In the Asia-Pacific Region, Afghanistan will continue to face a heightened threat of militant violence, and political and civil unrest into 2019. Dissatisfaction with the conduct of October’s parliamentary polls will have the potential to trigger protracted political and civil unrest. Political parties are also likely to escalate their anti-government campaign in the run-up to April’s presidential election. The Taliban-led insurgency is likely to continue unabated, and the prospects for progress toward a political reconciliation with the group appear bleak in the short- to medium term.
Nearly all elections held in Afghanistan since 2001 have been marred by widespread fraud, which has often triggered violent protests. Ahead of the October 20 election, several political parties held protests claiming that around 5 million of the 9 million registered voters were ghost voters. Allegations of electoral fraud by losing candidates could trigger violent protests in the coming weeks. The potential for protracted political and civil unrest will increase considerably if ethnic minority candidates perceive that the election favored candidates from the country's largest ethnic-Pashtun group.
Many international donor countries have indicated that they could cut funding to Afghanistan if the government failed to conduct a credible parliamentary election. Afghanistan is highly reliant on foreign aid; around 66 percent of its budget in the last financial year was funded through international support. Afghans have increasingly held violent protests in recent years over perceived poor governance, as well as deteriorating security and economic conditions in the country. Any possible cuts in foreign aid, which could adversely affect the ailing Afghan economy, will therefore further increase the potential for civil unrest.
The Taliban itself is likely to escalate violence ahead of the April 20 presidential election to maintain the pressure on the US-backed Afghan government. Taliban militants now control or contest roughly half of the country; while militant violence is likely throughout Afghanistan, the Taliban could increase the frequency and scale of attacks in Kabul and other urban centers in a bid to further undermine public confidence in the government. The Islamic State has also emerged as a significant threat in Afghanistan and will very likely continue its trend of carrying out mass-casualty attacks, particularly in Kabul and eastern Nangarhar Province on the Pakistan border.
US President Trump’s Afghan war strategy – which aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table through increased air strikes and ground raids - has so far failed. Both US and Afghan government and military officials now concede that political reconciliation with the Taliban is the only solution to end the conflict. US officials began informal direct talks with Taliban representatives in July. However, the Taliban has repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops as a pre-condition to formal peace negotiations, a condition which both the US and Afghan governments are unlikely to accept.
In summary, security conditions are likely to deteriorate further in Afghanistan into 2019. The threat of political and civil unrest will remain high due to acrimony over the parliamentary election, as well as the approaching presidential vote. Significant progress toward a de-escalation of the conflict is unlikely in the near- to midterm, and the militant violence will likely escalate violence in the coming months.
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