Afghanistan now faces a far deeper crisis than many seem to understand. The Taliban have now launched ground offensives to take more territory and to capture the northern city of Kunduz, a city of almost 300,000 that they tried twice last year to seize. If it falls now to the Taliban it would be the first major city they have re-occupied.
Afghanistan’s neighbors, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly restive about the US-led counterinsurgency: Pakistan continues to give sanctuary to the Taliban leadership, including the Haqqani group—the most vicious arm of the Taliban—while Iran and Russia are also providing support (the exact amount is unknown) to the Taliban. These regional powers believe that the Taliban could provide a bulwark against the spread of ISIS into their territories and do not want Pakistan to monopolize influence over the Taliban. They want to limit US power in the region. The influence of ISIS in Afghanistan, which was once relegated to the single eastern province of Nangarhar, is now expanding.
Still, even more dangerous than the deteriorating security situation is the political crisis now unfolding in Kabul. The lack of trust between president Ashraf Ghani and his CEO or prime minister, Abdullah Abdullah, has led to a paralysis in governance and social services. Senior officials in the army and bureaucracy are choosing sides. Many bureaucrats and teachers have not been paid for months due to the lack of funds.
Ghani is deeply unpopular. Many Afghans now regard the government as illegimate, a regime that would not survive at all if it were not propped up by the US and NATO, who jointly have some 13,000 troops in the country. Two years ago the US brokered a coalition government between Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah in order to paper over a heavily rigged election. (It was rigged by both candidates and the two candidates bickered for months about who actually won, before the Americans stepped in.)
But Ghani, a Pashtun, has never fully shared power with Abdullah, a Tajik, and has been accused of stuffing the government with his fellow Pashtuns.
Until now, Western forces have been able to keep the government in power by financing the budget and paying salaries and maintaining the Afghan army in the field. But it has become increasingly difficult, with the Taliban advancing in many parts of the country making US and NATO forces look increasingly irrelevant.
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