Afghan transition: Just another word for nothing left to lose?

Afghanistan appears on the verge of collapse. The prospect of civil war looms.

Political gridlock; the impending collapse of the banking system; falling currency and property values; endemic corruption; capital flight; frozen aid funding; escalating insurgent attacks; ethnic groups planning to re-arm; a power vacuum in the south; targeted assassinations… this is the landscape of transition.

As American combat troops begin a drawdown calibrated to the US election calendar, leaders such as General David Petraeus are persisting with the spin — that it’s just a matter of time before victory over the Taleban can be categorically declared — that justifies their promotions.

A minor detail that the man dubbed “the emperor” failed to focus on in his valedictory interviews is the Taleban’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the peace talks upon which this elusive victory depends.

Afghan security forces have acquitted themselves well in recent attacks on the capital, though no one pretends they are yet capable of standing alone. If sporadic incidents were all they had to do deal with, then perhaps hope would prevail.

But as the domestic media report, Afghans are overshadowed by the fear of a Taleban return, and their already querulous loyalty to the democratic experiment is being tested by the survival imperative.  

Afghanistan Today ( reports that foreign troops are being replaced by foreign insurgents in the border badlands, with locals professing a preference for Islamists as the headless bodies of village elders are left to rot in the streets as a warning to detractors.

On a reporting visit to Mazar-I-Sharif late last summer, during my tenure as AFP’s Kabul bureau chief, to investigate the encroachment of the insurgency in the once-peaceful north, I found people of the region all-but resigned to a Taleban resurgence.

Most notably, women who after the Taleban’s fall in 2001 were initially reticent then jubilantly confident in throwing off their veils, were retreating once more behind the burqa — just in case.

Kandahar, the Taleban’s so-called "heartland", is without leadership as the governor has, local sources say, left for a long summer break. Who can blame him, when many of his political peers are six feet under, thanks to a recent Taleban turban-bomb killing spree?

Kabulis used to joke that the only thing that would delay a Taleban assault on the presidential palace after the foreign troops have gone was the gridlocked traffic.

No one is joking any more. It might take 15 days, 15 months or 15 years, said an Afghan friend of mine in London. “But they’ll be back. It’s just a matter of time.”