Coalition forces in Afghanistan are ready to pack ahead of the start of a stage-by-stage withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for July 2011.
The withdrawal is likely to drag on for years until local authorities prove strong enough to keep the situation in the country under control and do without foreign assistance. Judging by the past year, there is still a long way to go to achieve that. Even though coalition forces stepped up anti-Taliban efforts in 2010, a victory is nowhere near. Besides, there are domestic issues crying for solution. President Karzai, though acknowledged legitimate president after the 2009 elections, has an ineffective army, a weak police force and widespread corruption to deal with. And even though he has largely managed to consolidate central power, many of the local leaders who live by the country’s old traditions choose to demonstrate independence from Kabul.
The year 2010 saw numerous efforts to normalize the situation in Afghanistan. The participants in two international conferences, first in London in January and then in Kabul in summer, focused on the economic issues, first and foremost, on how to stop the drug flow from the country. Russia wrote off Afghanistan’s 12- billion-dollar debt inherited from Soviet times. Oriental studies expert Igor Sotnikov told a Voice of Russia correspondent about Russia’s role in addressing the situation in Afghanistan.
Russia has been offering different conferences in different formats to support the government of President Karzai. It offered to dispatch military advisors to help consolidate the Afghan army and police. Even though western nations, first of all the United States, more than welcome Moscow sending a military force to Afghanistan, Russia is rendering it political assistance, in the first place.
Drug production tops the priority list for Afghanistan. International efforts to handle the drug problem, though intense, lack a common strategy. Russia insists on destroying the poppy plantations, while the United States prefers not to touch them for fear of stripping Afghan farmers of their regular income. Despite the success of a joint operation to eliminate a drug producing laboratory in 2010, the drug issue is as far from solution as ever.
Given the situation, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan may stretch for years. Given that Taliban resistance is still strong, the territory occupied by opium poppy plantations shows no sign of dwindling, and coalition losses are on the rise, amounting to more than 700 in 2010, Afghanistan is going to cause the international community a bad headache for years ahead.