Plagued by factionalism, corruption and a never-ending Taliban insurgency, the situation in Afghanistan appears to be going from bad to worse. In an extensive report released on Monday, the International Crisis Group claims the country is fast heading for a “devastating political crisis”.

The fractured state is well on the road towards collapse following the planned NATO withdrawal in 2014, argues the Brussels-based NGO. With an election scheduled for two years’ time, a repeat of the widespread electoral fraud witnessed in 2009 and 2010 could prove to be the final straw.

“The Afghan army and police are overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition,” said the group’s Candace Rondeaux. “Another botched election and resultant unrest would push them to breaking point.”

Worries are growing about whether the increasingly dictatorial president, Hamid Karzai, will willingly cede power when his mandate ends. “Karzai seems more interested in perpetuating his own power by any means rather than ensuring credibility of the political system and long-term stability in the country,” said Rondeaux.

Knowing the US has no choice but to support him or risk a return to the Taliban, Karzai’s machinations have seen the evolution of the national army and police forces into tools in a factional power struggle. There is a real risk, claims the Crisis Group, that his government will declare a state of emergency or try to install a sympathetic proxy in a bid to retain power.

Karzai hasn’t been doing himself any favours with his Western backers lately, either. After recently sacking a number of key Western allies from provincial posts, the Afghan President has taken to criticising his erstwhile allies for not doing enough to help fight terrorism in Pakistan, earning him a swift rebuke from US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

No doubt playing on the minds of many Afghanis is the likelihood that Western governments will decide to withdraw from the country earlier than the scheduled 2014 date, following an increase in Taliban-driven “green-on-blue” attacks.

Adding to a growing line of authorities who have begun playing down expectations of success in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Guardian last week: “There’s no doubt insider attacks have undermined trust and confidence, absolutely.

“Political leaders in the capitals of troop-contributing countries know very well that this is part of a tactic or strategy to also undermine public and political support at home. The real target is politicians, media, opinion-formers at home in partner nations and allied nations.”

Australian troops have already ceased joint patrols with Afghan counterparts last month, following concern about the Afghan reaction to the low-budget, controversial US film The Innocence of Muslims. And a growing sense of pointlessness around the training of Afghan national forces has only increased pressure on governments. It is estimated only 7% of the Afghan army is currently capable of carrying out independent action, even with the help of foreign advisors.

The Karzai government has hit back at doomsday predictions, however, calling talk of state collapse “nonsense and garbage”. Karzi stated: “Our nation was not born in 2002. We have a history of 5000 years. We have fought against superpowers in the past. Our national police and army are ready to defend the country’s soul and sovereignty.”

Peter Fray

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