Those who don’t learn from history

Rachel Reid has a must-read article about the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a program under which NATO (read the US)  trains and then arms local groups as a way to shield communities against the creeping menace of the Taliban. As you can imagine, creating a new armed group with little supervision or accountability is a recipe for disaster. That’s what Rachel’s report for Human Rights Watch pointed out. Now, even NATO is beginning to officially admit that.

But there’s more than just the ALP that is cause for real concern. Writes Rachel:

Human rights abuses are almost inevitable when injecting lightly trained forces into fractured communities that tend to lie at the edge of government control, where impunity is rampant. Significant efforts have been made to safeguard against the risk of creating lawless militias, but what compounds this risk is that it’s not just the ALP that the U.S. and Afghan governments are backing. There’s also the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), the Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP), the Interim Security Infrastructure (ISCI), Community Based Security Solutions (CBSS), and the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3). And these are just the groups with acronyms. Beyond them are a myriad of informal militias supported by Afghan intelligence forces, provincial officials, warlords, and unregistered private security forces, as well as the reintegrated former insurgents who are allowed to keep their arms.

Read the whole article here. In a country where the state does not have a monopoly of force, distributing arms among such an astonishingly broad spectrum of groups that have competing interests and little to no loyalty to the state is a patently bad idea. It’s a simple calculation: when you give guns to groups that don’t love each other and you, as the arbitrer, aren’t strong enough to keep them in line, you can’t expect peace and brotherly love to reign over the country.

As the report shows, the ALPs have shown a modicum of success in keeping the Taliban out, but their success is not motivated by a sense of duty to the country or the communities they are supposedly protecting. Rather, their motivation is their own interests, which they jealously guard by extortion, human rights abuses, fear tactics and violating the law, almost always with complete impunity. As a result, Afghanistan gets a whole host of new abusive militant groups in exchange for one. And a lot of money is being spent on this bad bargain.

This policy is an experiment in irony. Right after the fall of the Taliban, the international community, under the leadership of the Japanese, spent many millions of dollars disarming and reintegrating armed groups that existed in the nooks and crannies of Afghanistan. The only two big groups that weren’t disarmed — the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami — are now the biggest challenge to Afghanistan’s future. Under this new policy, millions of dollars are being spent to once again to create armed militias, rolling back the gains made with Japanese and international help. Worse yet, there is no strategy to demobilize these new groups once their utility value runs out.

Afghanistan should know better than anyone that the last time armed entities were formed (to chase the USSR out of the country) we got the civil war. It took Afghanistan 20 years of unspeakable horrors and billions of dollars in international aid to get here. If Afghanistan botches it this time, the world won’t give it a second chance — and we’re not strong enough to do it on our own.

So we seem more or less destined to repeat our bloody history.

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4 responses to “Those who don’t learn from history

  1. History that remains unresolved is destined to repeat itself…ALP or no ALP, the fact that we did not address the grievances of the three decades of war in the past 10 years says a lot about the potential for the horrors of history to be repeated. I just sincerely hope I am wrong.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. Unfortunately, you may not be wrong. Afghanistan’s demons from the past might keep haunting it in the future. I have been thinking about writing a piece about the prospects and pitfalls of any ‘peace’ or ‘reconciliation’ process. Here’s to hoping it gets written.

  3. Pingback: Those who don’t learn from history | Afghanistan Analysis | The Foreign Policy Report

  4. Pingback: 2012: Things to keep an eye on in Afghanistan | Afghanistan Analysis

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