BRIAN NAYLOR: Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He specializes in foreign policy and military strategy and he’s a regular guest on our program. Morning Michael.
The assassination of Vice President Qadir is obviously a highly visible sign that Afghanistan is still a pretty shaky place. Do you think this is a serious blow to President Karzai?
MICHAEL O’HANLON: Well it’s certainly not good news. There aren’t that many people in the country who have the stature of the recently assassinated vice president. And the need for people who can be trusted among different ethnic groups and between them is critical. And this is a man who did work with Tajiks, who was part of their effort both in the 80s fighting the Soviets and then thereafter. So we had the ability to bridge different groups and he certainly was an important figure. I think that any one individual is not likely to make or break the future of a country. But this was a pretty big loss and frankly I’m a little confused as to why it should have and could have happened in public where the international security systems forces are strong enough where this sort of thing should have been expected and I think prevented.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Well how much does the stability of Afghanistan’s government really matter to the United States in so far as the future of the war against terrorism is concerned?
MICHAEL O’HANLON: It’s pretty important still. I think it’s clear that the glass is two-thirds full. We’ve made a lot of progress in Afghanistan and one shouldn’t pretend otherwise. However, there still is the real potential for this country to revert to civil war and most of the country is not unified under strong central government control. The warlords still reign in the countryside. And there’s the very real possibility that Taliban and al-Qaeda could find small pockets of regions in which they could hole up and plan future attacks. They can’t have the big, open training bases they did when the Taliban ruled the country. But they’ll potentially be able to use certain parts of that territory for their own nefarious purposes if we don’t consolidate control, help the Afghans consolidate control, and moreover we make a mockery of our pledge to help the Islamic people get back on its feet after the war and that certainly wouldn’t help our broader effort to improve our image in the Islamic world and reduce sort of the root causes of terrorism.
Listen to the full interview.
Emerging Voices Network Reception with Gareth Bayley, U.K. Special Representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan
The ceasefire shows yet again the leverage the Taliban now has thanks to its recent attacks. What’s most interesting is that the ceasefire doesn’t apply to the Islamic State. Whereas the Taliban have primarily attacked security forces, the Islamic State’s violence has much been much less selective, and has killed far more civilians. The Taliban’s strategy appears to have paid off— there’s popular support for a ceasefire with the Taliban, but not for one with the Islamic State.
The attack on the interior ministry is just the latest in a long string of brazen and high profile attacks in Kabul this year. This winter the Taliban carried out an ambulance bombing that killed over 100, while the Islamic State killed over ten soldiers in an attack on an Afghan army base. Afghan security forces have long struggled with how to defeat the Taliban alone. Now that the Taliban are competing with the Islamic State for resources and recruits, the challenge has grown even more daunting—the two groups are now locked in a race to see who can launch bigger and more devastating attacks.