community continued to implement the Kabul Process, the process of transition to Afghan leadership and responsibility, which was reaffirmed at the International Conference on Afghanistan held in Kabul on 20 July 2010 and subsequent meetings

* Dr. A. Khaydarov, Head of Office, Area Security Coordinator, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Kandahar. Paper presented in International Conference on Indian and Central Asian Perspective on Afghanistan, organised by India Central Asia Foundation, New Delhi, October 27-29, 2011.

of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (on security, governance and socio-economic development) in June and July 2011 respectively.

In the mid of July, the formal process of transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces started in some Central and Northern provinces of the country . In the South, only Lashkar Gah was included into the first phase of transition process. These areas continue to face a resilient insurgency that is attempting to challenge the capacity of Afghan forces to maintain security.

Peace and security on the territory of modern Afghanistan has currently become a key issue for the developing countries given the special urgency to maintain a stable socio-economic system and to protect the population from exrsting threats - both militant attacks and natural disasters, which is difficult to resist without collateral order in the region.

Peace is a process that must be broad-based in order to be sustainable and deliver lasting results. In case of Afghanistan, Afghans of all kinds, including civil society should be part of the peace process.2 The priority, of course, must continue to be an Afghan-led intra-Afghan dialogue, with the international community playing a supportive role, if required. In order to achieve these goals the High Peace Council and its Joint Secretariat has undertaken outreach activities, including field trips to Herat, Paktya, Paktika, Kandahar, Takhar and Badakhshan, etc. inaugurating provincial peace committees charged with the execution of state policy on peace and reintegration at provincial level. At present, twenty-three provincial peace committees have been formed, approved and are functioning. In addition, Provincial Joint Secretariat Teams have become operational in 25 provinces.3

To push forward the Afghan peace process, the UN SC adopted a decision on 16 July 2011 on the establishment of two separate committees for Al-Qaeda and Taliban and the de-listing of 15 former Taliban from the sanctions list established pursuant to its resolution 1988 (2011).4 Government and the High Peace Council officials welcomed these decisions; recognizing them as important steps towards reconciliation and confidence-building.

As a result of the above and other measures within the Government’s Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) some 2,374 former Taliban fighters had laid down weapons and joined APRP at the end of July 2011.5

The recent Regional Peace Jirga of Ulemas of Southern Afghanistan held on 9 October 2011 in Kandahar reflected the growing local sentiments towards peace in the country. The Jirga was the most significant Ulema gathering in support of peace in Afghanistan since 2001 and complemented the Government’s peace and reintegration efforts within the APRP through the traditional non-governmental mechanism of Ulema Shuras in line of "track two diplomacy".

Meanwhile, both NATO troops and Afghan National Security Forces still face the resistance of insurgency, especially in the South, to their joint efforts to provide security for the Afghan civilians. That is why the decision of the U.S. President Barack Obama to withdraw the US combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 generated a lot of debate inside the country and abroad. In fact, it is expected that by the end of 2011, 10 thousand US troops will leave Afghanistan, whereas by the summer of 2012, 33 000 troops, constituting approximately one-third of the total U.S. military in this country are expected to withdraw. Security responsibilities in Afghanistan will be fully handed over to the national forces in 2014.

Meanwhile, the main objectives of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan as approved by Barack Obama in March 27,2009, remain unchanged:

l Dismemberment, disarmament and destruction of the al-Qaida and any kind of terrorist organization.

l Strengthening of civil and economic component in the stabilization of Afghanistan.

To achieve the first strategic objective, the U.S. political leadership had to increase its contingent to 21 thousand troops, which allowed a sharp increase in the number of combat operations against Taliban forces in the South and the East. As part of this mission, measures have been taken to persecute and destruct the militants and to protect the citizens of major populated settlements accompanied with efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces.

To achieve the second strategic objective, the U.S. administration has put the burden of dealing with the improvement of the security situation on the shoulders of the Afghan leadership. The United States also supports the Afghan Government’s efforts in the negotiations with those Taliban who lay down their arms and respect the rights of their fellow citizens within the Afghan Constitution. However, the possibility of transfer of security responsibilities to the regions is determined on an individual basis.

On the one hand, this indicates that the Afghan forces are not yet fully ready to ensure security in all regions of the country, on the other, the phase of "stabilization" is far to be completed. However, the transfer of responsibility to Afghans, i.e. transition, will not mean the immediate withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, though NATO, according to their Secretary General, does not plan to stay in Afghanistan forever. Indeed, it appears that in the short and medium term, NATO has no choice but to remain in Afghanistan. At the moment, no other party is ready and likely to be willing to take a leading role in this country. No international or regional organization, under these circumstances, has more functional and military capability than NATO.

As for the Taliban, in July 2011 the movement issued a public statement requesting recognition as a political and military entity, in order to play a role in the peace and stability of Afghanistan and the region. In addition, the Taliban called on the regional States to create an environment of cooperation and trust based on common national interests. This development demonstrating the Taliban’s intention and efforts to play a more active role in Afghanistan and wider in the region on the one hand and the imminent US troops withdrawal from the country on the other hand raised many questions on the possible implications for Central and South Asia.

