Last week’s ceremony held in Kabul, marking the official handover of security from NATO/ISAF forces to the Afghan government, was an important moment in recent Afghan history, after a decade-old international intervention in Afghanistan.
And yet, at the same time, another ceremony held hundreds of miles from Kabul in Qatar – marking the official opening of the Taliban’s office in that country – sounded alarm bells over the start of a new era for the conflict in Afghanistan. Is this a moment of pride or concern?
As the final piece of the transition puzzle, the ceremony was greeted with fanfare. But practical questions still remain unanswered as NATO, a party to the war, frantically tries to wrap up its military commitment in order to leave.
Does the Afghan government, specifically its newborn army and police, have the necessary commitment, morale, and loyalty to act alone in the face of Taliban’s threat?
Can it remain clear of the tribal and ethnic factionalism that has marred politics in Afghanistan? Has the transition process been a long-term solution for the conflict or is it just another quick fix?
Complicating the situation further, the opening of the Taliban’s office in Qatar cannot be a coincidence. The White House’s announcement that it plans to resume negotiations with the Taliban confirms that the US government, as well as its Afghan counterpart, is hastily stepping up efforts.
The former is in a bid to save face in its withdrawal from Afghanistan; the latter for its political survival, especially that of President Karzai’s clique in the vacuum that will be created by the international forces drawdown.