|Afghan women have called on the government to improve security and combat crime [EPA]
Sitting in a room warmed by woodfire because there is no electricity, Jamshid Hashimi, a young employee of a local architecture firm, watches from his window as Kabul residents hurry to avoid the rain which has turned unpaved streets into mud.
“More troops will mean more fighting,” he says.
Afghan analysts agree that the expected arrival of an additional 30,000 US troops in 2009 could lead to an escalation in the ongoing battle with the Taliban and other anti-government forces.
Haroun Mir, the co-founder and deputy director of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), said: “There is a continuing trend of a downward spiral in security that we are witnessing in Afghanistan with the Taliban getting closer to Kabul.”
He is still hopeful, however, that an increase in US and Nato troops will in the long-term stem the advance of the anti-government forces towards Kabul.
Shakti Sinha, a former senior official with the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (Unama), feels that the situation will likely worsen before it improves.
He says an immediate influx of troops will result in increased fighting.
“The international troops have always been able to achieve battlefield success but this does not mean holding territory. The hope is that there will now be a theatre reserve that will be able to hold territory and that the lessons learned [from past battles] will be applied here,” he said.
Mudasser Hussain Siddiqui, the manager of policy advocacy and research in Action Aid, and international NGO, wonders if the increased troop deployment could be part of a political settlement with the Taliban.
“The political climate will certainly be hotter because of the [presidential] elections in 2009 and security will deteriorate in the run-up to the elections,” he told Al Jazeera.
The nature of deployment, both geographic and operational, will also determine the course of the ongoing conflict.
While US officials have indicated that troops will deploy in provinces close to Kabul, senior leaders including Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, have said that the battle against the Taliban needs to be fought not in the villages of Afghanistan but in the safe havens and training centres in Pakistan.
Negotiating with the Taliban
In the meantime, calls for negotiations with the Taliban, which were first suggested by Afghan leaders as well as some western allies in late 2008, are expected to grow during the coming year.
However, some senior diplomats and analysts have cautioned that such talks should be held from a position of strength rather than weakness.
Political exigencies, including that of the presidential elections, will determine much of the course of this ongoing debate in 2009 as leaders, especially the incumbent president, weigh the conventional wisdom of convening such talks.
The presidential elections themselves continue to be shrouded in uncertainty. While voter registration has begun, there is much greater public disenchantment with the process, as many blame the government of having limited ability to deliver services.
Many Afghans say they feel disenfranchised from the political and economic reconstruction of their country and say foreign leaders in remote capitals are determining the national agenda.
Threat of winter
However, for many Afghans, the more immediate threat will be the hardship of an Afghan winter.
|Afghanis try to keep warm during the first snowfalls of the upcoming harsh winter [Getty]|
Severe cold and drought in many parts of the country and decreasing access of humanitarian agencies to remote areas have put larger numbers of the Afghan population at risk.
Non–governmental organisations like Oxfam have warned that five million Afghans are likely to face food shortages.
The uncertain security situation, the unstable political climate and the lack of essential infrastructure like energy, water and roads will impede private sector development.
In such conditions both the government and the international community will be responsible for driving economic recovery and creating employment opportunities.
Eid Mohammad Mangal, the manager of a Kabul restaurant, says security woes are compounded by continuing high unemployment rates.
“When people have no job, no work and they are unhappy, they can join the Taliban,” he says.
Mir believes severe hardship during winter may create fertile ground for Taliban recruitment. While the severity of the winter will unfold over the first two months of the year, early snow already presages a difficult period for Afghans, thousands of whom live in villages inaccessible during the severest winter.
“Even inside Kabul many families cannot find food to have three meals a day. People here don’t want creature comforts,” he said.
“They just want bread to survive. If this is not possible the security will deteriorate further.”