The countdown is over. The mission of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has ended last night, on December 31st 2014, after 13 years of international military operations in Afghanistan. The management of security and military operations has been gradually handed over to the Afghan army and police since 2011, and 12,500 foreign soldiers (mostly Americans) will remain to support the Afghan armed forces with training and technical assistance, but the challenges faced by the Afghan government and army are daunting.
Many questions are open: how strong are the Taliban and how much ground can they regain? Will civil war break-out, where and between which factions? How will neighbouring countries position themselves in this new political configuration? Will the economy and employment, which have been boosted by the billions invested in development aid and the presence of hundreds of international organisations, collapse? Will any of the gains in infrastructure, education and health be sustained?
It is far too easy to be pessimistic. Critics of the international military intervention and aid effort are vocal. Analyses of the failure of the reconstruction and state-building effort in Afghanistan are filling many newspaper pages.
Certainly, it is important to be honest, look back with objective eyes and draw lessons with the aim of doing better in the future, in Afghanistan and other countries ram-shacked by conflict, corruption and terrorism.
But it is above all time to hope. To pray. To believe. To look to the strengths of the country and its people. The Afghan people are amongst the most resilient people on earth. They have seen it all before and still remain standing, with dignity, humour and an immense capacity to thrive and build. Many challenges in the Afghan crisis of the last few years were also directly tied to the international military presence. With the withdrawal of troops, certainly many challenges will arise, but also new opportunities we may not yet see, especially if the end of military operations is not associated with a collapse in foreign aid.
As we celebrate this new year, I wish to tell my Afghan friends and their families from the depth of my heart: I have faith in you and your country and wish you peace and prosperity in this new year and many years to come!
I also take this opportunity to share with you a link to a video prepared to help spread words and images of hope: vimeo.com/115724075
Many thanks to my brother Thibault Dufour and Check-in Films for producing it!
Sol-e now mubarak!