This week the students picked two articles that look at the future of Afghanistan with different lenses. Although they offer two different perspectives on the war, both authors share a similar concern. They both wonder where Afghanistan is going. Former President and head of the Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated, the United States is getting ready to leave and pessimism is running high in Washington.
In Pessimism Fills Kabul During Mourning for Slain Peace Council Chief, Alissa Rubin wonders about the meaning and the consequences of the assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. It will have devastating consequences on the peace negotiations. The Taliban refusal to either deny or confirm allegations of the movement’s involvement raises questions about who was in fact responsible for Rabbani’s death, especially as the peace negotiations are far from being unanimously approved of, not least among former members of the Northern Alliance. It is however reasonable to believe that a Taliban faction or someone from the Haqqani network was behind the assassination. If that is the case, the Taliban strategy and capacity to eliminate high-profile target raises other very important questions. How divided are the Taliban on peace negotiations? How strong are they? Is the assassination of high-level politicians a sign of desperation from a fading movement or of increased capabilities? I am not yet convinced that it actually means anything. No one ever thought that the Taliban unanimously supported the peace negotiations anyway. The attack against Rabbani does not even show that the Taliban as a whole are opposed to the talks. And as far as political assassinations go, they are nothing new, especially in Afghanistan. Nor have they ever been really difficult to carry out.
The assassination will have consequences though. Holding peace talks will get harder and harder. Letting the Taliban open an office outside Afghanistan to foster the negotiations is also out of the question now. The assassination actually feeds all the opponents to the peace negotiations. As Haroun Mir (the Afghan political analyst quoted in the article) rightly points out, Rabbani was bringing a “notable dimension of stability” that will be hard if impossible to replace. Although it cannot be denied that former President Rabbani made loads of enemies in the past, he embodied unity among the Tajiks. He was the one person who could hold all the different political factions and sub-groups together. It will be fascinating to see how former members of the Northern Alliance will play their cards in the near future and what the outcome of the political struggle will be. With the peace negotiations on hold, President Karzai is more isolated than ever. It will become increasingly harder for him to advocate peace talks with the Taliban “brothers” in this suspicious environment.
In This War Can Still Be Won, Fernando provides a totally different view on the future of the war in Afghanistan. Sharing his personal experience as an Army Special Forces officer, he strongly opposes the pessimism that prevails among “policy wonks, politicos and academics.” The year he spent on the ground with Afghan army units gave him reasons to believe in a brighter future for Afghanistan. He argues that the high-profile attacks are the consequence of a successful counterinsurgency strategy that manages to push the Taliban out and forces them to shift tactics. I can only hope he is right. But I seriously doubt it.