Afghanistan: The Prospects for a Real Peace

Afghanistan: The Prospects for a Real Peace

Anthony H. Cordesman July 7, 2020
The Burke Chair at CSIS has completed a new analysis entitled Afghanistan: The Prospects for a Real Peace, which provides a comprehensive analysis on the course of the fighting; the role U.S. forces play in Afghanistan’s security; and how developments in Afghan politics, governance, military forces, and economics affect the prospects for a real peace.
This analysis is available on the CSIS website here. It provides a detailed historical and quantitative examination of the course of the fighting, the divisions within Afghan politics, the critical problems in Afghan governance, and the economic issues that in many ways make Afghanistan a “failed state.”

The report provides comparative excepts from sources like the Department of Defense 1225 Report, the SIGAR, the LIG, UN, IMF, CIA, World Bank and various NGOs. It also provides a wide range of charts showing key trends and maps of the current situation. It ties these comparative analyses to studies about the trends in the fighting before and after the peace process, as well as political issues within both the central government and the Taliban that will affect the prospect for peace.

The results challenge the value of the current peace agreements and their ability to accomplish a meaningful peace within the time limits the negotiations have set. The analysis shows that the Taliban is not clearly committed to searching for a real peace – as distinguished from trying to use the peace process to achieve its own ends.  At the same time, the analysis also provides a grim picture of a central government whose failures at every level of governance may well make a successful peace impossible.

The analysis also goes beyond the peace process per se to highlight the real world structural problems and challenges that now shape Afghanistan’s future. It examines how factors like the limits of U.S. efforts to develop Afghan forces, the Afghan central government’s indefinite dependence on outside military and civil aid, the central government’s extraordinary levels of corruption, and Afghanistan’s failures in economic policy complicate any effort to reach a stable and secure peace. The e-book also ties these analyses to the results of recent public opinion polls, the uncertain compromises between the Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah faction in Afghanistan, and the evolving threats posed by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS-K.

The analysis of the fighting highlights the importance of reporting by SIGAR on the steady classification of any data that show negative trends as well as on the exaggeration of the impact of past and current aid efforts. It warns that efforts to “spin” the situation in Afghanistan and to avoid key problems in reaching a real and lasting peace bear a grim resemblance to similar efforts in describing the peace efforts in Vietnam – which could easily lead Afghanistan to the same result.

More broadly, the results of the in-depth analysis of Afghanistan’s lack of effective governance, of the mixed success of efforts to develop Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), of the decline of the economy relative to popular needs and its failure to create job opportunities raise major issues about the credibility of the current peace efforts, but also the prospects for success in any effort to maintain U.S. and allied support for the Afghan government. 

Finally, the conclusion addresses the critical question of strategic triage. If the barriers to peace are as great as the analysis indicates, should the U.S. withdraw even if a real peace proves impossible?

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