Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Youth Debates: Strong Military is Key to Future

Afghanistan must work to strengthen its military if it is to have any chance of effective influence in the region post 2014, a retired army general has claimed.

General Atiqullah Amarkhel, formerly of the Afghan National Army and now a defence analyst, said President Hamed Karzai's successor had a duty to recognise how vulnerable the country would be once the majority of NATO forces withdrew at the end of this year.

Speaking at a debate held by IWPR in the capital Kabul, Amarkhel argued that any perceived weakness in the new government would undermine its ability to protect its regional interests. A lack of military muscle would inevitably have knock-on effects for Afghanistan's struggling economy, with a risk that neighbours like Pakistan and Iran would seek to exert influence in the country, he said.

"The armed forces are like the lid on a pot," Amarkhel told more than 50 journalists attending the event. "If there’s no lid on the pot, anything can drop into it. Afghanistan must be free from interference by foreign powers."

The IWPR debate took place at the Ministry of Information and Culture on June 9. Panellists leading the discussion included Amarkhel, Habibullah Rafi of the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, political analyst Matiullah Abasin, and veteran journalist Amanullah Jahanyar.

Amarkhel maintained that without a well-trained, well-equipped military, Afghanistan's next president would struggle to implement any new policy initiatives, either at home or abroad. He said the armed forces currently lacked the heavy weaponry required to be seen as a modern, efficient fighting force.

He also discussed ethnic divisions within the military, claiming that senior commanders often based decisions on factional interests rather than what was best for the military as a whole.

"If America rules the world today, it is because it has strong military capability," he said. "It is for this reason that America speaks first in the world. Our future president should have a cool mind and warm blood.”

Jahanyar stressed the need for Afghanistan to focus on building a more sound, diverse economy. Political commentators often cite figures that show how reliant the country still is on foreign aid.

"Besides creating a strong military, the future president must look at the economy," he said. "He must also prioritise security, the protection of national sovereignty, and the country's ability to be independent in its activities."

Audience member Ahmad Shah Painda asked whether either of the two presidential candidates – Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – could succeed in securing peace in Afghanistan.

Jahanyar responded saying he believed a lasting peace deal with the Taleban could only be reached once the state had the military strength and expertise to defend its interests properly.

"Peace can be achieved when we are stronger both politically and militarily," he said. "Unfortunately we are not strong today. Why would our opponents, who are strong, be willing to negotiate with a weak government? In my opinion, bringing peace to Afghanistan will be one of the biggest challenges facing our future president."

Abasin said he supported calls to bolster the armed forces and shore up the economy. "If we had a strong government, a strong military and a strong economy, everyone would hear the voice of Afghans," he said.

Enayatullah Omari is a student at Kabul University and an IWPR trainee. 

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.