Political analysts have different views about the achievements and plans of the United States on Afghanistan. "The second campaign promise of the US President - to withdraw the army from Afghanistan - apparently, will remain unfulfilled even de jure," - stated particularly the head: of the Center for Military Forecasting of Russia, Anatoly Tsyganok.6 The impracticability of quick withdrawal plans was also mentioned by the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. "July 2011 is not the end. It is the beginning of a transition. I think that this decline in the early stages will deal with fairly limited number of troops, and if things go well, then we are likely to accelerate. Nevertheless, I repeat, it will depend on the real situation in Afghanistan" – he stressed.7 NATO’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai also made a statement that coalition forces under NATO will not leave Afghanistan after 2014.

What are the possible consequences of the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan for Central and South Asia? Of course, it is difficult to expect that the withdrawal of international forces will stop the war in Afghanistan and significantly reduce instability in the region, which has arisen as a result of this war. Therefore, the international community should continue their assistance to Afghanistan in creating conditions for reaching an agreement among the Afghans.

Against this background, the planned stage-by-stage withdrawal of NATO troops might have ambiguous implications, first of all, for Afghanistan itself, as well as for Central Asian (CA) and South Asian (SA) countries. The withdrawal of troops might lead to the reinforcement of the ideas of radical Islam due to the expected enhanced political activities of the main opposition organizations acting against the current Government in Kabul. That is why the issues of building up efficient Armed Forces, the expansion of Central Government authority beyond Kabul and simultaneous implementation of the national reconciliation plan will continue to be of crucial priority for Afghanistan.

For CA countries, especially those who have common border with Afghanistan, the phased withdrawal of NATO troops will be an additional "incentive" for reinforcing their national borders with Afghanistan in order to secure themselves against possible enhancement of activities of terrorist groups, established within CA but currently operating on the territory of Afghanistan. Fighting drug trafficking will remain one of the priorities of the national security doctrines for these CA states.

The above factors will facilitate the search for effective mechanisms in addressing the main threats still emanating from Afghanistan. This situation will stimulate the formation of new elements of regional security with active participation of the United States, a leading player in the contemporary international relations in the Central Asia.

Speedy withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan at a time when the country is still plagued in the war might spread the flames of Afghanistan’s instability to remote areas and bring great destruction to the broader region consequently, covering Central and South Asia.

For the Central Asian republics, stability in Afghanistan is critical not in speculative but concrete-specific terms.8

Firstly, the resolution of the conflict will allow CA to strengthen their security.

Secondly, all the neighboring countries have much closer economic relations with Afghanistan than the remote states. Expansion of relations will promote the economic development of Afghanistan and the surrounding countries.

Thirdly, instability in Afghanistan prevents the formation of a regional transport infrastructure, which, in turn, hinders the development of multilateral and bilateral economic relations in the region. Suffice it to mention, the importance of a transport access for Central Asia through Afghanistan to South Asia and the Indian Ocean. It is similarly true for transportation interests of the South Asian countries. Construction of roads in Afghanistan with the participation of neighboring countries has already begun but the demand for them is growing faster than they are being built now.

Meanwhile, the new center of world economic growth has shifted to Asia. Geographically, Afghanistan could become one of the major transportation hubs in the Asian economy. Afghanistan’s nearest neighbors in the north and south, have concrete common interests, primarily, economic ones, in ensuring a stable and peaceful development in the country. Common interests can help them overcome individual differences that occur on certain issues.9 That is why the efforts of the Government of Afghanistan to continue strengthening its dialogue and cooperation with the neighboring countries are highly appreciated.

In this context, providing necessary security landscape in Afghanistan for further construction of communication infrastructure in and through Afghanistan may greatly contribute to overall security and political situation in Central and South Asia. Against this background, many transport projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) could well be considered as a missing element in the effort to help India and Pakistan to come to a compromise on the issue of resolution of the Afghan conflict.

In fact, the TAPI project is a logical continuation of the policy of wide international cooperation of Central and South Asian countries, suggesting construction of new pipelines to various destinations. It is worth stating that, besides generating commercial and economic profits, this project could exert a stabilizing influence on the overall situation in the region and beyond. Apart from energy supply and economic gains, TAPI also presents a hope for larger, longer and mutually beneficial relationship between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The pipeline is a thread which would bind these four countries.

To recap, in our opinion, in view of the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, the Afghan problem with all its weight might fall as an additional burden on the countries of Central and South Asia. In this regard, it would be appropriate now to cooperate with each other on Afghanistan, focusing on common interests, economic and transport cooperation. Especially, according to almost all experts, the solution of socio-economic issues is necessary to bring this country back to normal civilian life.10


i The opinions expressed in the present abstract are those of the author and not necessarily represent official position of UNAMA.
1. The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. Reportof the Secretary-General. 21 September 2011. General Assembly Security Council Sixty-sixth session Agenda item 38. The situation in Afghanistan.
2. Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. New York - 29 September July 2011. http://unama.unmissions.org
3. The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. Report of the Secretary-General. 21
September 20 II. General Assembly Security Council Sixty-sixth session Agenda item 38 The situation in Afghanistan
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. http://www.vz.ru/politics/20101l1/20/448965.html
7. Ibid
8. State and prospects for ensuring security in Afghanistan. Materials of the International Roundtable. T., 2010.
9. Ibid
10. TAPI Pipeline Signed, Sealed — Not Yet Delivered. http://www.rferl.orglcontentifeature!2248838.html

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati