Capitalizing on government corruption, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has found safe haven in areas far beyond its traditional stronghold in the country’s southeast, raising questions about whether the government of Hamid Karzai will be able to survive as U.S. troops withdraw, says a report out Thursday by the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit think tank that studies conflict zones.
The report, titled “The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland,” argues that during the U.S. military surge to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan’s south, stability in the center of the country has steadily eroded.
The Taliban has been installing shadow governments and corrupting government officials outside the Pashtun areas that are its base of support, “tapping into the vulnerabilities of a central government crippled by corruption and deeply dependent on a corrosive war economy,” the report says. “Collusion between insurgents and corrupt government officials in Kabul and the nearby provinces has increased, leading to a profusion of criminal networks in the Afghan heartland.”
The area including Kabul and the surrounding provinces, with nearly a fifth of the population, “is pivotal to the planned transition from international troops to Afghan forces at the end of 2014,” the report says. “Given the insurgency’s entrenchment so close to the capital, however, it appears doubtful that President Hamid Karzai’s government will be able to contain the threat and stabilize the country by then.”
To reverse the situation, the report says, the U.S.-led international military and development effort and the Afghan government must pursue more robust anti-corruption efforts, stricter oversight of aid and greater support for capacity building in the judicial and financial sectors.
Yet all of that has been tried over the last decade, without much success. A U.S.-backed effort to prosecute corruption, for example, has fizzled in the face of staunch opposition from Karzai.
The report comes two days after Taliban militants stormed the Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, triggering a five-hour gun battle with Afghan troops and police that left at least 19 attackers and victims dead and ended only after intervention by a helicopter gunship.
And it comes a day after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that insurgent attacks countrywide in the past three months were up by 51% compared with the same period in 2010.
The crisis group report says that the number of major attacks on Kabul has recently declined. However, it says insurgent networks have been able to reinforce their gains in provinces and districts close to the city, launching smaller attacks on soft targets.
Meanwhile, a campaign of assassinations of government officials and infiltration of Afghan security forces in the provinces around Kabul has gutted the government’s ability to expand its reach to the periphery, the crisis group says.
“In the rural areas of Ghazni, Wardak, Logar and other nearby provinces, where unemployment runs high and government presence is low, the insurgency has found safe havens far from the borders of Pakistan. A little more than a year after the transfer of additional U.S. troops was completed, violence increased across the country, hitting new peaks in May as the Taliban launched its spring offensive…”
“Nearly a decade after the U.S.-led military intervention began, little has been done to challenge the perverse incentives of continued conflict in Afghanistan,” the report says. “Insecurity and the inflow of billions of dollars in international assistance has failed to significantly strengthen the state’s capacity to provide security or basic services and has instead . . . provided new opportunities for criminals and insurgents to expand their influence inside the government. The economy as a result is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen.”