Security in Afghanistan: Local Perceptions

 December 14, 2009 — Prakhar Sharma, former Head of Research at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, Afghanistan, joined us for a discussion on the underlying causes and perceptions of the conflict on the ground.

Mr. Sharma began the discussion with a breakdown of the levels of violence throughout Afghanistan. He highlighted that the sources of insecurity vary by region: northern Afghanistan sees most of its insecurity through criminality; the south contains the largest number of foreign troops and also has the highest rate of violence due to insurgents; western Afghanistan also faces insecurity due to insurgents because of its location near Iran and southern Afghanistan; and in the east, the areas experience both high criminality and insurgent violence, varying with districts and their social, ethnic, tribal dynamics.

Mr. Prakhar analyzed the diverse perceptions of violence by the Afghan population and emphasized that Afghan opinion about the Taliban varied locally. In the Panjsher valley, the area has been relatively quiet and stable, so a rocket attack would affect the perceptions negatively. In the city of Kandahar in the South, however, because of the high intensity of violence, even a car bomb would probably not change the perceptions of the Taliban much. Despite the actual number of attacks and casualties, perceptions will most likely vary because of the local and underlying dynamics of the district or village.

Mr. Prakhar also discussed the issue of poor governance throughout Afghanistan and how the Taliban are capitalizing on this through shadow governments. He concluded his opening remarks by stating that the Taliban is not a unified entity, there is room to work with them in the government, and ultimately, the Afghan people should be responsible for choosing their own leaders.

The lively Question and Answer session delved into the differing perceptions of foreign troops throughout Afghanistan, as well as, the local opinion of the Afghan army and police. Debate occurred over the appeal of the insurgency and how much ethnicity plays a role in supporting the Taliban and/or the government. The reasons Afghan citizens join the Taliban were also discussed, such as the need for jobs or the cultural insensitivity shown by foreign troops, along with the implications of current U.S. foreign policy towards the country. The short-term and long-term effects of arming local militias were examined, in addition to the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].  

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